Israeli strikes on Syria intensify, raise tensions with Iran

Apr 4, 2023, 11:03 PM

File - Journalists stand by damage of a medieval citadel after an early morning Israeli airstrike i...

File - Journalists stand by damage of a medieval citadel after an early morning Israeli airstrike in the capital city of Damascus, Syria, Sunday, Feb. 19, 2023. Syrian state news reported that Israeli airstrikes have targeted a residential neighborhood in central Damascus. (AP Photo/Omar Sanadiki, File)

(AP Photo/Omar Sanadiki, File)

BEIRUT (AP) — Suspected Israeli airstrikes in Syria in recent weeks have killed two Iranian military advisers, temporarily put the country’s two largest airports out of service, and raised fears of regional escalation.

While Israel has fought a shadow war with Iran in Syria for years, it has intensified recently, with near-daily airstrikes attributed to Israel by Syrian officials over the past week.

The escalation of attacks comes after what appears to be a rare infiltration by an armed man from Lebanon into Israel and Iran’s reconciliation with regional rival Saudi Arabia last month. It also comes against the backdrop of a major domestic crisis in Israel over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government plan to overhaul the judiciary.

Israel, which has vowed to stop Iranian entrenchment in neighboring Syria, has carried out hundreds of strikes on targets in government-controlled parts of that country in recent years — but rarely acknowledges them. Since the beginning of 2023, Syrian officials have attributed 10 strikes on Syrian territory to Israel, including four airstrikes within five days as of Tuesday.

The United States, Israel’s closest ally, has had its own recent run-ins with Iranian forces in Syria. In late March, U.S. forces retaliated with airstrikes on sites in Syria used by groups affiliated with Iran’s Revolutionary Guard following a suspected Iran-linked drone attack that killed a U.S. contractor and wounded six other Americans in northeast Syria. An official with an Iranian-backed group in Iraq said the U.S. strikes killed seven Iranians.

The flareup between the U.S. and Iran did not escalate, but some fear the back-and-forth between Israel and Iran could.

Since the early years of Syria’s 12-year-old conflict, Iran has deployed hundreds of military advisers as well as thousands of Iran-backed fighters from countries including Iraq and Lebanon who helped tip the balance of power in President Bashar Assad’s favor. Iran-backed fighters are deployed in different parts of Syria.

Israel has long considered Iran to be its top enemy, citing Iranian calls for Israel’s destruction, its support for anti-Israel militant groups like Hezbollah and its nuclear program. Israel and Western countries say Iran is trying to develop a nuclear weapons — a charge Iran denies.

Iran has blamed Israel for attacks on its territory, including the killings of some of its nuclear scientists and damage to nuclear installations.

The airstrikes in Syria reflect Israel’s concerns about fighters being deployed close to its northern border and fears that Iran is trying to transfer sophisticated weapons, such as guided missiles, to Hezbollah. Both Israel and Hezbollah have avoided an all-out war since their 34-day war in 2006 ended with a draw. Israel considers Hezbollah, which is believed to possess over 130,000 rockets and missiles, to be a major threat.

Lebanese military expert and former army general Hisham Jaber said Iran has about 1,800 military advisers in Syria, most of them deployed with Syrian troops.

The increase in strikes on Syria began with a Jan. 2 attack that temporarily put Damascus airport out of service, just after the most right-wing government in Israel’s 74-year history took office.

The strikes continued despite mass protests in Israel, including open disagreement between Netanyahu and his defense minister, Yoav Gallant, over the government’s controversial plans for a judicial overhaul. At one point, Netanyahu fired Gallant for criticizing the plan, but then backtracked and temporarily halted the push for the overhaul until parliament reconvenes in a month.

The two men have made a number of public appearances in recent days, alluding to military activity in Syria without overtly confirming it.

“We will not allow the Iranians and Hezbollah to harm us. We have not allowed it in the past, we won’t allow it now, or anytime in the future,” Gallant said this week. “When necessary, we will push them out of Syria to where they belong – and that is Iran.”

Strikes attributed to Israel in Syria in recent weeks have targeted both Iranian-linked figures and infrastructure.

They have hit the airports of Damascus and Aleppo, a move which was apparently intended to prevent the flow of arms shipments into Syria, but which also disrupted aid shipments after the deadly Feb. 6 earthquake that struck Syria and Turkey.

On Feb. 19, the first reported Israeli strikes after the earthquake targeted residential areas in Syria’s capital Damascus, killing at least five people and wounding 15. Opposition activists said the strikes targeted Iranian-backed militias.

In mid-March, the Israeli army said its soldiers had killed an armed man suspected of entering the country from Lebanon and blowing up a car. The incident, which wounded one Israeli, unnerved Israelis. Officials suspect the man infiltrated from Lebanon and may have been dispatched by Hezbollah or directly by Iran.

A few days after the alleged infiltration, a commander with the Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad was shot dead outside his apartment building near Damascus in what the group described as an assassination by Israeli agents.

Last Tuesday, Netanyahu said Israel’s intelligence agency Mossad helped Greece prevent a terrorist attack planned against at least one Jewish site in Athens. Greek authorities said two men described as being of Pakistani origin were arrested for allegedly planning an attack on a Jewish center.

On Friday, an Israeli strike on a southern suburb of Damascus killed two advisers from Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. Hours later, Israel’s air force shot down a drone that entered Israel from Syria and alleged that Iran was behind its launch.

Yoel Guzansky, an Iran expert and senior fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies, a Tel Aviv think tank, said Israel’s stepped-up action in recent weeks could be in response to the recent alleged infiltration from Lebanon.

Guzansky noted that Iran rarely acknowledges the death of its officers and advisers as quickly as it did after Friday’s attack. He said the swift public acknowledgement could signal that “Iran will avenge or respond to the Israeli attacks,” possibly targeting Israelis abroad.

An official with an Iran-backed group in the region warned that if Israel continues with the strikes, Tehran and its allies will retaliate. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the issue with the media.

Iran’s semi-official Tasnim news agency quoted the Revolutionary Guard as saying that the killing of two Iranian advisers “will definitely not pass without retaliation.”


Federman reported from Jerusalem.


Artist and photographer Roger Ballen watches as visitors enter the "Shack" installation during an e...

Associated Press

Renowned artist confronts destruction of African wildlife in latest art show

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Often depicted as an integral feature of the continent, African wildlife, from iconic big beasts to its vast array of species, continues to attract millions of foreign travelers every year. But a new art exhibition in the heart of Johannesburg is questioning the relationship between humans and animals on the continent, which […]

1 day ago

Associated Press

4 Indigenous children lost in jungle for 40 days after plane crash are found alive in Colombia

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — Four Indigenous children who disappeared 40 days ago after surviving a small plane crash in the Amazon jungle were found alive Friday, Colombian authorities announced, ending an intense search that gripped the nation. The children were alone when searchers found them and are now receiving medical attention, President Gustavo Petro told […]

1 day ago

FILE - Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson returns to 10 Downing Street after meeting with Queen...

Associated Press

Boris Johnson’s career spanned dizzying heights and tumultuous lows

LONDON (AP) — He was the mayor who reveled in the glory of hosting the 2012 London Olympics, and the man who led the Conservatives to a whopping election victory on the back of his mission to “get Brexit done.” But Boris Johnson’s time as prime minister was marred by his handling of the coronavirus […]

1 day ago

FILE - In this Sept. 23, 2015 file, photo, Central Illinois farmers deposit harvested corn on the g...

Associated Press

Canada joins US in trade dispute hearings against Mexico’s proposed ban on GM corn

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Canada said Friday it will join a trade dispute panel that the United States requested over Mexico’s proposed limits on imports of genetically modified corn. The U.S. government asked that the dispute process be formally opened on June 2, after talks with the Mexican government failed to yield results. The panel […]

1 day ago

Associated Press

11 UN peacekeepers accused of sexual exploitation, abuse in Central African Republic

BANGUI, Central African Republic (AP) — Eleven U.N. peacekeepers stationed in Central African Republic have been accused of sexual exploitation and abuse, the United Nations said Friday. Investigations were still underway, but preliminary evidence gathered by the U.N. Office of Internal Oversight Services revealed that the members of a Tanzanian peacekeeping unit deployed in the […]

1 day ago

Associated Press

U.N. suspends food aid to Ethiopia over diversion of supplies, a day after U.S. does the same

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — The United Nations World Food Program said Friday that it is temporarily suspending food aid to Ethiopia because its supplies are being diverted, an announcement that came a day after the United States Agency for International Development said it was doing the same. “Food diversion is absolutely unacceptable, and we welcome […]

1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

Education families...

Education that meets the needs of students, families

Washington Virtual Academies (WAVA) is a program of Omak School District that is a full-time online public school for students in grades K-12.

Emergency preparedness...

Emergency planning for the worst-case scenario

What would you do if you woke up in the middle of the night and heard an intruder in your kitchen? West Coast Armory North can help.

Innovative Education...

The Power of an Innovative Education

Parents and students in Washington state have the power to reimagine the K-12 educational experience through Insight School of Washington.

Medicare fraud...

If you’re on Medicare, you can help stop fraud!

Fraud costs Medicare an estimated $60 billion each year and ultimately raises the cost of health care for everyone.

Men's Health Month...

Men’s Health Month: Why It’s Important to Speak About Your Health

June is Men’s Health Month, with the goal to raise awareness about men’s health and to encourage men to speak about their health.

Internet Washington...

Major Internet Upgrade and Expansion Planned This Year in Washington State

Comcast is investing $280 million this year to offer multi-gigabit Internet speeds to more than four million locations.

Israeli strikes on Syria intensify, raise tensions with Iran