From Suleiman Al-Khalidi
AMMAN (Reuters) – The Syrian army announced on Monday that the Syrian air defenses had intercepted an “Israeli aggression” against the capital, Damascus, when it bombed Iranian targets in the country during the past two months.
A spokeswoman said that the Israeli army, which has just begun a surprise air exercise along the country’s northern border, “has not commented on the foreign reports.”
The Syrian official media did not mention the details of the Israeli airstrike. An army statement said that Israeli military aircraft were flying over the Golan Heights to hit targets on the outskirts of the capital, without mentioning the victims, but added that the air defenses dropped most of the missiles.
The Syrian army said in a statement that our air defense continues to repel Israeli missile attacks in the sky of the capital.
A defector from the Syrian army said that the raids targeted a large military division in the city of Kiswa, 14 km south of the capital, in a large area controlled by Iranian-backed factions.
Residents said that eyewitnesses heard explosions on the southern edge of Damascus, an area where Iranian-backed armed factions are fortified.
Israeli officials have confirmed that they launched attacks inside Syria to end the Iranian military presence in Syria.
Military Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi said late last year that Israeli missile strikes “slowed Iran’s landing in Syria” and struck more than 500 targets in 2020.
On Monday, the army said that during the surprise exercises, which will continue until Wednesday, air traffic will increase across the country and explosions could be heard in northern Israel.
She said, “The exercise simulates combat scenarios on the northern front and will test all components of the (air force) basic functions, including maintaining air superiority, protecting the country’s airspace, attacking and gathering intelligence.”
Western intelligence sources say that Iran’s military influence in Syria has increased in recent years, prompting Israel to step up its campaign to prevent its archenemy from establishing an important military foothold along its borders.
The pro-Iranian militias, led by the Lebanese Hezbollah, control large areas in eastern, southern and northwestern Syria, in addition to several suburbs around Damascus. It also controls the Lebanese-Syrian border areas.
Israel, which has launched some of its largest strikes so far in Syria in the past two months, has focused on Albukamal, the Syrian city that controls the border checkpoint on the main road between Baghdad and Damascus.
The expanded military campaign was part of a so-called “campaign within wars” that the United States tacitly agreed to, according to Israeli generals and regional intelligence sources.
Regional intelligence sources said that operations to prevent Tehran from shifting the balance of power in Syria in its favor have gradually undermined Iran’s formidable military power without leading to a significant increase in hostilities.
(Coverage by Suleiman Al-Khalidi, additional coverage of Makiya’s Canada, edited by Peter Cooney, Jacqueline Wong and Jerry Doyle)