BEIRUT (AP) – Israeli warplanes carried out intense airstrikes against eastern Syria early Wednesday, apparently targeting positions and weapons depots from Iranian-backed forces. Dozens of fighters were killed or wounded, according to an opposition war monitor.
A senior U.S. intelligence official with knowledge of the attack told The Associated Press that the airstrikes were carried out with U.S. intelligence – a rare occurrence of publicized cooperation between the two countries on target selection in Syria. The official said the strikes targeted a number of warehouses in Syria that were used in a pipeline to store and stage Iranian weapons.
The U.S. official, who asked for anonymity to speak on sensitive national security issues, said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday discussed airstrikes with Yossi Cohen, head of Israel̵
The official said the warehouses also served as a pipeline for components supporting Iran’s nuclear program.
Syria’s state news agency SANA said the strikes hit areas in and near the cities of Deir el-Zour, Mayadeen and Boukamal along the border with Iraq. An unnamed military official was quoted as saying that the Syrian air force responded to the incoming missiles. It gave no further details.
An opposition war monitor reported at least 18 strikes in Deir el-Zour and along the border with Iraq, saying several weapons depots were hit. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 23 people were killed, including seven Syrians, and the rest were Iranian-backed fighters. It said 28 were injured.
“They burned Iranian positions in Deir el-Zour,” said Omar Abu Laila, a Europe-based activist from Syria’s eastern Deir el-Zour province who runs an activist group that reports on news in the border area. He recorded at least 16 targeted buildings, warehouses or bases for Iranian, Lebanese and Iraqi militias in the cities of Boukamal, Mayadeen and Deir el-Zour.
Israel has over the years launched hundreds of strikes against Iran-linked military targets, but rarely acknowledges or discusses such operations.
The observatory said it registered 39 Israeli strikes inside Syria in 2020, hitting 135 targets, including military posts, warehouses or vehicles. In these attacks, at least 217 people were killed, mostly Iranian-allied militias, according to the observatory.
The strikes come at a time of heightened tensions in the region in the last days of President Donald Trump’s government.
Many fear retaliation for the U.S. assassination of Iranian Commander Qassem Soleimani last year may come before Trump leaves office, or that the conflict may break out to try Joe Biden’s next government to negotiate with Iran.
Israel considers Iranian anchoring at the northern border a red line, and it has repeatedly hit Iran-linked facilities and weapons convoys destined for Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah group.
The strikes also come amid intensifying low-altitude Israeli warplane missions in Lebanese skies, which have caused unrest among residents and prompted Lebanon to lodge an urgent complaint with the UN over violations of its airspace. Israeli officials have said the overflight is necessary because Hezbollah violates the 2006 UN resolution, which prevents it from building its military capabilities and operating near the Israeli border.
Associated Press author James LaPorta of Delray Beach, Florida, contributed reporting.