JERUSALEM (JTA) — The Syrian air base attacked in an airstrike last week, reportedly by Israel, was home to an advanced Iranian air-defense system, according to a new report.
The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday night that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, after conferring with President Donald Trump, ordered the strike on the anti-aircraft battery to prevent Iranian forces from using it against Israeli warplanes carrying out operations in Syria. The newspaper cited unnamed U.S. intelligence officials and others briefed on the matter.
The air-defense system had been installed recently at the T-4 air base, which has been reported to be the site for deployment of Iranian drones, such as the one Israel shot down in February. Late last week, Israeli military officials announced that the drone was loaded with explosives and on an attack mission.
According to the newspaper, the strike on the T-4 air base is “the latest sign the Trump administration is working with Israel to blunt Tehran’s expanding influence in the Middle East.”
The report noted that “Israeli officials told the Trump administration about the planned strike in advance so that the U.S. was aware of their plans to directly target an Iranian base,” citing two people briefed on the plans.
Israel has neither confirmed nor denied its involvement in the airstrikes, but an unnamed senior Israeli military official earlier this week confirmed to New York Times columnist Tom Friedman that Israel carried out the attack. Russia, Iran and Syria were quick to accuse Israel of the attack as well.
The attack “marked a significant escalation in Israel’s efforts to prevent Iran from cementing its military presence in Syria,” the newspaper said.
Trump and Netanyahu spoke about Syria earlier this month in a phone call that two unnamed U.S. officials said “grew tense” over Israeli concerns over a U.S. withdrawal from Syria, which the Israelis believe will allow Iran to increase its influence there. The Wall Street Journal report said that Netanyahu told Trump of the planned airstrike during the phone call. The alleged Israeli strike on the Syrian base came five days later.
Iran works from five airfields in Syria, according to the report, citing intelligence officials. Iranian military transport aircraft bring weapons for the Hezbollah terrorist group or missiles and drones specifically for Iranian forces to the bases, according to the officials.
“It’s the most serious establishment of Iranian military positions close to Israel’s border that [Israelis] have ever seen,” James Sorene, chief executive of Bicom, a U.K.-based think tank, told the newspaper.