By Dan Williams
JERUSALEM, Sept 4 (Reuters) – Israel has carried out more than 200 attacks against Iranian targets in Syria in the last two years, a senior Israeli official said on Tuesday, in a rare summary of its campaign.
According to regional sources, Israel began carrying out military strikes in Syria in 2013 against suspected arms transfers and deployments by Iranian forces and their Lebanese Hezbollah allies, both Damascus’s partners in Syria’s civil war.
Israeli officials have rarely detailed specific operations. On Tuesday, an Israeli military spokeswoman declined to comment after Syria said it shot down rockets fired by Israeli planes at military targets near the city of Hama.
But Israeli Intelligence Minister Israel Katz used a speech to give a more general summary of Syria missions, prompted by a military briefing given to local media earlier in the day.
“Only just now it was published – in the name of military sources, so I can quote it too – that in the last two years Israel has taken military action more than 200 times within Syria itself,” Katz told a conference hosted by the IDC Herzliya college.
“Understand the significance of this matter in terms of preserving the red line, preventing the things that Iran has done, is doing and is trying to do against Israel from Syria.”
Asked to confirm Katz’s comments, an Israeli military spokeswoman said Israel had carried out around 200 attacks within Syria over the past year and a half.
In August 2017, the outgoing chief of Israel’s air force told Haaretz newspaper that his corps had carried out “nearly 100 strikes” in Syria. That left another 100 in the time since, according to the official Israeli accounts issued on Tuesday – or roughly two a week.
Israel, which monitors neighbouring Syria intensively, has long alleged that Iran came to assist the Damascus government, in part, to set up a permanent garrison there, effectively forming an extended anti-Israel front with Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Iran, Israel’s arch-foe, has been a core supporter of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad throughout the 7-year-old civil war, sending military advisers as well as materiel and regional Shi’ite militias that it backs.
Israel’s Syria strikes have been largely ignored by Russia, Israel’s big-power backer, and backed by the United States.
On Monday, Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman signaled that the country could also attack suspected Iranian military targets in Iraq, where Reuters has reported the deployment of ballistic missiles by Tehran.
Briefing reporters on Tuesday, a senior Israeli military officer who requested anonymity said that Israel believed Iran was using Iraqi territory as a conduit for missile transfers to Syria.
(Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg)