Israel intensifying air war in Syria against Iranian encroachment
Israel has dramatically expanded air strikes on suspected Iranian missile and weapons production centres in Syria to repel what it sees as a stealthy military encroachment by its regional arch-enemy, Western and regional intelligence sources say.
Capitalising on a longtime alliance with Syria, Iran is moving parts of its advanced missile and arms industry into pre-existing underground compounds to develop a sophisticated arsenal within range of Israeli population centres, according to Israeli and Western intelligence sources and Syrian defectors.
Israel tolerated the entry of thousands of Iranian militia fighters from Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan into Syria to fight alongside President Bashar al-Assad against insurgents seeking to topple his authoritarian family rule.
The only Israeli intervention earlier in Syria’s conflict consisted of sporadic air strikes to destroy arms shipments to the Iran-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah, and prevent militias setting up bases in southwest Syria, close to Israeli territory.
But with Assad having all but snuffed out the decade-long insurgency with the crucial help of Iranian and Russian forces, Israel has turned to targeting Iran’s penetration into Syria’s military infrastructure, three Israeli security officials and two Western officials familiar with the matter said.
Israeli army Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi said in December that more than 500 Israeli missile strikes in 2020 alone had “slowed down Iran’s entrenchment in Syria…But we still have a long way to go to reach our goals in this arena”.
A dozen Syrian military and Western intelligence officials said that topping Israel’s hit list has been any infrastructure that could be advancing Iran’s effort to produce more precision-guided missiles that could erode Israel’s regional military edge, rather than any existing Iranian-linked military asset.
Developing precision-guided missiles under cover in Syria is seen as less vulnerable to Israeli attack than ferrying them in overland or by air from Iran, these officials said…..read more