Iranian officer killed as Israel strikes Damascus for second time in 24 hours

Two Syrian soldiers were wounded in missile attack a day earlier

Damascus International Airport. A Britain-based war monitor said Israeli missiles destroyed a weapons and ammunition depot in Syria. AFP
Powered by automated translation

An officer of Iran's Revolutionary Guard was reported killed as Israeli strikes hit Damascus early on Friday in the second round of attacks on the Syrian capital in less than 24 hours.

“The Israeli enemy carried out an aerial attack by firing several missiles from the occupied Syrian Golan and targeting one of the positions in the vicinity of Damascus,” Syria's state news outlet Sana reported.

Iran's Revolutionary Guards said one of their military advisers was killed in the attack.

"The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps has announced the martyrdom of guardsman Milad Haydari, one of the IRGC's military advisers and officers, in the criminal attack of the Zionist regime on the outskirts of Damascus at dawn today," the IRGC said in statement reported by Iranian state media.

Israel has launched hundreds of air strikes on Syrian territory, aimed at Iran-backed forces including the Lebanese militia Hezbollah, and the Syrian army.

Several missiles were intercepted after midnight on Friday by Syrian air defences but some got through and caused damage, Sana said.

In the attack on Thursday, two soldiers were wounded, the Syrian Defence Ministry said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, said the strikes were focused on positions of the Syrian military and pro-Iran groups in south-west Damascus.

The missiles destroyed a weapons and ammunition depot but no casualties were reported, the war monitor said.

Residents of Damascus were awakened by loud bangs early on Friday, AFP reported.

While Israel rarely comments on the strikes it carries out on Syria, it has repeatedly said it will not allow Iran to extend its presence there.

An Israeli air strike killed 15 people in a Damascus district that houses state security agencies last month, the war monitor said at the time.

Last week, an Israeli missile strike destroyed a suspected arms depot used by Iran-backed militias at Syria's Aleppo airport, it said.

On March 7, three people were killed in an Israeli strike on the airport, putting it out of service. It reopened three days later.

Why is Israel targeting Syria?

Since Syria's civil war started in 2011, Iran-backed forces including Hezbollah have entrenched themselves around Damascus and in the north, east and south of the country as they helped President Bashar Al Assad fight rebel groups.

Israel, which views Iran as an arch-enemy, has acknowledged carrying out attacks on these forces but rarely comments on individual actions.

The strikes are part of wider "shadow war" with Iran that include unclaimed attacks on each other's assets, infrastructure and nationals.

"In the last days we've seen more air strikes close to the Syrian capital, presumably targeting Iranian arms depots. These are part of a larger escalation," said Bente Scheller, head of the Middle East Division of Heinrich Boell Foundation, a German think tank.

"While targeting Iranian personnel and arms deliveries, each of these attacks is a slap into Assad's face: in hundreds of air strikes since 2011, Israel has shown that Syrian air defence is not capable of preventing them," Ms Scheller told The National.

Ms Scheller noted that Israel's latest attacks come at a time when the government faces internal pressures from protests against the ruling right-wing coalition.

"External conflicts might be considered a means of distraction, especially when it is against Iran which is perceived as a threat to Israel's security," she said.

The threat from Iran has been seen to increase in recent months following Tehran's announcements of major advances in its uranium enrichment to levels close to those required for nuclear weapons.

Updated: March 31, 2023, 10:53 AM