ISRAEL (OBSERVATORY) – Syria has accused Israel of being behind the bombing of a military airbase near the central city of Homs on Sunday night.
“Israeli F-15 fighter jets fired several missiles from Lebanese territory,” the official SANA news agency quoted a military source as saying.
The attack on Monday targeted the Teys air base, known as Tifor, and killed 14 people, observers said.
Iran’s Fars news agency reported photographs and names of those it said were three members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards who were killed in the raids.
The bombing came amid international warnings of a suspected chemical strike in the eastern city of Douma in the Syrian capital of Damascus, controlled by the Syrian armed opposition.
Syria initially accused the West of being behind the bombing. Both the United States and France had threatened to retaliate against the alleged chemical attack, but they denied having bombed the base.
Israel, which has already bombed targets inside Syria, has not commented.
In the meantime, the evacuation of the last group of militants of the Army of Islam from the city of Duma after reaching an agreement with the government authorities to get out of the city.
The agency said the first batch of detainees had been released by the Army of Islam in exchange for the removal of five buses carrying dozens of Army of Islam gunmen from Douma and their families in preparation for their transfer to the Grapes region in northern Syria.
Could Israel be involved in the attack?
A Syrian military source said the Israeli air defenses had foiled an Israeli missile attack on the al-Taif base and that the rockets had been fired from Israeli F-15 jets over Lebanese territory.
The Russian Defense Ministry said eight missiles had been fired at al-Qaeda, Syrian air defenses destroyed five of them, and hit three missiles in the western part of the airport.
In the past, Israel has rarely acknowledged military strikes inside Syrian territory, but has admitted to attacking targets within Syria dozens of times after 2012, the most severe air strikes in February this year, among the targets hit by the Tifur air base.
These strikes followed the flight of an Iranian drone into Israeli airspace and the dropping of Syrian air defenses by an Israeli F-16 fighter aircraft overflying Syria.
Senior Israeli Air Force Gen. Tomer Barr described the response as “the most powerful attack” of its kind against Syria since the 1982 Lebanon war.
Israel has stressed that it will not allow Iran to establish bases in Syria and work from there against it, which Israel poses a great threat to them.
The Israeli army said that Iran, and its Revolutionary Guard, had long been active in the Tevor base and used it to transport weapons, including weapons to the Lebanese Hezbollah militia, the enemy of Israel.
She pointed out that the unmanned aircraft was launched from that base.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says fighters from different nationalities – meaning Iranians or Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias – were among the 14 dead in the last strike of the Tifur base.
The Israeli army officially admitted for the first time in March the destruction of a Syrian facility in the eastern region of Deir al-Zour, suspected of being a Syrian nuclear reactor was about to be completed in an air strike in 2007.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in September that Iran was working day and night to turn Syria into a military base to “use Syria and Lebanon as war fronts to remove Israel from existence.”
Netanyahu said Tehran was building factories to produce precision rockets in both countries, which Israel would not allow.
It also acknowledged in 2016 that Israel had carried out dozens of raids in Syria to prevent the transfer of advanced weapons to Hezbollah.
The party, which fought a war with Israel in 2006, sent thousands of fighters to support the Syrian army in the conflict that has been going on for nearly seven years.
The attack could be part of a steady Israeli effort to contain Iran’s military role in Syria and to intercept the processing of advanced Iranian missiles to its ally, the Shi’ite Hezbollah.
However, any Israeli operation will be closely monitored by Russian air defense radars in Syria, and there is also a hotline between Israelis and Russian operations commanders in Syria.
Russia has so far done nothing to intercept Israeli air operations.
But the presence of Russian air defenses in Syria certainly complicates the equation, at a time when Western governments are considering responding to the latest “chemical attack.”
Is there a link to bombing the attack in Douma?
US President Donald Trump and his French counterpart Emmanuel Macaron pledged in a joint statement a strong and joint reaction to the alleged chemical attack.
But US officials denied a missile strike against Syria on Sunday night.
The Pentagon said in a statement it was not carrying out air strikes in Syria “at the moment.”
“But we continue to monitor the situation closely and support the ongoing diplomatic efforts to hold accountable those who use chemical weapons in Syria.”
France issued a similar denial.
The official Syrian news agency initially said the missile strike on the Tifor base was “suspected of being an American attack” but later deleted any reference to US responsibility.
In April 2017, the United States launched 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at Syria’s air cap base in response to what it said was a chemical weapons attack on the Syrian-controlled town of Khan Sheikun.
Meeting of the Security Council
Diplomatically, the UN Security Council will meet on Monday to discuss two competing demands from Russia and the United States following what has been described as a “deadly chemical attack” in Syria.
Diplomats said Russia on Sunday called for a meeting of the council to discuss “international threats to peace and security”, although the subject was not immediately clear.
Some linked Russian demand with US President George W. Bush’s threats that “there will be a heavy price” for what he called a chemical attack in Syria.
One minute after the Russian request, Britain, France, the United States, Poland, the Netherlands, Sweden, Kuwait, Peru and Ivory Coast called for a meeting of the council to discuss a chemical weapons attack in Syria.
Diplomats pointed out that it was agreed late on Sunday to hold one meeting on Monday to discuss the two applications together.