Airstrikes and active air defenses across Damascus into the mountains near Lebanon and near Homs 160 km. to the North woke up Syrians after midnight in the first hours of Monday. It was the largest series of airstrikes many had seen in months or years, according to social media accounts tweeting from Syria or in touch with people on the ground, like reported by jpost.com.
Houses were damaged, soldiers and civilians were reported injured and killed. Explosions rocked areas around Damascus, primarily to the West and into the mountains.
Syrian state media SANA says people were injured and homes in Sahnaya – near Damascus – were damaged. But this is only one location, and as the full picture emerges, Syria’s regime and its allies in Tehran and Moscow will take notice. Over the years, Syria has accused Israel of numerous airstrikes and former chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot has said that more than 1,000 were carried out. However, the larger picture is that the Syrian government must wonder what the message is.
Syria wants to put on a brave face, claiming that its air defenses have downed incoming missiles. But in the past, it has said the same and it has been shown that it cannot intercept airstrikes. Last fall, Russia said it would provide the Syrian regime with the S-300 system. On Sunday, images were released by ImageSat International showing four S-300 systems in Syria’s Masyaf area, not far from Homs.
In addition, a Ynet report in May indicated that an airstrike at the T-4 airbase on the road to Palmyra from Homs destroyed an Iranian 3rd Khordad air defense system that is supposed to be similar to the S-300. The two details matter for the Syrian regime, because in both cases these relatively sophisticated air defense systems were either all sitting in the same place – and thus not deployed to protect all of Syria – or one was allegedly destroyed at T-4.
Syria knows that a high level meeting was held in Israel in June with US National Security Advisor John Bolton and his Israeli and Russian counterparts. Russia has stressed that it does not want Syria to become a battlefield for any foreign power against Iran. However, Israel has said numerous times last year that it views the Iranian presence in Syria as a threat. US-Iran tensions are at an all-time high. US F-22 raptors were sent to the Persian Gulf this week in position to deal with any Iranian threat.
Reports now indicate that an Iranian-backed group used a drone from Iraq to attack a pipeline in Saudi Arabia in May. With each incident – whether rocket attacks near US troops in Iraq, Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia or the Iranian downing of the US Global Hawk drone in June – the tensions continue to rise. The complex airstrikes in Syria on July 1 are the latest in what appears to be a much larger regional message to Damascus and its allies. The Within Syria Blog reports “super heavy losses today.” As news continues to emerge about targets in Damascus and Homs, spanning such a wide area, Syria’s regime will have to weigh what it has lost. At the same time, the US and Russia will be watching closely.