Report: Israeli attacks tighten screws on Iranian arms transfers at Syrian airports

Israeli airstrikes on Iranian targets in Syria have increasingly targeted airports to counter Tehran’s increasing use of commercial flights to bring military supplies into the country. Reuters reported on Fridayciting intelligence and diplomatic sources.

A Western intelligence source and a defector from the Syrian military told the news agency that Tehran has started flying small arms and other military supplies on regular civilian flights. Deliveries transferred include precision-guided missiles, night vision goggles and UAVs, all small enough to load onto civilian aircraft, they said.

Iran has increasingly relied on flights as its previous ground routes via Iraq have become unreliable due to local turf wars and internal conflicts, the report said.

Israel views Iran’s expansion across Syria as a continuing threat to its national security and has launched attacks on a wide range of targets in an attempt to contain Iranian forces in the region.

A regional diplomatic source told Reuters that Israeli intelligence had noticed Iran’s increasing use of civilian airports to transport military equipment, and that recent airstrikes on airports seemed to signal a change in Israeli strategy in the region.

“They started hitting the infrastructure used by the Iranians to ship ammunition to Lebanon,” the source told Reuters. “It used to be just supply, not the airport. Now they land on the runway.”

According to the Reuters report, the recent attacks on airports in Aleppo and Damascus also appear to have been carried out to prevent the arrival of certain aircraft carrying weapons.

This satellite photo released by Planet Labs PBC shows the damage following an Israeli attack on Aleppo International Airport on September 1, 2022. (Planet Labs PBC via AP)

While Israel has declined to comment on specific airstrikes, military officials have acknowledged they were carried out during Syria’s 11-year civil war.

Earlier this year, airstrikes blamed on Israel caused extensive damage to Damascus International Airport and grounded all air traffic for two weeks. The Syrian defector told Reuters that Iran then diverted supplies to Aleppo airport, prompting Israel’s alleged attack there on Wednesday.

Nawar Shaaban, an analyst at the Omran Center for Strategic Studies, also told Reuters that the location of the Israeli airstrikes shed light on the expansion of Iranian influence in Syria. While previous attacks have targeted Damascus and surrounding military zones, attacks on more distant targets such as Aleppo and the Syrian coast show where Israel sees potential threats.

“The dangerous thing is when we look at these affected areas, it tells us that Iran has continued to expand,” Shaban said.

“Every time we see a strike hit a new area, the reaction is, ‘Woah, Israel struck there.’ But what we should say is, ‘Woah, Iran is here,'” he added.

A fire is reportedly seen at Aleppo International Airport in northern Syria following an airstrike attributed to Israel on August 31, 2022. (Social media)

While the IDF spokesman has declined to comment on specific events, he has acknowledged numerous attacks in the region, in line with Israeli policy.

A satellite image taken on Thursday showed damage at Aleppo International Airport in northern Syria. The image, captured by Planet Labs PBC and provided by Aurora Intel, appeared to show a burned area near the end of the runway.

The strike tore a hole through the runway and ignited a grass fire at the airfield. Despite this, planes landed at the airport throughout Thursday.

According to Aurora Intel, a sanctioned Iranian cargo plane had landed at Aleppo airport several hours before the attack. It was not clear if the plane or the cargo it was carrying had been hit in the attack.

Also on Thursday, Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad issued a sharp warning to Israel about the airstrikes. According to Arab media reports, he said Israel was “playing with fire” and risking a major military conflict.

On Friday, an Arabic newspaper reported that Russia had urged Iran and its militias to withdraw from positions across Syria amid an apparent increase in airstrikes blamed on Israel.

A-Sharq Al-Awsat, a London-based Saudi daily, quoted Syrian officials as saying Russian officers asked their Iranian counterparts to leave several locations in the country during a Wednesday meeting at the Hama military airport in central Syria.

According to the report, the calls came as Russia sought to maintain stability in Syria and deprive Israel of targets it could bomb in areas Russia considers important. An airstrike attributed to Israel last month hit several Iranian sites near Russia’s main naval base in Syria, in the port city of Tartus.

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