Days after Lebanese sources cited a number of Israeli overflights of Lebanese territory, including near the border with Syria, Israeli warplanes reportedly launched a daylight raid in Syria on December 7. The planes, seven according to Syria, were said to have struck at least two areas near Syrian air bases to the east and west of Damascus. Other targets may have been struck as well, as activists reported close to a dozen blasts. Purported video and photos from Damascus show heavy aerial activity in the skies above the city, along with fires on the ground. Initial and unconfirmed reports indicated the targets were newly supplied S-300 air defense missile systems at or near the Al-Dimas and Damascus International airports. Syria has sought the advanced air-defense system from Russia for years, but Russia has withheld the shipments due to foreign pressure, particularly from Israel. However, Israel has in the past shown a willingness to target other, less strategic offensive and defensive systems destined for Hezbollah.
As is usually the case, Israel has yet to either confirm or deny the reports. Nonetheless, Damascus has already accused Israel. In recent years, suspected Israeli air strikes in Syria did not led to military confrontations. The Syrian regime has mostly resorted to increasing rhetoric against Israel. Damascus is too busy with the insurgency, and its military cannot afford a front against Israel. Moreover, and given the history of Syria-Hezbollah relations, it remains highly uncertain whether Syria would risk an escalation with Israel over strikes against weaponry destined to Hezbollah.
However, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) will likely bolster deployments and increase its preparedness on the northern front. This includes the Syrian and Lebanese borders. The latter is especially crucial, given the recent heightening of tensions between Israel and Hezbollah. Overall, deterring or preparing for any potential response emanating from Hezbollah, Damascus, or Palestinian allies, namely the PFLP-GC, is the goal.
On another note, and more strategically speaking, the strikes showcase Israel’s continued air superiority in the region. There was no evidence of any Syrian challenge to the alleged Israeli attackers, both from the ground or from the air. Syria cannot afford to lose anymore aircraft.