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Business News/ News / World/  Pre-emptive or provocation? Why Israel struck Syria's airports amid Gaza onslaught
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Pre-emptive or provocation? Why Israel struck Syria's airports amid Gaza onslaught

The Syrian airports are considered as the prime routes used by Iran and its proxies to supply weapons and ammunitions to Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant group which has threatened to launch an offensive against Israel.

Syrians gather during a pro-Palestinian protest to express solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza, in Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp, near Damascus, Syria, October 20, 2023. REUTERS/Firas Makdesi (REUTERS)Premium
Syrians gather during a pro-Palestinian protest to express solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza, in Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp, near Damascus, Syria, October 20, 2023. REUTERS/Firas Makdesi (REUTERS)

The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) on October 22 fired rockets at the airports of Damascus and Aleppo – the two main cities of Syria – that brought flight operations to a standstill for several hours. Here's a look at the likely reasons behind Tel Aviv's move to strike its northern neighbour amidst its ongoing onslaught in Gaza.

Critics of the Israeli forces called the move a provocation, that may change the Israel-Hamas war into a multi-front battle. However, a section of analysts have described it as a pre-emptive move by the IDF to deter the Syrian forces from aiding Hezbollah, the Lebanon-based militant group.

The Syrian airports are considered as the prime routes used by Iran and its proxies to supply weapons and ammunition to Hezbollah. Although Israel did not issue a statement following yesterday's strike, it had earlier cited the supply of weaponry to Hezbollah as the reason behind its previous attacks on the Damascus-based air facilities.

Track the latest updates on Israel-Hamas war

Is Syria supporting Hezbollah?

Syria, under Bashar al-Assad's rule since 2000, has held differing views on Hezbollah. While the Syrian leadership adheres to the Alewite sect, Hezbollah adheres to hardline Shia school of thought, and envisages a theocratic state on the lines of post-1979 Iran.

The Assad-Hezbollah relations, however, turned strong in the aftermath of the Syrian civil war in 2011, as the militant group sided with Iran and Russia to back the embattled Syrian president.

Assad's regime has not directly commented on whether it would back Hezbollah in the scenario of the latter's likely direct involvement in the Israel-Hamas war.

However, Syria, under him, is considered as part of Iran's ‘Axis of Resistance’ – comprising Syria, Hezbollah which controls parts of Lebanon, and Yemen, analysts said. The members of this grouping will support each other in case of any party enters into a direct conflict with Israel, experts added. 

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‘Occupied Golan Heights’

Even as a number of Arab countries improved their ties with Israel in recent decades, Syria has remained an arch-rival of the country, primarily due to the occupation of Golan Heights. After the six-day war in October of 1973 – exactly 40 years ago – the Syrian forces had lost the strategically crucial Golan Heights plateau to Israel.

“Syria is technically looking at every opportunity since the last four decades to reclaim its prized land of Golan. Even though the Assad regime has been brutally battered due to the eight years of civil war, Tel Aviv could not rule out a possibility of the Syrian forces throwing their might, backed by Iran," a Damascus-based political commentator said.

A Syrian front to the ongoing Israel-Hamas war could only be opened if Hezbollah joins the fight, said an analyst, adding that it “all depends on whether Iran intends to move beyond sabre-rattling". 

Notably, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned that Hezbollah “will make the biggest mistake of its life" if enters the war. “We will cripple it with a force it cannot even imagine and the consequences for it and the Lebanese state will be devastating."

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Published: 23 Oct 2023, 10:48 PM IST
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