Syrian regime says Israeli jets bombed Tehran-backed militia bases near the Iraqi border in the early hours of Wednesday.
Israeli jets have bombed Iranian-backed militia bases near the Iraqi border, the Syrian regime has said, with military defectors and Western intelligence sources describing the raid as one of Israel's most extensive in recent months.
Syrian news agency SANA and regime media said on Wednesday that Israel struck sites in Al Bukamal, a border town on the Euphrates river which lies on a major supply route, as well as areas in the province and city of Deir Ezzor, where the militias have a heavy presence.
An unnamed military official was quoted as saying Syrian air defences responded to the incoming Israeli missiles. It gave no further details.
Dozens of fighters were killed or wounded, according to an opposition war monitor.
Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 40 people were killed, including nine Syrian regime troops, and the rest were Iran-backed fighters. It said 37 were wounded.
Israeli warplanes have carried out airstrikes on eastern Syria, apparently targeting positions and arms depots of Iran-backed forces pic.twitter.com/UOyXtbURJn— TRT World Now (@TRTWorldNow) January 13, 2021
Israeli coordination with US
A senior US intelligence official with knowledge of the attack told The Associated Press that the air strikes were carried out with intelligence provided by the United States – a rare incidence of publicised cooperation between the two countries over choosing targets in Syria.
The official said the strikes targeted a series of warehouses in Syria that were being used in a pipeline to store and stage Iranian weapons.
The US official, who requested anonymity to speak about sensitive national security matters, said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo discussed Tuesday's air strikes with Yossi Cohen, chief of Israel's spy agency Mossad, at a public meeting in popular Washington restaurant Cafe Milano on Monday.
The official said the warehouses also served as a pipeline for components that support Iran's nuclear programme.
There was no immediate comment from an Israeli military spokesperson but Israel's Defence Force Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi said last month the missile strikes had "slowed down Iran's entrenchment in Syria."
"They burnt Iranian positions in Deir Ezzor," said Omar Abu Laila, a Europe-based activist from Syria's eastern Deir Ezzor province who runs an activist collective that reports on news in the border area.
Israel, Iran jockeying for power
Israel says its goal is to end Tehran's military presence which Western intelligence sources say has expanded in recent years in the war-torn country.
The sources said the raids focused on Al Bukamal, which lies on the most important land route for deliveries of Iranian weapons and fighters into Syria, and ranged in the territory from the east of Deir Ezzor province to the city of Al Mayadeen, the provincial capital, in the vicinity of its airport.
Iran's ally, Lebanon's Hezbollah, now hold sway over vast areas in eastern, southern, and northwestern Syria, as well as several suburbs around Damascus.
They also control Lebanese-Syrian border areas.
Violation of Lebanese air space
Israel views Iranian entrenchment on its northern frontier as a red line, and it has repeatedly struck 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 that have caused jitters among residents and prompted Lebanon to file an urgent complaint to the UN about the violations of its airspace.
Israeli officials have said the overflights are necessary because Hezbollah is violating the 2006 UN resolution that bars it from building up its military capabilities and operating near the Israeli border.