The series of airstrikes in Syria between March 30 to April 4, attributed by international media to Israel, is a reflection of intensified Iranian weapons smuggling, according to an Israeli defense research center.
Tehran has been attempting to use humanitarian aid shipments to Syria as cover for this smuggling effort, according to the Alma Center.
The latest strike occurred overnight Monday, with Syrian state media accusing Israel of striking targets in and around Damascus, killing two people.
According to the Alma Center, which specializes in Israel’s northern security challenges, the recent wave of attacks are part of a “cat and mouse game” underway between the radical Shi’ite axis in Syria, led by Iran, and Israel.
The Feb. 6 quakes that rocked northern Syria and southern Turkey, causing tens of thousands of casualties, “created an opportunity for the Iranians,” said Tal Beeri, Alma’s head of research. For the coming year, the Iranians have an ideal civilian cover story for their weapons smuggling activities, he added.
Beeri spoke on Monday, hours before reports emerged of a fourth round of airstrikes in Syria. Two members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps were killed by the strikes, named by Iran as Milad Heydari and Meghdad Maghani, and identified as “advisers.”
A day earlier, an unmanned aerial vehicle intruded into Israeli airspace from Syria, and was brought down by the Israeli military over northern Israel. Soldiers retrieved its parts, and an initial military investigation suggests that the UAV was Iranian.
The Alma Center said it has identified 16 sites used by the radical Shi’ite axis in Syria to operate and store UAVs. The attack was most likely launched by the IRGC Quds Force, Hezbollah’s aerial unit, Shi’ite militias or local southern Syrian terror cells activated by Hezbollah and Iran, it added.
Furthermore, on the basis of the drone’s estimated route, “it is possible to assess” that the IDF Northern Command in Tzfat was a potential target, according to Alma.
Beeri added that the recent escalation in Syria is not necessarily tied to the March 13 Megiddo Junction roadside bombing, carried out by a terrorist who infiltrated from Lebanon, most likely with Hezbollah’s knowledge.
“Air strikes in Syria did not start after Megiddo,” he said. “We know the Iranians have exploited the February earthquake to smuggle weapons along their transit corridors, under humanitarian aid cover. We know this has happened along all routes, aerial and ground-based.”
On March 30 and 31, two strikes were carried out against targets in the Damascus area. On April 2, an additional strike was carried out in the Homs area in northwestern Syria. The attack apparently included several military targets known to harbor Hezbollah activity, said Alma.
“According to local reports, one of the main targets attacked was the Al-Dab’a airport,” which is located close to an area that is under Hezbollah’s complete control, constituting a major smuggling route from Syria to Lebanon.
Speaking at Tel Nof Air Force Base on Monday, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant stated that “the extended, long, and powerful arm of the State of Israel is the IAF.”
He added, “In the last month, the last week, the last 24 hours, we received good examples of what the IDF and IAF know how to do, sometimes with extended prior preparations, sometimes on short notice.”
He added that not all the IDF’s activities were publicly known.
According to Beeri, since the Feb, 6 quake, the Iranians have sent over 1,000 convoys into Syria. Some delivered humanitarian aid, but “some likely delivered other things,” he said.
“When it’s raining you can’t catch all the drops. Each convoy is a drop. But eventually the rain passes, and then come mushrooms. Those can be picked, one after the other. This is the mushroom picking stage,” said Beeri.