Syrian airports turn Israel’s target bank to paralyze Iran routes
Enab Baladi – Hussam al-Mahmoud
Under the pretext of the arrival of Iranian arms shipments through them, Israel continues its efforts to disrupt the Syrian airports and in an effort to prevent the return of the air navigation line between Syria and Iran.
In a report entitled “Israel is ready to paralyze Syrian airports,” the Russian Nezavisimaya newspaper revealed on 18 December 2022 that Israel is determined to prevent the return of air traffic between Syria and Iran because the air route is used to transport weapons. This prompted senior Israeli officials to study various options, including launching a strong and “crippling” strike on the Syrian airports.
Reports about intentions of this kind are not surprising as long as the Israeli Air Force has a record of bombing sites and points used by Iran in Syria, especially during the last decade, including civilian and military airports.
However, the justifications for the obstruction intentions were uncovered by the Russian newspaper by Iranians’ focus on using civil aviation due to their reluctance to resort to land transportation.
Over the past few days (before and after the formation of Benjamin Netanyahu’s government), Syria was clearly present in official statements by Israeli officials, starting with what was published by Israel Hayom newspaper on 25 December 2022 about the Iranian failure to establish a foothold in Syria, based on the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) intelligence estimates for 2023.
The Israeli Chief of Staff, Aviv Kochavi, said only two days later, during a speech he delivered at the National Security Institute, that Israel had delayed the establishment of “Hezbollah 2” and had thwarted the installation of hundreds of surface-to-surface missiles and the deployment of tens of thousands of Shiite militia fighters in Syria.
In a thread on Twitter published by the Israeli army spokesperson on 29 December, Israel acknowledged carrying out dozens of air strikes on targets in Syria in 2022 under the name of a “battle between wars.”
The Nezavisimaya newspaper quoted Israeli officials as saying that the “simplest approach” would be to strike Mahan airplanes while they were on Syrian territory, with regard to the mechanism for implementing the Israeli threat.
But looking at the impact of an operation of this kind on civilian airports prompts the Israelis to think about options for penetrating the airport’s infrastructure, observers say.
“Mahan Air” is an Iranian airline based in Tehran, established in the 1990s, and owns a fleet of 54 aircraft, and is subject to US sanctions for its involvement in the transfer of weapons from the Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRG) to the Lebanese Hezbollah militia.
Syrian civil and military airports have been subjected to frequent Israeli bombardment for years, and during September 2022, Aleppo Airport had two strikes in the first week of September, which resulted in it being temporarily out of service, and damage to its runways, in addition to another bombing that the Damascus International Airport was subjected to, on 17 September, five regime forces were killed.
In addition to another bombing, on 10 June 2022, less than 24 hours after an interview with the head of the Syrian regime, Bashar al-Assad, with the Russia Today channel, during which he said that the Israeli bombing “was completely linked to the stage of the terrorists’ collapse in Syria.”
The former major pilot in the regime forces, Youssef Hammoud, explained that the Israeli attacks on the airports of Damascus and Aleppo gradually increased in intensity, so they began bombing the runways, which is a step that can be repaired in a short time.
At the same time, he indicated that Israel balances the international use of Damascus and Aleppo airports in its bombing, as the Syrian airspace is open to civil aviation traffic, in line with international air traffic, and there is no room for the complete disruption of any airport, as an international plane can at any moment request an emergency landing at any airport.
With the escalation of Israeli targets, Israel bombed the second terminal at the Damascus International Airport, which is under Iranian supervision. It also targeted the air defense battalions in the Sbeineh town near the airport in the eastern Ghouta suburbs.
Israel may decide at some point to block an airport in Syria for several hours based on the information it receives.
For example, there may be an Iranian civilian plane carrying a shipment of weapons that is about to land at the airport, so Israel targets the airport runways after the plane enters Syrian airspace, which prevents the plane from landing and pushes it to search for a backup airport, according to Hammoud.
For his part, military analyst Tareq Haj Bakri ruled out the existence of Israeli intentions to completely take the airports out of service, considering that it wants to present itself as an obstacle to the arrival of Iranian aircraft to Syria.
Haj Bakri pointed out that in addition to destroying the runways and radar rooms, there is the possibility of using jamming to disrupt the landing at the airport and put it out of service, which can be bypassed and repeated later.
It is also possible to target Iranian planes before they land in Syrian airports or on the grounds of the airport, which means disrupting its work for a while, the military analyst added.
Blind without radar
Civilian airports are targeted by striking the radar stations or the radio guidance and guidance stations at the airport, which turns the plane into a blind plane in the air, given that the landing of civil aviation depends on the readiness of the guidance stations at the airport to receive the plane upon landing, which is more useful than hitting the runway because repairing the latter does not takes a long time.
As for repairing the radar stations, it requires bringing in new stations from Russia since the current stations are Russian, which means putting the airport out of service for a longer period, according to Hammoud.
“Iran activated land transportation before the Islamic State attacks in the Syrian Badia, which reinforced the need for aviation, which raised the frequency of bombing. This is what makes the Israeli bombing consistent with Iranian movements on the ground over an area extending from the Syrian-Iraqi border gate to Damascus,” Hammoud said.
At the same time, Hammoud expected an increase in the frequency of Israeli bombing of civilian and military airports, questioning the accuracy of the Israeli Chief of Staff’s statements about the failure of the Iranian position in Syria.
The military expert said that Israel limited the Iranian movement and destroyed some sites and weapons depots, but it did not end the Iranian presence in the full sense.
In view of the possibility of using the Rafic Hariri Airport in Beirut as an alternative to the airports of Syria in the event of a bombing, Israel threatened earlier to bomb the airport if it was used for smuggling Iranian weapons.
Israel not satisfied
A study issued by the Harmoon Center for Contemporary Studies on 27 December 2022 monitored the escalation of Israeli strikes on Syrian civil and military airports since 2013.
The study considered that the Israeli strikes on Syrian airports “actually” began in early 2018 because the military shipments transported by the Iranian Quds Force to Syria were destined to fight the Syrian opposition factions and did not pose a “serious threat to Israeli national security.”
According to the Harmoon Center, the past three years witnessed a “boom” in the rate of Iranian reliance on the air smuggling route through Syrian airports.
This made the Israeli strategy to deal with these security threats not only chasing sensitive shipments and striking them within the site or storage places only but also striking logistical transport facilities, navigation systems, aircraft stands, and Syrian airport runways.
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