Recent Israeli Airstrikes in Syria

Using Planet’s daily satellite imagery, The Syria Institute was able to take a closer look at two of the suspected Israeli airstrikes that hit targets near Damascus earlier this month:

Overnight on 1–2 December, suspected Israeli airstrikes hit a facility in the heavily militarized al-Kisweh area to the south of Damascus city, destroying several buildings. A BBC report from November claimed that this site was a permanent Iranian military base, showing images of several new and refurbished buildings added during the summer of 2017. The precision airstrikes destroyed buildings identified in the BBC article as barracks, an administration building, and one specific vehicle storage building — which was the only one targeted out of a group of a dozen or so. The strikes also damaged an unidentified structure and the two barracks that remain standing.

Strike on Iranian base near al-Kisweh. (©2017 Planet Labs, Inc. cc-by-sa 4.0)

Neither Israel nor Iran officially acknowledged the strike, but Telegram accounts linked to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) reportedly circulated the names of 12 service members killed in the attacks.

Then on Monday 4 December, another suspected Israeli strike targeted several structures to the northwest of Damascus city in a heavily militarized area near Jamraya. The structures were part of the headquarters of the Scientific Studies Research Centre (SSRC), the military research program tasked with the development of Syria’s nuclear, biological, chemical, and missile weapons capabilities. The Planet satellite imagery clearly shows that the 4 December strike targeted a small cluster of SSRC warehouse buildings, likely used for weapons storage or production.

Strike on Syrian government facility near Jamraya. (©2017 Planet Labs, Inc. cc-by-sa 4.0)

In 2013, Israel launched several air raids near the Jamraya SSRC facility, but unlike the 4 December attack, none of these earlier strikes directly targeted SSRC buildings. Instead they hit a weapons convoy in the SSRC parking lot and a warehouse building on a nearby Republican Guard base, and were believed to be directly related to the transfer of advanced missile technology to Hezbollah. Israel has repeatedly set red lines regarding the expansion of Iranian and Hezbollah power in Syria. The fact that this new strike targeted a Syrian SSRC building suggests increased integration of Iran and Iran-backed forces into the Syrian military command and control structure.

The secrecy of the state actors involved makes satellite imagery, such as that provided by Planet, crucial to understanding these developments. In this case it sheds light on Iran’s long-term expansionary plans in Syria, and the nature of the perceived threat by Israel.

This entry is cross-posted on the Planet Stories blog at Medium, you can also read it here.