(April 18, 2018 / Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
The aerial bombing of the Syrian air force base in the Palmyra region (T-4) struck an Iranian drone section of the base under exclusive Iranian command. At least seven Iranian army personnel were killed, one of whom held the rank of colonel and was responsible for the unit operating the drones.
It should be noted that this unit was also bombed at the beginning of February 2018, after it was determined that it had dispatched the Iranian drone that infiltrated Israeli airspace and was shot down.
In an unusual statement, the Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman in Tehran announced four Iranians died in the aerial bombing, which it attributed to Israel. Details of seven dead servicemen were published on social-media channels in Iran.
Initially, immediately after the attack, a Syrian military spokesman blamed the United States, claiming that it apparently acted in response to a chemical-weapons bombardment of the civilian population in Douma. However, immediately afterwards, the Syrian announcement was changed to accuse Israel of attacking the Syrian air-force base.
On April 10, 2018, Ali Akbar Velayati, the top advisor to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khameini, called the bombing raid on T-4 “Israel’s crime” and warned that it “will not remain without response.” He made these remarks while visiting Damascus, underlining their importance. It is not clear, at this stage, whether he arrived immediately in the aftermath of the operation at T-4 or his visit was planned earlier. In any case, his visit will focus on Iranian-Syrian consultations about how they should respond and, as noted, Velayati stressed that what happened at T-4 will not remain without response.
In an unusual Russian announcement—and in the absence of anyone taking responsibility for the aerial action—Moscow blamed Israel for carrying it out. The Russian Defense Ministry charged that two Israeli F-15 aircraft fired missiles from over Lebanese airspace. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov labeled the airstrike “a dangerous development.”
The allegations from Tehran and Moscow that Israel carried out the aerial bombing and caused serious damage to the Iranian target raises the likelihood of a deterioration in the military situation between Iran and Israel. Iran may increase its attempts to strike at Israel via the Golan Heights, using Hezbollah and Shiite proxies from the “Foreign Legion” that it established in Syria.
Eventually, this deterioration may spill over beyond Syria, and lead to Iranian and Hezbollah attempts to strike at Israeli and Jewish targets outside the region.