Israel hits Damascus in second attack on Syrian territory this week

Syrian army and Hizbullah weapons convoy targeted days after Golan Heights attack on IS gunmen

An Israeli Hermes 900 unmanned plane gets ready to fly near the Israeli-Syrian border. Israel’s air force targeted IS gunmen in Syria after they fired on an Israeli soldier in the occupied Golan Heights. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

An Israeli Hermes 900 unmanned plane gets ready to fly near the Israeli-Syrian border. Israel’s air force targeted IS gunmen in Syria after they fired on an Israeli soldier in the occupied Golan Heights. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

 

Israeli aircraft have reportedly hit targets close to Damascus, in the country’s second strike in Syria this week.

Various Arab media outlets reported that Israeli fighter jets bombed a Hizbullah-bound weapons convoy, as well as a Syrian army weapons storage facility near the Syrian capital, in the early hours of Wednesday morning, causing loud explosions that were heard by Damascus residents.

Israel never confirms or denies reports of attacks in the Damascus area but Syria’s state-run Sana news agency described the Israeli strike as an attempt to “divert attention from the successes achieved by the Syrian army and to raise the deteriorating morale of the terrorist gangs”, an apparent reference to recent rebel losses in Aleppo.

Local media reported that the missiles were launched from Lebanese airspace and caused no casualties. The missiles hit the al-Sabboura area to the west of the capital, Damascus, targeting a base of the Syrian army’s 4th division and a Hizbullah weapons convoy on the main Damascus-Beirut highway.

The attack follows an incident on Sunday when Israeli aircraft targeted and killed four fighters linked to an Islamic State militia on the Syrian Golan Heights after they reportedly opened fire at troops on the Israeli side of the border.

Since the start of the Syrian civil war in March 2011, a number of airstrikes in Syria or close to the border with Lebanon have been attributed to Israel.

However, with Russian jets and anti-aircraft units now operating in Syria, Israel no longer enjoys control of the skies and Jerusalem and Moscow have set up a very close co-ordination mechanism to avoid aerial confrontation. It is almost certain that the Russians knew in advance on Wednesday that Israel planned to operate in the area.

Reserve Maj Gen Giora Eiland, the former head of Israel’s National Security Council, said Israel acts militarily when its red lines are crossed.

“We attack only in one of two cases: if we are fired on in our territory as happened in the Golan Heights a few days ago, or if there are weapons shipments, what are known as game-changing weapons that are being transferred to Hizbullah. The second principle is that we attack very proportionately, not broadly, and we try not to hit people. The third thing is that we don’t announce anything, because the more that you announce, the more you force the other side to respond.”

Hizbullah, which fought a month-long war with Israel in 2006, has thousands of fighters in Syria, providing military aid to the Assad regime and Iranian forces. In April, prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, in a rare moment of candour, confirmed that Israel had carried out dozens of strikes against Hizbullah to prevent the group from obtaining advanced weapons, such as advanced anti-aircraft systems, chemical weapons or ground-to-sea missiles.