An image on social media shows the night sky lighting up after an Israeli strike. March 17, 2024

Israel Hits Damascus As Iran Hints At Giving Syria Weapons

Sunday, 03/17/2024

Israel struck multiple sites in Syria hours after Iran hinted that it would give Syria weapons to "boost" its military power.

In a meeting between the defense ministers of Iran and Syria Saturday, the Iranian official said his country is willing to “utilize its full capabilities” to help Syria strengthen its “defense and deterrence” against Israel and the United States.

Shortly after, the Syrian army announced that Israeli missiles had hit “several points” in southern Syria early Sunday local time, injuring one soldier and causing some “material damage”.

No more details were offered immediately, neither by Syria nor by Israel –which rarely comments on such events. Several local sources reported, however, that the targets had links with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) and were located around the Syrian capital, Damascus.

Syrian opposition sources indicated Israel launched missiles from the Golan Heights targeting the Damascus countryside. Some reports spoke of large explosions lighting up the night sky.

Israel is known to launch frequent airstrikes inside Syria, often targeting IRGC-related sites or personnel. These airstrikes have intensified since October 7, when Hamas forces stormed Israeli territory bordering Gaza, killing more than a thousand civilians and soldiers.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) has recorded 24 Israeli attacks inside Syria this year, killing more than 40, including members of Hezbollah and the IRGC.

Iran's Revolutionary Guards have scaled back deployment of senior officers in Syria due to a spate of deadly Israeli strikes and were relying more on allied Shi'ite militia to preserve their sway there, Reuters reported in February.

The attacks early Sunday seem to have hit a weapons depot linked to Iran and a military airport, both in the outskirts of Damascus. SOHR has said that two Hezbollah bases in north-east Syria have been targeted.

It’s unclear if the timing has had anything to do with the meeting between the defense ministers of Iran and Syria Saturday –where the Iranian general warned Israel and America not to ‘intensify’ the ongoing crisis in the region.

Iran and its regional allies, identifying themselves as the Axis of Resistance, have been in a state of heightened military tension since last October, but have so far managed to avert a full-blown war, thanks also to the Biden administration’s reluctance to confront Iran.

The Israeli government, however, has been far more willing to launch direct attacks on Iranian interests, especially in Syria, where several IRGC officers were killed a few months ago. As a result, the regime in Tehran seems to have slowed the flow of its IRGC personnel into Syria.

The scale and significance of the latest attack is yet to be known. So is Iran’s response, if any. Recent history suggests that Iran prefers to let such attacks go unanswered, focusing instead on enabling and coordinating its allied groups to keep threatening US and Israeli interests.

Reports emerged Friday that senior Houthi and Hamas representatives held a rare meeting in Lebanon last week to discuss “expanding confrontations and encircling" Israel. Other Palestinian factions were also present at the meeting, according to AFP, including the Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

The aim, AFP reports, was to find ways to “coordinate their actions of resistance" for the "next stage" of the war in Gaza. It is hard to imagine Iran –or IRGC’s Quds Force, to be more specific– not having played a leading role in this.

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