Israeli warplanes launched massive airstrikes in eastern Syria in the early hours of Wednesday morning, apparently targeting sites and weapons depots for Iranian-backed forces. Dozens of fighters were killed and wounded, according to the opposition Harb Observatory.
A senior US intelligence official with knowledge of the attack told The Associated Press that the airstrikes were carried out with intelligence provided by the United States – a rare instance of publicized cooperation between the two countries on selecting targets in Syria. The official said the strikes targeted a series of warehouses in Syria that were used in a pipeline to store and equip Iranian weapons.
The US official, who requested anonymity to talk about sensitive national security issues, said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo discussed the air strike on Tuesday with Yossi Cohen, head of the Israeli Mossad spy agency, at a public meeting at the popular Café Milano in Washington on Monday.
The official said the depots served as a pipeline for components supporting Iran’s nuclear program.
The official Syrian News Agency (SANA) said that the strikes targeted areas in and near the towns of Deir Ezzor, Mayadin and Albu Kamal along the border with Iraq. An unnamed military official was quoted as saying that the Syrian air defenses responded to the incoming missiles. No further details were provided.
An opposition war observer reported at least 18 strikes in Deir Ezzor and along the border with Iraq, saying that several weapons depots were hit. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 40 people were killed, including nine Syrian soldiers and the rest were Iranian-backed fighters. She added that 37 were injured.
“They have burned Iranian sites in Deir Ezzor,” said Omar Abu Layla, a European-based activist from Deir Ezzor province in eastern Syria who runs a group of activists who write news in the border region. No less than 16 buildings and warehouses or a base are targeted for Iranian, Lebanese and Iraqi militias in the towns of Albu Kamal, Al Mayadin and Deir Ezzor.
Israel has carried out hundreds of strikes against military targets linked to Iran in Syria over the years, but it rarely acknowledges or discusses such operations.
The observatory said that it recorded 39 Israeli raids inside Syria in 2020, hitting 135 targets, including military sites, warehouses or cars. According to the Observatory, at least 217 people were killed, most of them from militias allied with Iran.
The strikes come at a time of heightened tension in the region in the final days of President Donald Trump’s administration.
Many fear that revenge for the US killing of Iranian leader Qassem Soleimani last year may come before Trump leaves office, or that this conflict may erupt to disrupt the next Joe Biden administration’s efforts to negotiate with Iran.
Israel considers the Iranian presence on its northern border a red line, and has repeatedly bombed facilities linked to Iran and arms convoys destined for the Lebanese Hezbollah group.
The strikes also came amid the intensification of the tasks of the Israeli warplanes at low altitudes in the skies of Lebanon, which created tension among the population and prompted Lebanon to submit an urgent complaint to the United Nations about violations of its airspace. Israeli officials said the overflights were necessary because Hezbollah was violating a 2006 UN resolution preventing it from building its military capabilities and operating near the Israeli border.
Associated Press writer James Laporta in Delray Beach, Florida contributed to the report.