Israeli raids on Syria followed alleged 'US intel and Pompeo, Mossad chief meeting'

Israeli raids on Syria followed alleged 'US intel and Pompeo, Mossad chief meeting'
A senior US intelligence official said the strikes, which reportedly killed 57 pro-Syrian regime fighters, targeted warehouses serving as a pipeline for components that support Iran's nuclear programme.
3 min read
13 January, 2021
US Secretary State Mike Pompeo reportedly discussed the strikes with Israel's spy chief [Getty]
Israeli airstrikes on arms depots and military positions in eastern Syria which killed dozens of pro-Syrian regime fighters were carried out using intelligence provided by Washington, a senior US intelligence official with knowledge of the attack told AP.

The attack was also discussed by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Israel spy chief Yossi Cohen during a meeting in Washington DC, the official claimed.

The strikes appear to be a rare incidence of publicised cooperation between the two countries over choosing targets in Syria, where rival Iran has a strong military presence.

Suspected Israeli warplanes targeted a series of warehouses that were used to store and stage Iranian weapons, according to the US official. The warehouses also served as a pipeline for components that support Iran's nuclear programme, the official said.

Requested anonymity to speak about sensitive national security matters, the senior intelligence official said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo discussed Tuesday's airstrike with Yossi Cohen, chief of Israel's spy agency Mossad, at a public meeting in popular Washington restaurant Café Milano on Monday.

Syria's state news agency SANA said the strikes hit areas in and near the towns of Deir az-Zour, Mayadeen and Boukamal along the border with Iraq. An unnamed military official was quoted as saying Syrian air defenses responded to the incoming missiles. It gave no further details.

AFP reported a death toll of 57 at the time of publication. The source for the toll was not immediately clear.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights early reported at least 18 strikes in Deir az-Zour and along the border with Iraq, saying several arms depots were hit.

The war monitor said at the time that 40 people were killed, including nine Syrian troops, while the rest were Iran-backed fighters. It said 37 were wounded.

"They burnt Iranian positions in Deir el-Zour," said Omar Abu Laila, a Europe-based activist from Deir el-Zour province who runs an activist collective that reports on news in the border area. He recorded at least 16 targeted buildings, warehouses or bases for Iranian, Lebanese and Iraqi militias in the towns of Boukamal, Mayadeen and Deir el-Zour.

Israel has launched hundreds of strikes against Iran-linked military targets in Syria over the years but rarely acknowledges or discusses such operations.

The Observatory said it recorded 39 Israeli strikes inside Syria in 2020 that hit 135 targets, including military posts, warehouses or vehicles. In those attacks, at least 217 people were killed, mostly Iranian-allied militiamen, according to the Observatory.

Observatory head Rami Abdul Rahman described the overnight Israeli raids as the "deadliest since June 2018", when strikes on the same region killed at least 55 pro-Syrian regime righters.

The strikes come at a time of heightened tension in the region in the final days of President Donald Trump's administration.

Many fear retaliation for the US killing of Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani last year may come before Trump leaves office, or that conflict could erupt to scuttle efforts by Joe Biden's incoming administration to negotiate with Iran.

Read also: A year after Soleimani's killing, tensions simmer in Iraq

Israel is fearful of Iranian entrenchment on its northern frontier and has repeatedly struck Iran-linked facilities and weapons convoys destined for Lebanon's militant Hezbollah group.

The strikes also come amid intensifying low-altitude Israeli warplane missions in Lebanese skies that have caused jitters among residents and prompted Lebanon to file an urgent complaint to the UN about the violations of its airspace.

Israeli officials have said the overflights are necessary because Hezbollah is violating the 2006 UN resolution that bars it from building up its military capabilities and operating near the Israeli border.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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