by Hugh Fitzgerald
Iran claims that its citizens are in Syria mainly to help with rebuilding the country’s infrastructure. Israel has good reason to think — and act — otherwise. Asked to comment on reports that Iran was building highly lethal weapons– precision-guided missiles — for Hezbollah, Iran feigned indignation. “Israel Intensifying Air War in Syria Against Iranian Encroachment,” Algemeiner, April 22, 2021:
Iran’s Foreign Ministry did not respond to requests for comment. Iran has said it has military advisers in Syria to help Assad’s forces, and will continue a policy “resisting” US and Israeli power in the wider Middle East.
Nothing says “resisting” Israeli power like shipping 150,000 missiles to Hezbollah for future launches against Israel, even though at the time those missiles were shipped Israel had not attacked a single Iranian target, inside or outside Iran.
Over the past year, Israeli warplanes, missiles and drones have hit a far wider range of targets — from suspected Iranian guided missile research and production sites to arms storage depots — than in the previous five years, said three Israeli officials and a senior Western official based in the region.
In the latest strike on Thursday, Israel hit al Dumair on the northeastern outskirts of Damascus which it has repeatedly hit in the past and where suspected Iranian-backed militias have a strong presence.
Jane’s defense news analysts said that over a three-year span Israel had used 4,239 weapons against 955 targets with 70% of Israeli pilots involved in the campaign, with the new F-35I Adir fighter jets leading dozens of missions.
It’s a fantastic record. In the last decade of bombing sites in Syria, the Israelis have lost exactly one plane, an F-16, which crashed inside Israel, as did the pilot, who has since recovered from his wounds. In the last three years alone, Israel has hit almost a thousand targets, and many of them have been hit repeatedly, as 4,239 weapons were used. Israel keeps upping both the number of targets, and the number of hits, whether by bombs, missiles, or drones.
“It’s been…months of painful hits, not (any more) limited to the Golan Heights or southern Syria (close to Israel) or around the outskirts of Damascus, they’ve gone north to Aleppo and Hama and to Al Bukamal on the Iraqi border,” a Syrian military defector, Brigadier General Ahmad Rahal, told Reuters.
The Iranians have learned by experience that Israel was most likely to hit their bases closest to Israel, either near the Golan or elsewhere in southern Syria. So they started to put their missile factories further north, in hopes of evading detection by Israel. The Israelis, however, having not been fooled, then started to extend their targets much further north, in Aleppo and Hama, and at Al Bukamal, apparently a very important target on the border with Iraq; no place in Syria is now safe from Israel’s high-flying “lawn mowers.”
However, some underground compounds stretch as many as 6.2 miles, making them difficult to penetrate thoroughly even for Israel’s satellite-guided, 500-pound “bunker-buster” bombs, according to a senior Western intelligence source.
“There are fortifications underground that Israel cannot reach…, tunnels that maybe it knows where they begin but not where they lead to,” said a Syrian military source, who said he worked for years in one of the compounds.
“You have warehouses dug into the mountains and equipped to be resistant even to bunker busters,” he told Reuters.
Multiple Ordnance Penetrators – bunker-busters – come in all sizes. Israel has 500-pounders, but these are very small bunker busters, apparently not powerful enough to destroy the Iranian targets that have been built underground. How far underground is not said. But what Israel clearly needs, and should be at the top of the list of what the Jewish state needs to preserve its QME (Qualitative Military Edge) are much larger, more powerful MOPs. The US Air Force has the GBU-57A/B Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP); it’s a precision-guided, 30,000-pound bunker buster bomb. Those are what Israel’s friends in Washington should insist be sold to the Jewish state, so that it can reach and destroy Iran’s underground facilities, both those that manufacture precision-guided missiles inside Syria, and the nuclear facilities in Iran that, even more worrisome, have been built deep inside mountains at Fordow and Natanz.
Some of the suspected Iranian military research and development (R&D) activities have been disrupted by repeated strikes, satellite images sent to Reuters indicate.
Israeli bombs obliterated underground sections of the Imam Ali military base near the Al Bukamal crossing with Iraq in January, one of several over the last year that took out tunnels used to store trucks or move advanced weapons systems, according to two Western officials familiar with the strikes….
“They are modifying and upgrading precision-guided Iranian rockets and the arsenal of Hezbollah in Syria at these sites…,” said Ismail Ayoub, a former Syrian air force lieutenant-colonel who defected to Jordan in 2012 and said he remains in contact with comrades in the air force.
Judging by the number of high-ranking Syrian officers mentioned in this report who have defected and have been providing confirmation about what the Iranians have been doing at so many different sites, at the Imam Ali airbase at Al Bukamal in southeastern Syria, near Masyaf in western Syria, near Aleppo and Hama in northern Syria, the Israelis have been kept well-informed, even beyond what their satellite imaging and other non-human means of detection provide.
In a sign of Iranian concern over Israel’s intensifying campaign, Tehran’s military chief of staff, Major General Mohammad Bagheri, visited the Safira R&D centre in Aleppo province in July soon after an Israeli air strike there, according to a Syrian army officer briefed on Bagheri’s tour.
Israel’s expanding air war has prompted Iranian-backed militia forces to redeploy from forward posts near Syria’s southwest border with Israel toward the eastern frontier, several intelligence officials and Syrian military defectors said.
That move by Iranian-backed forces away from the Syrian border with Israel hasn’t brought them any greater safety. No part of Syria is safe from Israel’s bombers, its missiles, its drones. One bit of evidence is the successful Israeli attack on the Safira R&D center near Aleppo, far from the border, an attack that apparently proved so devastating that the Iranian army’s chief of staff himself showed up to view the destruction.
Residents of Syria’s eastern Deir al-Zor region said dozens of decoy rocket launchpads and deserted farm barracks with Iranian militia flags now dot main highways in efforts to divert Israel away from genuine targets.
An imaginative deception, but how long will it take Israel to come up with a solution, by being able to “see through” with infrared devices which structures are deserted and which have weapons and/or humans inside them? Would anyone care to bet against the Israelis who are undoubtedly working on that detection problem – if they haven’t already solved it — right now? When have the Israelis ever been stymied for long?
Since January the Quds Force, the extra-territorial special forces arm of Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards, has bolstered its presence around Al Bukamal, flanking a road corridor for heavy weapons convoys from Iraq, according to two Israeli intelligence sources, citing intensified drone surveillance and Syrian contacts on the ground.
Israeli and Western officials said that if Israel had not escalated its air campaign, Iran would have carved out a strategic staging ground close to Israel’s doorstep by now.
“Had (Israel) not intervened, the situation could have been 10 times worse. The Iranians are paying an ongoing price with many weapons being destroyed. Of course it has an impact on their activities but it does not solve the problem. Iran is determined to stay in Syria,” Kuperwasser said.
Is Iran more determined to stay in Syria than Israel is determined to keep “mowing the lawn”? Of course not. Iran is the one threatening to destroy Israel,, while Israel is defending its very existence. Israel has no choice but to keep going. And how many precision-guided missiles, how many military drones, how many R&D facilities in Syria does Iran possess and can afford to keep losing? What happens to Iranian facilities built deep underground in Syria if and when the Americans do the right thing— the reluctant Bidenites having been prodded by Congress — and provide Israel with 30,000 pound bunker buster bombs to do the job its current 500-pound bombs cannot?
For as long as It takes, with whatever weapons it has or can obtain, Israel will continue to engage in “mowing the lawn” in Syria.
First published in Jihad Watch.