‘House of Cards’ hammers Iran in Golan

The Israeli raids appear to have inflicted extensive damage on Syria’s Russia-supplied air defences.
Sunday 17/06/2018
An Israeli flag is seen placed on Mount Bental in the Israeli-annexed Syrian Golan Heights, on May 10. (AFP)
An Israeli flag is seen placed on Mount Bental in the Israeli-annexed Syrian Golan Heights, on May 10. (AFP)

BEIRUT - The Israelis have been cagey about what exactly they have hit with air strikes in recent weeks but an examination of the target zones indicates that Israeli surveillance and intelligence identified an Iranian penetration of considerable scale, the parameters of which may not yet have been fully identified.

The Israeli raids appear to have inflicted extensive damage on Syria’s Russia-supplied air defences and knocked out possible missile launch sites across the Syrian-held sector of the divided Golan Heights in southern Syria.

The Israeli campaign began last December when the air force attacked an alleged Iranian base at Al-Kiswah, 14km south of Damascus and 50km from the Golan ceasefire line used by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). The base has been hit at least one other time since then.

Israel said in February that the IRGC’s al-Quds Force and Hezbollah have at least ten military bases in Syria, including two facilities near the Golan ceasefire line with Israel that dates from the 1973 Mideast war.

Three of these facilities — one near Aleppo and two south of Damascus — were identified as key bases.

Israeli intelligence said al-Quds Force units are deployed at five Syrian air bases — T-4, Aleppo in the north, Deir ez-Zor in the north-east, Damascus International Airport and Sayqal, a military airbase south-east of the Syrian capital.

On April 7, Israeli surveillance photos showed an Iranian Ilyushin transport plane unloading surface-to-surface missiles and drones at Deir ez-Zor and Damascus airport.

On April 8, pre-dawn Israeli strikes — probably using cruise missiles rather than manned aircraft — hit Syria’s largest airbase at Tiyas, also known as T-4 and reportedly blew up an Iran-built Khordad mobile air-defence battery delivered by an Iranian transport plane from Tehran tracked by Israeli radar.

The battery was destroyed while it was still in its packing cases. Seven IRGC personnel were killed, reportedly including the commander of IRGC drone operations in Syria, Colonel Mehdi Dehghan.

T-4, situated between the Syrian cities of Homs and Palmyra, was the launch point for an armed Iranian drone that intruded Israeli air space on February 10 and ignited the hostilities during which an Israel F-16 jet was shot down, the first such loss since the 1973 war.

The Khordad delivery suggested that the IRGC wanted its own anti-aircraft systems in place because Syria’s Russia-supplied air-defences were clearly inadequate and were being steadily degraded by Israeli strikes.

On April 14, Israel reportedly carried out air strikes against a Hezbollah garrison near Aleppo in northern Syria. On April 16-17, Hezbollah and Syria’s state news agency SANA reported Israeli missile attacks against the Shayrat Airbase near Homs and a military airfield outside Damascus.

The Israelis struck T-4 again on April 18 and April 29. Iranian personnel were reported killed in a large-scale Israeli air attack on Iranian bases in central Syria.

Israel claims some 200 surface-to-surface missiles were destroyed when an Iranian depot was hit. Syrian state television said the explosions were so powerful that the European-Mediterranean seismology institute registered a 2.6-magnitude earthquake.

Eleven Iranians were among 20 people reported killed in the raids. Israeli satellite imagery released February 21 identified a “possible missile silo” there.

The main base of the Syrian Army’s 4th Brigade on the outskirts of the city of Homs, where Iranian forces are believed to be deployed, was also attacked that day, along with Salhab airport in central Syria and a facility near Aleppo’s Al-Nayrab Military Airport in the north.

Syrian rebels said some 40 people, including Iranians and Shia militiamen, were killed.

On May 8, an Israeli air strike reportedly killed eight Iranians after “unusual troop movements” in the Syrian-held sector of the Golan. In apparent retaliation, Israel reported that, on May 9-10, al-Quds Force unleashed up to 32 surface-to-surface Grad and Fajr rockets on Israeli military positions on the Golan. Several missiles were intercepted and others fell short in Syrian-controlled territory, Israel reported.

Israeli military sources claimed the Iranian bombardment was personally supervised by Major-General Qassem Soleimani, commander of al-Quds Force and the mastermind of the IRGC’s regional operations.

The missile launches marked the first time Iranian forces were reported to have fired directly on Israeli troops, a significant escalation in a low-level conflict that has for years been fought through proxies.

There were no Israeli casualties but 23 people were reported killed in Syria when Israel responded with its largest air offensive since the 1973 Yom Kippur war. Up to 50 targets, including intelligence centres, were reported hit in an operation the Jerusalem Post said was dubbed House of Cards.

The Israelis released few details of the 90-minute onslaught but the hawkish Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman boasted: “We have hit almost all of the Iranian infrastructure in Syria.”

On May 24, Israeli jets attacked Dabaa airfield 20km south-west of Homs near the Lebanese border where Hezbollah fighters are stationed.

Israeli military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Jonathan Conricus stressed: “We focused less on personnel and more on capabilities and hardware… to inflict long-term damage on the Iranian military establishment in Syria. We assess it will take substantial time to replenish.”

On May 28, Israeli jets attacked a military airfield near Homs believed to house Hezbollah forces and weapons, reportedly killing more than 20 fighters.