Strategic importance explains intensity of Israeli raids on Damascus
Enab Baladi – Muhammed Fansa
The Israeli airstrikes on Iran-held sites and allied militias in and around Damascus have been repeated, including military sites belonging to the regime forces or facilities suspected of developing weapons or containing weapons stores.
After a cautious calm that lasted for more than a month, Israel bombed areas in Damascus and its countryside three times in one week.
The first of which was in the late evening of 21 October. It targeted sites in the western countryside of Damascus, and it turned out later that it had hit a radar of the Syrian air defense system and the runway of the Dimas military airport.
The second strike came during the day, unusually, two days after the first, and resulted in the injury of a soldier, according to the official media, and targeted some points in the vicinity of Damascus.
The third Israeli strike, on 27 October, targeted a site containing “advanced weapons” in the Bahdaliya area in Sayyidah Zeinab, south of the capital, according to the Israeli Alma research center.
In light of Israeli officials talking about the destruction of 90% of the Iranian military infrastructure in Syria and the focus of Iran’s activity on the southern region, the Israeli airstrikes on the capital raised a question about the reason for the increased pace.
Was 90% of Iranian sites destroyed?
Israeli Defense Ministry officials claimed that Israeli forces destroyed about 90% of Iran’s military infrastructure in Syria.
The Israeli Jerusalem Post newspaper quoted unidentified officials on 23 October, a day after the first strike after the Israeli pause, that “Israel has succeeded in almost completely curbing Iran’s ability to transfer weapons to Syria and to manufacture weapons there.”
According to the officials, “Israel has in recent years succeeded in almost completely curbing Iran’s ability to transfer weapons to Syria, to manufacture weapons on the country’s soil and to establish a base in it with pro-Iranian forces.”
Diaa Qaddour, a writer and researcher on Iranian affairs, told Enab Baladi that the Israeli statements are “exaggerated,” and this is evidenced by the continuation of the raids.
Kaddour believes that it is not possible to know the extent of the destruction of the Iranian military infrastructure in Syria due to the Iranians rebuilding their targeted sites.
While the researcher specialized in Iranian affairs, Mustafa al-Nuaimi believes that the percentage reported by Israeli officials is “correct,” which is why the strikes stopped for more than a month after the bombing that targeted the international airports of Damascus and Aleppo, according to the researcher.
In his talk about the significance of the rare Israeli bombing during the day, al-Nuaimi told Enab Baladi that the Israeli raids depend on the strategy of intelligence monitoring and field agents, the intersection of information received from satellites, and the monitoring of the air traffic of Iranian and Syrian planes coming from Iran to Syria.
The targeting depends on the sensitivity and nature of the arms shipments sent from Iran, regardless of whether the targeting takes place during the day or at night.
Israel rarely announces its attacks in Syria, and its media outlets deal with the strikes by reporting news from Syrian agencies, while the statistics of the annual reports of the Israeli army indicate strikes carried out in Syria.
On the other hand, the Syrian regime contented itself with threatening to respond to Israel’s strikes in Syria or sending letters complaining to the United Nations.
During an interview on the Omani Atheer channel on 26 October, the Syrian Foreign Minister, Faisal Mekdad, justified the regime’s failure to respond to the Israeli attacks by saying, “Israel is taking advantage of the passage of some civilian aircraft in Syria, and is firing from under or from above.”
Adding, “In this case, when the Syrian missiles respond, it may hit some civil aviation, and then the blame falls on us, so we do not get effervesced.”
Did the “S-300” absence encourage Israel to escalate?
On 19 October, The New York Times quoted two senior Western diplomats and a senior Israeli defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, as saying that “Moscow recently transferred some troops and a Russian air-defense system out of Syria, removing one of the main restrictions on Israeli military actions in Syria.”
Meanwhile, the Russian military leadership has become less involved in the day-to-day management of operations in Syria, including military coordination with Israel.
Analyst Qaddour denied that the withdrawal of the Russian air defense system is linked to the increase in the frequency of Israeli strikes, saying that the strikes are primarily related to Israeli national security and the extent of Iranian influence as a result of the withdrawal of Russian forces.
Mustafa al-Nuaimi, expert in Iranian affairs, agreed with Qaddour that withdrawing the defense system would not affect the frequency of strikes.
The presence or absence of the system did not spare Syria the successive Israeli strikes, just as the Russian S-400 air defense system is still present in Syria and has been activated since the beginning of Russia’s entry into Syria in November 2015, according to al-Nuaimi.
The Syrian regime and Iranian militias recently stationed air defense systems near their sites, including the Buk M2E, Tor-M2, and Pantsir-S1 short-range air defense systems, as well as the Bitchora M2 systems, al-Nuaimi said.
On the other hand, in its recent raids on Syria, Israel resorted to striking short-range air defenses in conjunction with strikes against Iranian targets in Syria.
The raids were carried out by a group of warplanes with specific tasks, while they were accompanied by a group of aircraft to provide the necessary protection and clash with the air defenses and target the radars in conjunction with the raids.
Since 2018, the Israeli army says that its operations in Syria are coordinated within the framework of the “hotline” it established with Moscow.
On 8 November, an Iranian truck convoy that was smuggling weapons was bombed near the al-Bukamal border crossing in eastern Syria, Haaretz reported.
The convoy was accompanied by Lebanese Hezbollah fighters in the vicinity of the Iranian military gate near al-Bukamal and inside the Iraqi border crossing of al-Qaim.
According to Israeli military sources, the Iranian convoy that was bombed was carrying weapons and ammunition, not just oil, as Tehran claims, saying Iran had received “severe blows” in destroying arms convoys through several Syrian airports, especially the Damascus International Airport.
Iran returned to land transportation via a civilian convoy, hoping that it would not be discovered by Israeli intelligence.
The Hebrew Israel Hayom newspaper quoted Israeli military leaders on 9 November as saying that they are conducting “in-depth deliberations” in which concern is clearly evident about the change in the Russian response to the Israeli raids in Syria, which until now has been characterized by silence or directing political criticism for one in three or four airstrikes.
A study by Diaa Qaddour for the Harmoon Center for Contemporary Studies, published in September, showed that about 80% of the Israeli strikes during the first eight months of this year were concentrated in Damascus and its suburbs, as shown by the three Israeli strikes last month.
Qaddour told Enab Baladi that the intensity of Israeli strikes on Damascus region is because it is considered a “compulsory corridor” for smuggling Iranian weapons by land or air.
The “Iranian insistence” on smuggling and producing weapons in Syria is considered to maintain a “sustainable military presence for the long term,” Qaddour added.
This “insistence” is governed by the Israeli raids, which made Iran maneuver within the available options in order to avoid the largest amount of losses, so it reverted to adopting the land route after targeting the Syrian airports, according to the researcher.
For his part, al-Nuaimi believes that the “Israeli fear” is represented in the transfer of technology or equipment for drones and long-range cruise missiles to Hezbollah militia.
The Damascus and Dimas airports represent the most important airfields for arms shipments, especially the minute ones, which are considered an Israeli “red line” after Hezbollah launched a drone towards the Karish oil field, which is controlled by Israel, he added.
According to a study by the Jusoor Studies Center on 24 February, the Israeli policy in tracking Iran’s Syrian site was based on targeting weapons depots, missile warheads, and air defense systems before being transferred to Lebanon, in addition to Hezbollah’s monitoring points close to the Israeli sites.
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