This frame grab from a video provided by the official Syrian Arab News Agency shows missiles striking near Damascus on Tuesday. (SANA via AP)

Israeli airstrikes hit arms depot near Damascus, Syria says - WP


 Israeli warplanes fired missiles late Tuesday at an area west of the Syrian capital, striking an arms depot and injuring three soldiers, Syrian state media reported.
Israel, which rarely acknowledges its military strikes in Syria, did not immediately confirm the raid near Damascus. The military said Tuesday only that one of its aerial defense systems was activated “in response to an antiaircraft missile launched from Syria.”
Officials have repeatedly said that Israel will act in Syria to protect its interests and security.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said this week that Israel could expand its military actions to prevent the growing influence of Iran and its proxies in Syria, despite a surprise U.S. decision to withdraw all of its troops from the country.
“The decision to withdraw 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria will not change our consistent policy,” Netanyahu said at the start of his weekly cabinet meeting Sunday. “We will continue to act against Iran's attempts to entrench itself militarily in Syria, and to the extent necessary, we will even expand our actions there.”
President Trump's announcement a week ago that the United States would withdraw an estimated 2,000 troops surprised many in Israel, increasing concerns here that the absence of an American presence in the war-torn country would enhance Iran’s ability to challenge Israel on its northern border.
“The sense now in Israel is that Israel is essentially alone in the task of back-walling the Iranian military presence in Syria,” Ofer Zalzberg, a Jerusalem-based analyst with the International Crisis Group, said in an interview. “This decision feeds the notion that is prevalent in the region, even if it’s not entirely correct, that the U.S. is withdrawing. Many people draw delight from this, specifically in Tehran and Moscow.”
However, Israeli military chief Gadi Eizenkott said Sunday that while the White House’s decision to pull U.S. troops from Syria was a “significant event,” the Israeli military would continue to independently fight Iran’s military entrenchment in Syria.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that the targets hit on Tuesday night were weapons warehouses belonging to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and its allies, the Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah.
For the past three weeks, Israel has been engaged in what it has dubbed “Operation Northern Shield” to detect and destroy cross-border tunnels it says have been dug by Hezbollah in recent years. So far, Israel has discovered four such tunnels snaking from southern Lebanon, Hezbollah’s home base, into Israeli territory.
While none of the tunnels so far exposed had openings on the Israeli side, they were detected through seismic sensors and ground-penetrating radar, Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, an Israeli military spokesman, told journalists.
Last week, Israel and the United States called for an emergency meeting in the United Nations Security Council to discuss the tunnels and their violation of Israeli sovereignty. Ahead of the meeting, Netanyahu said it was time for the international community to hold Lebanon, Iran and Hezbollah accountable.
“Lebanon is doing nothing at best, colluding at worst,” Netanyahu said in a rare briefing for international reporters in Jerusalem. “My message is, Hezbollah is putting you in great jeopardy.”
Israel, which battled Hezbollah in a punishing war in 2006, has repeatedly warned that any future fight with the militant group will also encompass Lebanese government targets.
Israel sees a strengthening arc of Iranian influence — from Lebanon, through its proxy Hezbollah, across Syria to Tehran — as a threat to its security, and it has pointed to the tunnels as evidence of its enemies’ nefarious aims.