Pompeo, Israel send message to Iran with bold airstrikes in Syria

In a rare acknowledgement, a US official said Washington provided intelligence support for the strikes.

al-monitor A senior official says US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo discussed Syrian airstrikes with Israel’s intelligence chief Yossi Cohen at the Cafe Milano restaurant in Washington on Jan. 11, 2021. Pompeo (L) speaks at the National Press Club in Washington on Jan. 12, 2021. Cohen (R) is seen at the Israeli Foreign Ministry on Oct. 15, 2015, shortly before he was named to head the Mossad. Photo by ANDREW HARNIK/POOL/AFP via Getty Images (L).

Jan 13, 2021

Aircraft bombed a number of locations in eastern Syria in the early hours of the morning Wednesday in what appears to be Israel’s most extensive string of airstrikes against Iran-linked targets in years.

The death toll of the strikes was not immediately clear. The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights assessed that 57 people were killed, most of them Iran-backed militia fighters as well as 14 Syrian government forces.

Bombs reportedly landed inside the city of Deir ez-Zor, and were reported nearby in the area of the Deir ez-Zor Airport, long home to a Syrian military garrison.

The Syrian state-run SANA news agency said strikes also landed near the towns of Mayadeen and Abu Kamal, areas in which Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has maintained a presence. Abu Kamal is very close to the Iraq border near a main crossing point for Iran-backed forces into Syria.

A senior US intelligence official told The Associated Press that the strikes targeted warehouses used to stage Iranian weapons in Syria. So far, no reports have emerged of strikes hitting the T-4 air base, a longtime hub for Iranian hardware.

In a rare public acknowledgement, the official said that the strikes were carried out using intelligence provided by the United States and that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo discussed the matter with Israel’s intelligence chief Yossi Cohen at the Cafe Milano restaurant in Washington on Monday.

Al-Monitor previously reported that the United States has been providing intelligence to support Israel’s air campaign in Syria, and that the al-Tanf garrison in the Homs desert has played a role in that cooperation. Former US envoy for Syria James Jeffrey later took credit for helping initiate that cooperation at the request of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

President Donald Trump reportedly granted Pompeo near carte blanche to strike at Iran in the final days of his presidency. It was not clear as of Wednesday morning if any Iranian personnel had been killed in the strikes, something US defense officials have sought to avoid in the past.

Despite some optimistic statements by State Department officials, the United States appears no closer to its stated goal of forcing Iran to withdraw its proxies from Syria.

Still, Jeffrey recently said the United States has succeeded in preventing Iran from establishing forward positions in Syria that could be used to strike Israel with long-range weapons. His successor, Joel Rayburn, also expressed confidence in the successes of Israel’s air campaign during testimony to Congress last month.