Israel is ramping up its strikes in Syria in an attempt to disrupt the Iranian land corridor used to transfer weapons through Iraq to Syria and Lebanon, security analysts told the Wall Street Journal Sunday.
Israel was allegedly behind an unprecedented strike last June on a town in the Syria-Iraq border. The Wall Street Journal report cites a U.S. security source as saying that the strike targeted a villa in al-Harra, southeast of the town of al-Bukamal, which housed members of an Iraqi Shi'ite militia as well as of Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Israel's goal, according to the report, was to prevent the transfer of weapons to Syria
The strike killed more than 20 fighters from Kata’ib Hezbollah, an Iraqi Shi'ite militia believed to transport weapons for Iran through Iraq into Syria, according to The Wall Street Journal.
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The Journal reported that Sheikh Abu Talib al-Saeedi, a member of Kata’ib Hezbollah’s political office, said the fighters were on Iraqi territory when they were targeted in the June strike. Iraq said the forces hit weren’t operating under its command. The Kata’ib Hezbollah militia officially answers to the Iraqi government but is in fact loyal to Iran.
CNN had previously reported that the strike was unlike those normally carried out by Israel, as those attributed to Israel tend to occur in Syria's western region, around Damascus and Homs, and mostly targeting Iran's infrastructure and military presence in Syria, while the June attack took place in Syria's east and targeted pro-Assad forces, not Iranian ones.
The security official told the Wall Street Journal that the aim of Israel’s attack hundreds of kilometers from its borders was to signal that it won’t tolerate Iranian attempts to establish a land bridge running from Iran through Iraq and Syria to Lebanon. Israel is concerned that Iran's territorial control will allow it to transfer military hardware and personnel by road from Iran to Israel’s border.
Most of the attempts to smuggle in weapons systems are done by air. However, the airstrike on the weapons convoy in eastern Syria shows that the Iranians are also often trying to make use of the ground corridor they established after the Americans rid the area of Islamic State forces.
An Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps official told the Wall Street Journal that creating a land corridor through Iraq and Syria is a key goal for Iran to bolster its defense against regional enemies.