By Erin Viner
According to United States Army Spokesman Colonel Joe Buccino, the operation on Tuesday was ordered by President Joe Biden, to protect American forces from attack by Iranian proxies.
Citing a 15 August incident reportedly involving an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV, drone) attack on a base where coalition and US-backed Syrian opposition fighters are based, the military’s Central Command described in a statement that the counterstrikes were “proportionate, deliberate action intended to limit the risk of escalation and minimize the risk of casualties.”
The statement did not disclose whether manned or UAVs were used in the airstrikes.
The Ayatollah regime and its terrorist proxies such as Hezbollah have established a foothold in Syria with the the deployment of forces aimed at attacking Israel while assisting President Bashar al-Assad battle insurgents in the Syrian Civil War which erupted in 2011. They are deeply entrenched west of the Deir az-Zor Province, located on the banks of the Euphrates River about 450 km (280 mi) northeast of the Syrian capital of Damascus, where they are able to receive supplies from Iraq through the al-Bukamal Border Crossing.
US forces first deployed into Syria during when Biden served as Vice President during the administration of then-President Barack Obama in an alliance partnering with a Kurdish-led group called the Syrian Democratic Forces as part of the campaign to defeat the Islamic State (ISIS) terror group. An estimated 900 US troops remain in Syria, the majority of whom are deployed in the eastern sector of the Arab Republic.
This was not the first time US took action against Iran-backed proxy groups: warplanes struck operational and weapons storage facilities at two separate sites in Syria and one in Iraq in June 2021.
The strikes come as Washington forms a response to a draft agreement proposed by the European Union (EU) to revive the 2015 Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear deal with Iran that was abandoned by former President Donald Trump in 2018, which President Biden has sought to restore.
In related developments, Russia has heavily criticized Israeli strikes on Syria.
“We strongly condemned the dangerous practice of Israeli strikes on Syrian territory,” said Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at a joint news conference on Tuesday alongside his Syrian counterpart, Faisal Mekdad.
“We demand that Israel respect the resolutions of the United Nations Security Council and, above all, respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria,” he added.
Moscow is also a key backer of Syrian President Assad and its intervention alongside Iran helped turn the tide in favor of the regime in an over a decade of civil war.
For his part, Minister Mekdad declared Syria’s support for Russia’s war against Ukraine, which Moscow refers to as a “special military operation” aimed at “de-Nazifying” the smaller southern neighboring state.
Lavrov’s remarks highlight a rift in once-close relations between the Kremlin and Jerusalem. Bilateral tensions have spiked in recent months over Israel’s condemnation of the Ukraine war, and controversial comments by Moscow’s top diplomat in May claiming that Nazi leader Adolf Hitler had Jewish roots – a statement which triggered outrage in Israel and forced a rare apology from Russian President Vladimir Putin. In addition, the Federation has initiated legal investigation into the closure of the Jewish Agency branch in Russia which promotes emigration to Israel.
The IDF struck Iranian targets in a series of strikes on 14 August near Assad’s ancestral home region, which is also close to Russia‘s main Syrian bases on the Mediterranean coast. The coastal territories are inhabited mainly by Assad’s minority Alawite sect that dominates the higher echelons of power in the security force and the Syrian Armed Forces (SAF). Three servicemen were killed and three were wounded, said the SAF, in two simultaneous Israeli attacks south of the province of Tartous and another on the capital of Damascus. While the military officially failed to identify precise locations, an officer of the speaking on condition of anonymity said the Israeli strikes targeted an Iranian base near the village of Abu Afsa south of Tartous including an air defense and radar station nearby. Two Syrian military defectors familiar with the region said the that the attacks on the northeastern outskirts of Damascus hit facilities operated by the Lebanon-based Iranian-proxy Hezbollah terror group.
Israel has staged hundreds of strikes against alleged Iranian targets in recent years but has mostly avoided hitting the coastal provinces where Russia’s main military assets are concentrated. The latest attacks were in close proximity to the Russian navy’s only Mediterranean base in the port of Tartous where Russian warships are docked, while Moscow’s major Hmeimim air base is also in nearby Latakia Province.
The SAF last June that major IAF strikes on its main international airport in Damascus caused damage on runways so severe that all flights were grounded for several week. Israeli defense authorities maintain the civilian airport is frequently used by Tehran for delivery of munitions and supplies to its proxies.
While the Jewish State rarely confirms such missions, but the country’s political and defense leaders have repeatedly stated that Iran’s presence just over the northern frontier will not be tolerated and have acknowledged mounting hundreds of attacks on Tehran-linked targets in the Republic over the past several years.
Russian forces in Syria generally ‘turn a blind eye’ to Israeli air strikes against Iranian deployment and weapons shipment to Syria. Last month, however, Israeli defense officials said Russian troops unsuccessfully attempted to bring down Israeli Air Force jets with anti-aircraft fire during a May raid, although they referred to the action as a “one-off incident.”