Israeli jets bombed Syria on Sunday, rocking Damascus for hours and sending pillars of flame into the night sky in what a Western source called a new strike on Iranian missiles bound for Lebanon’s Hezbollah.
Local people reported massive explosions and internet video showed the capital’s skyline lit by flashes; Syrian opponents of President Bashar al-Assad rejoiced at Israel’s third raid this year, and second in 48 hours, while anger in Tehran highlighted how Syria’s civil war risks spinning further beyond its borders.
Israel, while declining to confirm the strike, stressed its focus was to deny its Lebanese foes new Iranian firepower and not take sides between Assad, long seen as a toothless adversary, and rebels who have won sympathy from Israel’s Western allies but who also include al Qaeda Islamists hostile to the Jewish state.
It appears to calculate that Assad will not risk forces he needs to fight the rebels by attacking a much stronger Israel.
Syrian state television said the bombing around a military research facility at Jamraya caused “many civilian casualties and widespread damage” and quoted a letter from the foreign minister to the United Nations saying: “The blatant Israeli aggression has the aim to provide direct military support to the terrorist groups after they failed to control territory.”
People living near the Jamraya base spoke of explosions over several hours in various places near Damascus, including a town housing senior officials: “Night turned into day,” one man told Reuters from his home near Jamraya, also struck on Jan. 30.
CNN quoted Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal al-Mekdad calling Sunday’s attack a “declaration of war”, and the Iranian foreign minister urged countries to resist Israel. But a senior Iranian commander also said Syria was strong enough to defend itself without Tehran’s help - though he also offered training.