CAIRO/AMMAN – Syria said Israel bombed Iranian-backed militia bases near the Iraqi border in the early hours of Wednesday, in a raid which military defectors and Western intelligence sources said was one of Israel’s most extensive in recent months.
Syrian news agency SANA and state media said Israel had struck sites in Al Bukamal, a border town on the Euphrates river which lies on an important supply route, as well as areas in the province and city of Deir al Zor, where the militias have a heavy presence.
Israel’s military did not immediately comment. Asked by Israel’s Reshet Bet radio about the reports, Israeli Settlement Affairs Minister Tzachi Hanegbi said he would not comment about the incident.
But Hanegbi said Israel targeted Iranian targets in Syria “time after time … whenever our intelligence dictates it and according to our operational capability.”
Israel’s Defence Force Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi said last month that missile strikes had “slowed down Iran’s entrenchment in Syria”.
Israel has said its goal is to end Tehran’s military presence, which Western intelligence sources say has expanded in Syria in recent years.
The Western intelligence sources said the raids on Wednesday focused on Al Bukamal, which lies on the most important land route for deliveries of Iranian weapons and fighters into Syria, and ranged in territory from the east of Deir al Zor province to the city of al Mayadeen, the provincial capital, in the vicinity of its airport.
Iran’s proxy militias led by Lebanon’s Hezbollah now hold sway over vast areas in eastern, southern and northwestern Syria, as well as several suburbs around Damascus. They also control Lebanese-Syrian border areas.