This afternoon local time, reports started coming in that the Israel Defense Force (IDF) had initiated a series of air strikes against targets within Syria. While the strike itself has not been confirmed by the Israeli government (and likely never will be), initial claims by witnesses on the ground have now been confirmed by mainstream media outlets and the Syrian government. Similar to previous Israeli strikes in the region, today’s attacks were against targets located in the south of Syria, close to the Israeli occupied Golan Heights. According to reports, “at least 10” explosions were witnessed in Al-Dimas, north-west of Damascus, with additional strikes in an area near the Damascus International Airport. The Dimas site was alleged to be an unspecified military site, while the area targeted near the airport was a storehouse. While little is currently known about these attacks, given what we know about similar Israeli attacks in the past, we can have some idea of what would have been targeted. The IDF’s primary goal with these sort of airstrikes is to prevent the transfer of so-called “game-changing” weaponry to actors who may pose a military threat to the State of Israel. With this in mind, we believe that this attack could have been against one of 3 possible targets.
Long Range Missiles For Hezbollah Since the 2006 war with Hezbollah, Israel has been concerned about the expansion of the organisation’s missile forces. Their greatest concern is that Hezbollah will acquire longer-range missiles which have the capacity to strike deep within Israel. In the past, IDF jets have reportedly struck sites involved in the storage and transport of the Fateh-110 missile (also known as the M600 in Syria) to prevent them from reaching Lebanon. It is highly likely today’s strikes were for a similar purpose.
S-300 AA System For Syria An equally plausible theory is that the strikes were targeted against components of a S-300 AA system. Syria has long been rumoured to be acquiring this advanced anti-aircraft missile system from Russia, something which if successful, would make Syria much better equipped to defend against aerial attacks. Israel may have received conclusive intel on locations for the storage of parts of this system, and taken the opportunity to destroy them before they could pose a threat to the country.
Undeclared Chemical Weapons Stockpile The least likely, but still plausible theory is that air strike targeted an undeclared stockpile of chemical weapons. While the Assad regime has nominally declared and handed over its chemical weapons to the international community for destruction, it has continued to use improvised chemical ‘barrel bombs’ against rebel-held areas. As well as breaking international commitments, this also demonstrates that the regime has a continuing desire to use such munitions, and may indeed be hiding limited amounts of more deadly agents. Such repositories may have been discovered and destroyed by the IDF today.