Israel Sends Warning to Assad, Russia and Iran With Damascus Airstrikes

A meeting between Hezbollah and the Russian foreign minister might have been a trigger for Sunday’s bombings.

POOL New/Reuters

HAIFA, Israel—Israel carried out airstrikes in government-held territory near Damascus airport on Sunday, according to Syrian state-run media. It may have been a blow against weapons meant for Hezbollah, a militarized Lebanese political faction designated a terrorist group by the U.S. and its allies.

Al Jazeera English quoted Syrian state TV as saying “[T]he Israeli enemy attacked Syria by targeting two safe areas in Damascus province, namely the Dimas area and the area of Damascus International Airport” in the attack.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the West’s main source for information coming out of the embattled country, backed up the claim. The group said 10 explosions were heard near Dimas, which is very close to the Lebanese border.

The Daily Beast contacted an Israel Defense Forces spokesperson, who said it “does not comment on foreign reports.”

Israel has a history of strategically bombing targets in Syria, especially since the civil war there intensified and lawlessness became the norm. By May 2013, the Israeli air force had conducted three airstrikes inside Syria, in hopes of preempting the delivery of advanced weaponry to Hezbollah in southern Lebanon.

Though the bombings were not officially confirmed, then-Defense Minister Ehud Barak said that a strike in January 2013 was “proof that when we say something we mean it.” He went on to say that Syria should not be “allowed to bring advanced weapons systems into Lebanon.”

Syria has huge stockpiles of destructive weapons that could easily be taken across the border to Lebanon, giving Israel plenty of reasons to have carried out Sunday’s attacks. And the Jewish state has a bloody history with both countries. Syria and Israel have fought three wars—in 1948, 1967, and 1973—resulting in Syria’s loss of the strategically important Golan Heights. The mountainous region, which facilitates surveillance of Lebanon and Syria, was annexed by Israel in 1981 in a move unrecognized by the international community.

Israel and Lebanon share an even bloodier history, with conflicts erupting in 1978, 1982, 1993, 1996, 2000, and 2006. The Israeli military occupied the south of Lebanon from 1982 until 2000.

The 1982 and 2006 conflicts were the most arduous. The 1982 War invigorated native Lebanese resistance to Israel, giving birth to Hezbollah, a group that remains a thorn in its side.

In 2006, Israel attacked Lebanon after Hezbollah attacked IDF personnel patrolling the border, killing three soldiers and capturing two more.

Both sides of the conflict were accused of horrible abuses, with Hezbollah using unguided missiles and Israel using cluster bombs, both in civilian areas. Israel’s use of cluster bombs, predominately in the last three days of the conflict, would be referred to as indiscriminate and disproportionate by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Human Rights Watch also criticized Hezbollah for firing on Haifa, a mixed Arab and Jewish city in the north of Israel, saying the attacks were “designed to kill civilians.”

After several years of relative quiet on the Israel-Lebanese border, the rhetoric between Hezbollah and Israel has been heating up lately. On Dec. 5, a commander from the Iranian military, a major ally of both Hezbollah and Syria, boasted that missiles from the Lebanese group could “raze Israel to the ground.”

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On Dec. 7, the Times of Israel reported that Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov had met with Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, in order to discuss peace in Syria and Russian arms being delivered to the group in order to fight jihadists.

In light of these recent public comments concerning Hezbollah’s firepower, it wouldn’t come as a surprise if the Israelis considered a strike against weapons destined for Lebanon as a firm warning against any future aggression. However, as Hezbollah and the Syrian government see no end in sight to the four-year-long Syrian civil war that has already killed more than 200,000, it wouldn’t make much sense for either group to open another campaign against the vastly more-powerful Israeli military.

Then again, logic doesn’t always hold sway in the area.