BEIRUT (AP) – Israeli military planes carried out intense air strikes on eastern Syria early Wednesday, apparently targeting positions and weapons depots of Iran-backed forces. Dozens of fighters have been killed or wounded, according to an opposition military observer.
A senior US intelligence official who knew about the attack told the Associated Press that the airstrikes were carried out with US-provided intelligence, a rare phenomenon of public cooperation between the two countries in choosing targets in Syria. The official said the strikes were aimed at a series of warehouses in Syria that are being used in a pipeline to store and stage Iranian weapons.
A U.S. official who asked for anonymity to speak on sensitive national security issues said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo discussed Tuesday̵
The official said the warehouses also served as a pipeline for components that support Iran’s nuclear program.
The Syrian state news agency SANA said the strikes covered areas in and near the cities of Deir el-Zur, Mayadin and Bukamal on the border with Iraq. An unnamed military official was quoted as saying that Syrian air defenses had reacted to incoming missiles. He did not give more details.
An opposition observer of the war reported at least 18 strikes in Deir el-Zur and on the border with Iraq, saying several weapons depots had been hit. The British Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 23 people had been killed, including seven Syrians, and the rest were backed by Iranian fighters. It says 28 were injured.
“They burned Iranian positions in Deir el-Zur,” said Omar Abu Layla, a European activist from Syria’s eastern province of Deir el-Zur who runs an activist group that reports on the border area. It has registered at least 16 target buildings, warehouses or bases for Iranian, Lebanese and Iraqi militias in the cities of Bukamal, Mayadin and Deir el-Zur.
Over the years, Israel has launched hundreds of strikes against Iran-related military targets in Syria, but rarely admits or discusses such operations.
The observatory said it had registered 39 Israeli strikes in Syria in 2020, hitting 135 targets, including military posts, warehouses or vehicles. The attacks killed at least 217 people, mostly militiamen allied with Iran, according to the Observatory.
The strikes came amid heightened tensions in the region in the final days of President Donald Trump’s administration.
Many fear retaliation for the assassination of Iranian Commander Qassem Soleimani last year could come before Trump leaves office, or the conflict could erupt to limit the efforts of Joe Biden’s incoming administration to negotiate with Iran.
Israel views Iran’s strengthening of its northern border as a red line and has repeatedly struck at Iran-linked facilities and convoys of weapons destined for Hezbollah’s battle group in Lebanon.
The strikes also come amid intensifying missions by Israeli warplanes in Lebanon’s skies, which have alarmed residents and prompted Lebanon to file an urgent complaint to the UN over airspace violations. Israeli authorities said the overflight was necessary because Hezbollah was violating a 2006 UN resolution banning it from building its military capabilities and operating near the Israeli border.
Associated Press writer James LaPorta in Delray Beach, Florida, reported.