Syria Says Israel Struck Iranian Airbase Near Homs

Syria accused Israel on Sunday of attacking an air force base near Homs known to be housing Iranian forces. This is the third time in a year that Israel has struck the site, Haaretz reports. The official Syrian news agency SANA said air defenses were activated as warplanes, reportedly coming into the country from Jordan, approached the T4 base near Tiyas. The planes, which were said to be flying at low altitude to avoid detection, passed through the al-Tanaf area, where U.S. forces have a base.

“Our air defences are responding to an Israeli aggression and intercepting a number of missiles targeting the airport, hitting one of the attacking planes and forcing the rest to leave the airspace,” the official SANA news agency quoted a military source as saying.

Syria’s state media said that military air defenses thwarted the act of “Israeli aggression.” An army officer in the southern Syrian desert said the air defense system shot down missiles coming from south of the Tanaf region toward the air base. Reports said that around six missiles hit near the base, causing damage, but added that no one was hurt or killed.

Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said that a missile bombardment killed an unspecified number of “Iranian and pro-regime fighters” at the T-4 base and was “likely to be Israeli”, South China Morning Post adds. In addition to the Syrian army, Iranian fighters and Lebanese Hezbollah troops are also stationed at the airbase, according to the Observatory.

Syrian state outlets published a video of a flash in the dark sky, claiming it showed the air defences responding to the bombardment. The facility has previously been targeted by repeated strikes Damascus blamed on Israel. An Israeli military spokeswoman declined to comment on the latest incident, saying: “We do not comment on reports in the foreign media”.

Sunday’s strikes coincided with regime progress, backed by Russian support, in the nearby southern province of Daraa. After a blistering military operation and a ceasefire deal with rebels, government forces are re-establishing control over the entire southern province on the border with Israel.

Since the start of Syria’s civil war in 2011, Israel has repeatedly targeted positions of the Syrian army and Lebanon’s Shiite movement Hezbollah backing it inside the country. Israel usually does not claim the strikes, but has long said it will not allow Iran to establish a military presence in Syria. The aftermath of an April 2018 attack on the Syrian T-4 airbase in Homs, that was blamed on Israel.

According to The National, this is third time this year that Israel is reported to have struck T-4 airbase following attacks in February and April. The airbase is used by Iran for weaponry storage and training, according to a monitor. On April 9, missiles targeted the T-4 airbase in the central province of Homs, killing up to 14 fighters, including seven Iranians. Moscow, Tehran and Damascus accused Israel of also carrying out those raids.

The airbase was also hit on February 10, after Israel accused Iranian forces at the T-4 base of sending a drone into Israeli territory. After bombing Iranian units in Syria in retaliation, an Israeli F-16 was shot down by Syrian anti-aircraft fire. The aftermath of an April 2018 attack on the Syrian T-4 airbase in Homs, that was blamed on Israel.

Israel then carried out what it called “large-scale” raids on Syrian air defence systems and Iranian targets, which reportedly included T-4. Israel seized a large swathe of the Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed it in 1981, in a move never recognised by the international community. The two countries are technically still at war.

In May there was an unprecedented escalation between Israel and Iran in Syria, with the Israeli army claiming it hit dozens of Iranian military targets across the border in response to what it said were rockets fired by Iranians at the occupied Golan Heights.