Tensions rise after Israel strikes Syria's main airport.

BEIRUT -- Israel's long-running campaign of airstrikes against Syria has seen a significant escalation.

Tensions rise after Israel strikes Syria's main airport.

BEIRUT -- Israel's long-running campaign of airstrikes against Syria has seen a significant escalation. Last week, Israel attacked Damascus' main civilian airport. Israel is intensifying its efforts to block Iranian weapons shipments to Hezbollah.

Five days after Friday's airstrikes, multiple craters were left on Damascus International Airport runways and damaged the control tower and other buildings, commercial flights were still stopped at Damascus International Airport.

These strikes have further escalated tensions between Israel and Iran, as well as its Lebanese ally Hezbollah. Iran accuses Israel of killing several Revolutionary Guard members. Hezbollah threatens to strike a gas pipeline Israel is building in the Mediterranean Sea, which Lebanon claims as its own waters.

Russia, which is a top ally to Iran and Syria, has been preoccupied with its war against Ukraine. This exacerbates the situation. Russia has military and naval bases in Syria, as well as troops there supporting Damascus during the long civil war in Syria.

Israel is sending the message to Iran that it won't allow Iran to fill the Syria vacuum (left) by Russia while it is busy in Ukraine with the strikes," stated Ibrahim Hamidi, a senior diplomat editor for Syrian affairs at Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, London.

Israel has been conducting airstrikes against Syria for years. It claims it is determined stop Iran from encroaching near its northern border. This is in addition to smuggling weapons to Hezbollah which is funded by Tehran. The strikes have mostly targeted bases of Iranian-allied militias including Hezbollah and convoys that are believed to be transporting arms to Hezbollah.

Friday's strikes, which were the largest against civilian targets, had the greatest impact by closing down the airport. Israel, as in the past did not claim responsibility.

Even during the most brutal days of Syria's 11 year civil war, the airport remained functional. It is divided into a civilian and military section. Satellite photos show runways with at least three craters on each side.

Rami Abdurrahman, who heads the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights which monitors the conflict, stated that the strikes also damaged or hit runways. Also, military positions south of Damascus were hit.

Hezbollah and Syria remained neutral about the incident despite the escalated violence. Syrian state media reported that one person was injured by Israeli strikes and that significant damage to infrastructure occurred. The main civilian runway was unusable until further notice. While repairs were being made, flights were rerouted to Aleppo’s airport.

Sunday's inspection was conducted by Hussein Arnous, the Syrian Prime Minister. SANA posted photos showing a bulldozer working at what appeared to have been the runway. Another photo showed damage inside the airport's rooms, with glass broken out, chairs left unsupported and cables hanging from the ceiling.

Israeli media reported that the latest attack was meant to stop the flow of precision-guided missiles to Hezbollah.

Yossi Yehoshua, a military affairs analyst, wrote in Israel's daily Yedioth Ahronoth about Iranian attempts to increase their aerial operations. He said that they first used cargo planes and then hid the weapons in Damascus International Airport hangars. He said that Iran and Hezbollah now use civilian flights to Damascus or Beirut to smuggle military material to Hezbollah.

Yehoshua wrote that material is made up of small pieces that appear innocuous enough to be hidden inside civilian baggage.

Amos Harel is a senior military correspondent of Israel's Haaretz daily. He wrote that Iran seeks ways to circumvent Israeli disruptions, and that recently, some of the most advanced systems were smuggled into hand luggage on commercial flights.

He said that Israel may feel it can now take more ambitious military actions, even though international attention is on Ukraine.

The Israeli strikes in Syria have been successful past without any retaliation by the Syrians. To avoid confrontation with Russian forces in Syria, Israeli airstrikes against Syria are often coordinated with Moscow via a "deconfliction mecanism".

Russia's Foreign Ministry rebuked Friday's airstrikes in rare public rebuke. It called them "provocative" as well as a violation of basic international law norms.

Sateh Noureddine is a Lebanese journalist covering Arab-Israeli affairs. He wrote that Israel's decision to close Damascus airport signaled "a plan to impose an air blockade against Iran while also striking At Hezbollah, denying it of a vital link with its sole military supply center."

Noureddine, who is editor-in-chief of the Lebanese news website Al-Modon, warned that strikes could be a step towards an Israel-Hezbollah conflict.

Hezbollah has been involved in a number of clashes with Israel, including a full-scale conflict in 2006. Tensions between Israel and Hezbollah have escalated over a maritime dispute between Israel and Lebanon. Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, threatened last week to strike the Israeli gas-rig being built.

According to Nasrallah, the group had been producing military drones in Lebanon since February and that they have the technology to transform thousands of missiles into precision-guided weapons.

According to a Lebanese military analyst, Syrian officials have been unusually tight-lipped since the strike. This is despite its importance.

He said that there is silence at all levels in Syria and that the true scope of the strike was unknown. He asked for anonymity to discuss the reaction in Syria.

He said, "The timing and link to regional developments are puzzling."


Josef Federman, Associated Press journalist in Jerusalem, contributed reporting.

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