Syria accused Israel of striking the T4 air base near Homs yesterday, calling the move an act of “Israeli aggression”.
Official Syrian news agency, SANA, stated that Syrian air defences were activated in response to the attack. It cited a military source as saying “our air defence systems thwarted an Israeli aggression and brought down a number of missiles that were targeting the T4 airport,” Reuters reported. SANA added that air defences hit one of the “attacking planes and forced the rest to leave” Syrian air space.
Witnesses to the strike, which took place late yesterday evening, tweeted: “warplanes coming from Jordan and flying low attempted to reach T-4 airbase by sneaking through Al Tanaf area,” according to the National. The area of Al-Tanaf is home to a US military base, which was established in 2016 under the auspices of countering Daesh in the Syrian-Iraq border region. It is not known whether Israel received support or approval from the United States in carrying out the attack.
Following the strike, Ynet quoted British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights as saying the attack targeted “Iranian forces and pro-Assad militias” and that “there are likely fatalities.” Reports of fatalities have not yet been confirmed, but Syrian opposition forces say there are nine dead on the base, according to the Jerusalem Post.
Yesterday’s attack represents the third time this year that the T4 airbase, situated near the village of Tiyas east of Homs, has been struck by Israel. Israel previously launched strikes on the base in April, killing at least four Iranian military advisors. In response, a senior advisor to Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, threatened Israel with retaliation, telling reporters in Damascus that “Iranian fighters stand by the Syrian people and their government and continue to fight the enemies of the Islamic nation, especially Israel and its masters.”
In February, the same air base was also struck after Israel accused Iran of launching a UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) that violated its airspace near the town of Beit Shean. Israel claimed that the UAV had been “armed with explosives and was tasked to attack Israel.” When Israel launched its retaliatory strike on the T4 airbase in Syria, its F-16 fighter jet was shot down, marking the first time in 36 years that an Israeli fighter jet was brought down in combat. Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said that Israel was “undeterred” by the loss of the jet, vowing to press ahead with its operations in Syria.
Tensions between Israel and Iran have played out in the Syrian theatre over the course of the Syrian Civil War, which has been ongoing since 2011. Israel believes that Iranian-backed forces are being used to support the regime of Syrian President, Bashar Al-Assad. Israel has also accused Iran of planning to build missile factories in Lebanon.
Last week, tensions between Israel and Syrian regime forces reached new heights as Tel Aviv threatened to undertake pre-emptive strikes if the border zone near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights was breached. Syrian regime forces have come within kilometres of the Israeli border, sieging the opposition-held town of Quneitra, which is situated inside the demilitarised border zone.