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Larger Than Usual Airstrike in Syria Said To Be US-Israel Joint Operation
Cleanup after the alleged Israeli airstrike on Iranian targets in Syria, Jan. 13, 2021. (Twitter)

Larger Than Usual Airstrike in Syria Said To Be US-Israel Joint Operation

Widespread damage to Iranian weapons facilities reported

A massive airstrike in eastern Syria attributed to Israel on Wednesday caused extensive damage and killed a large number of fighters, opposition groups and authorities in Damascus reported.

A senior US intelligence official told The Associated Press the Israeli attack was aided by intelligence provided by the Pentagon, a rare disclosure of cooperation between the two allies.

This wouldn’t be the first time the US supplies Israel with intelligence material for these strikes

The source claimed US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Israeli Mossad spy agency chief Yossi Cohen discussed the planned raid at a Tuesday meeting in a Washington café that was spotted by journalists, and that among the destroyed targets were buildings housing components headed for Iran’s nuclear program.

“This wouldn’t be the first time the US supplies Israel with intelligence material for these strikes,” Dr. Carmit Valensi, a research fellow and head of the Syria research program at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University, told The Media Line.

“Still, the fact it was leaked appears to be a message to Iran, that Jerusalem and Washington are united and determined to stymie its efforts in Syria, including non-nuclear activity, even going into the [President-elect Joe] Biden era,” she said.

While Israel has been repeatedly accused of conducting missions deep within Syria, including on three other occasions in the past two weeks alone, the latest attack seems to be one of the largest carried out against Syrian and Iranian targets in years.

Prof. Eyal Zisser, vice rector of Tel Aviv University and an expert on Syria who formerly headed the university’s Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies, insists the wide-ranging strike does not imply a strategic shift in policy.

“Israel acts when it can, when the opportunity presents itself,” he told The Media Line. “There are periods with heightened activity and periods with near silence. It all depends on the behavior of Iranian forces.”

The airstrike, occurring early Wednesday morning near the Al-Bukamal and Deir ez-Zor areas close to the Iraqi border, targeted Iranian weapons warehouses and military facilities.

According to unverified reports by the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, 57 troops were killed, most of them belonging to Iranian-backed militias and the rest soldiers loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.

The eastern part of Syria is fast becoming an Iranian-controlled region; they’re deepening their presence there, and have even uprooted and transferred facilities there from south Syria to minimize their vulnerability

“It’s a definite escalation that apparently stems from Israel’s desire to take advantage of the current weakness of the Iran-Shi’ite axis,” Valensi noted, adding that while Israel has in recent years been attacking targets “mostly in its backyard of southern Syria and the Damascus area,” Wednesday’s raid was aimed at rarely targeted locations out east.

“The eastern part of Syria is fast becoming an Iranian-controlled region; they’re deepening their presence there, and have even uprooted and transferred facilities there from south Syria to minimize their vulnerability,” Valensi explained. “Wednesday’s events prove that it hasn’t really helped them.”

Israel’s air force has been reportedly roaming free in Syria’s airspace over the past decade, with thousands of operations and strikes aimed at thwarting Iranian entrenchment.

The war-torn country, ripped apart by its ongoing civil war, has become a hotbed for hostile Iranian activities the Jewish state deems a grave national security threat.

Beyond the heavy involvement of Tehran, including through the Lebanon-based Hizbullah, Syria has also become the playing field of other regional and powers such as Turkey and Russia.

Officials in Moscow reportedly received advanced notice of Wednesday’s strike and were encouraged to evacuate their forces in the area, Valensi says, another example of how the latest incident differs from previous attacks.

As to whether the relatively high death toll will lead to some form of retaliation, or will significantly change the outlook in Syria, experts believe the Islamic Republic is mired in enough trouble as is.

“So far, they’ve avoided responding [to attacks] because of a number of challenges – US sanctions, the deepening economic crisis, the latest assassinations,” Valensi detailed. “The last thing Iran wants right now is an escalation with Israel.

“On the other hand, there’s a limit to its ability to absorb and contain these things. Today’s attack certainly appears to be pushing that ability to its limits.”

The situation is stagnant, and it appears nothing will change any time soon

Added Zisser: “Syria is completely static, and has been for some time now. Iran isn’t going to dramatically change its positioning. The situation is stagnant, and it appears nothing will change any time soon.”

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