Israel’s Northern Front Heats Up as Airstrikes in Syria, Large-Scale Air Force Drill Overlap
Simultaneous incidents not indicative of new approach to Syria or Iran, experts say
Israeli jets conducted another series of airstrikes against Syrian targets south of Damascus, Syria’s state media reported early Monday morning, the second such strike in one week.
The operation was carried out just as a surprise military drill covering Israel’s entire northern region was announced.
According to the Syrian reports, air defense batteries intercepted Israel’s “hostile” attacks, lobbed from the skies over the Golan Heights, shooting down the missiles aimed at the capital.
While no casualties were reported by government officials, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition group based in Britain, claimed that at least nine soldiers belonging to Iranian militias aligned with President Bashar Assad’s regime were killed.
Israeli officials did not comment on Monday’s airstrikes.
The area attacked, located nine miles south of Damascus in the town of Kiswa, houses several armed Iranian groups, according to local residents.
We will exercise aerial superiority and protecting the nation’s skies, as well as offensive missions and intelligence gathering
Coinciding with the latest reported strike, Israel’s air force on Monday launched a three-day surprise drill near the Syrian and Lebanese borders, simulating “combat scenarios on the northern front.”
The military’s spokesperson warned of increased air traffic throughout the country, and loud explosions in the northern region.
“We will exercise aerial superiority and protecting the nation’s skies, as well as offensive missions and intelligence gathering,” the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement on Monday.
Israel’s military has for the past decade repeatedly attacked Iranian targets in Syria, conducting hundreds of air raids against military bases, missile production sites and training facilities belonging to the Shiite militias.
Last week, a convoy of vehicles loaded with weapons was bombed near Deir ez-Zor on the Syrian-Iraqi border. The armaments caravan was reportedly on its way from Iran to western Syria, and was destroyed in an airstrike attributed to Israel.
The Jewish state views attempts by Tehran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which is spread throughout the Middle East, to entrench itself near its eastern border as a grave national security threat.
The Iranians have so far “avoided responding to these attacks,” according to Dr. Carmit Valensi, a research fellow and head of the Syria research program at Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies.
“With the new White House administration, the prospect of sanctions removal, the worsening economic crisis and the repeated assassinations of its generals,” Tehran has no interest in escalating the standoff with Israel, Valensi told The Media Line.
Israel’s policy toward Iranian – or any other – activity in Syria hasn’t changed, and won’t change in the foreseeable future
In late January, Israel’s military Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi publicly addressed the ongoing tension with Iran, revealing that he had ordered “several operational plans” to be prepared for preventing the Islamic Republic from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
Kochavi also touched on potential renewed talks between Washington and Tehran, going so far as to urge US President Joe Biden not to abandon his predecessor’s “maximum pressure” sanctions policy on Iran.
President Biden’s team has reiterated its position that any deal reached with Tehran must include limitations on its vast missile program and its belligerent activity in the Middle East.
The large-scale military drill, and Israeli fears of a possible return to the negotiating table by Iran and the United States, have nothing to do with the latest incident in Damascus, Dr. Yehuda Blanga, a Syria expert in Bar-Ilan University’s Middle Eastern Studies Department, says.
“We’ve been attacking there for years,” including while former presidents Obama and Trump were in office, “and that won’t change any time soon,” he told The Media Line.
“Israel’s policy toward Iranian – or any other – activity in Syria hasn’t changed, and won’t change in the foreseeable future,” he concluded.