Iranian Munitions Were Israel's Target in Syria Port Strike, Sources Say

Officials say the latest strike caused greater damage than a similar one earlier this month. A Syrian war monitor says Israel struck targets in Syria 29 times in 2021

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Firefighters battling the blaze at Syria's Latakia port, on Tuesday.
Firefighters battling the blaze at Syria's Latakia port, on Tuesday.Credit: SANA / AFP
Jack Khoury

Containers containing Iranian munitions were the target of a Tuesday air strike on Syria's main port of Latakia, which Damascus blames on Israel, two sources said.

This is the second such attack attributed to Israel this month, and officials said it caused greater damage than the previous one on December 7, which reportedly also targeted Iranian munitions.

"These blasts and huge fires were caused by the explosions from the munitions stored in a warehouse close to commercial cargo," one of the sources said.

Another Syrian source familiar with Iranian military movements in Syria said Tehran had in recent months transferred weapons by sea as it sought to dodge intensified Israeli strikes that struck eastern Syria near a weapons supply corridor along the border with Iraq.

Russian state media arm Sputnik quoted a Russian military official who said that two Israeli F-16 planes shot four missiles at facilities in the port without crossing the border into Syria. Rear Adm. Oleg Zhuravlev, deputy head of the Russian Center for the Reconciliation of Warring Parties in Syria, added that the strike caused "minor material damage to the port infrastructure." 

Syrian air defenses did not engage the Israeli planes, Zhuravlev said, because a Russian air force plane was landing at a nearby airfield at the time.  

According to a tally by an opposition war monitor, this is the 29th time Israel has struck targets in Syria in 2021 – down from 39 strikes in 2020, which the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said had the most Israeli attacks since the war began in 2011.

The strikes the organization attributes to Israel killed 130 people, five of them civilians, it said. Nearly half of those killed were affiliated with Iranian-backed militias, according to figures released by the war monitor on Tuesday.

Iran has expanded its military presence in Syria in recent years where it now has a foothold in most state-controlled areas where thousands of its militias and local paramilitary groups are under its command, Western intelligence sources say.

Syrian state news agency SANA quoted the head of the Latakia fire brigade as saying the containers targeted in the strike contained oils and spare parts for machines and cars.

Maj. Mohannad Jafaar, head of the Latakia fire department, said 12 fire trucks worked for hours to contain the fire. Footage from the area showed large black plumes of smoke over the port as various fires burned around the terminal.

Port manager Amjad Suleiman told state-run Al-Ikhbariyah TV the damage was much larger than that caused by the December 7 attack on Latakia, and required a major effort to move in-tact containers away from the flames.

Israel has mounted frequent attacks against what it says are Iranian targets in Syria, where Tehran-backed forces led by Lebanon's Hezbollah have deployed over the last decade in support of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria's civil war.

While visiting an Israeli Air Force base on Tuesday, Defense Minister Benny Gantz did not address the specific incident but warned his country would not allow Iran to use Syria to threaten Israel.

"I call upon the region's countries to stop Iran from violating their sovereignty and people. Israel will not allow Iran to funnel balance-breaching weapons to its proxies and threaten our citizens," Gantz said.

An Israeli military spokesperson declined to comment.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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