- The Washington Times - Monday, April 30, 2018

Tensions between the U.S., Damascus, Tehran and Tel Aviv are once again ramping up in Syria, in the wake of the latest round of missile strikes against Russian and Iranian-backed government forces in the country.

The foreign missile strikes late Sunday night reportedly targeted an known arms depot and a surface-to-air missile site manned by the Syrian military’s Brigade 47, near the former rebel stronghold of Aleppo. Reportedly 26 Syrian soldiers and Iranian military advisers were killed in the strike with over 60 wounded, according reports by the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Other weapon caches in the southern Hama and al-Malekieh region were also destroyed in the barrage, Iranian state media reported Monday. Officials in Tehran denied that any Iranian forces were killed in the strike and refused to comment on who was responsible for the attacks.

“No Iranian advisor has been martyred in the last night missile attacks in Hama and Aleppo provinces,” government sources told Iran’s Fars News Monday, only acknowledging that “enemy missiles” had struck Syrian government targets in the Hama and Aleppo provinces.

Unconfirmed eyewitnesses reports in Syrian media claim the military sites were struck by U.S. missiles fired from American and coalition bases in northern Jordan, The Associated Press reported. Other claims say Israeli forces were responsible for the strikes, which took place weeks after U.S., French and British warplanes struck several suspected chemical weapons facilities near the Syrian capital of Damascus.

Tel Aviv has refused to comment on the attacks, but the strikes come after flurry of meetings and communications between the Israeli government and the Trump administration on the growing threat posed by Iranian proxy forces in Syria. Sunday night’s missile strikes took place hours after Mr. Trump reportedly discussed the threat posed by Tehran in Syria with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

That call focused on “the problems posed by the Iranian regime’s destabilizing activities” in Syria and elsewhere in the region, a White House statement said.

“We remain deeply concerned about Iran’s dangerous escalation of threats to Israel and the region and Iran’s ambition to dominate the Middle East remains,” newly minted Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said after a nearly two-hour meeting with Mr. Netanyahu in Tel Aviv over the weekend.

“The United States is with Israel in this fight,” he told reporters at the time.

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman has repeatedly warned the Syrian regime of President Bashar Assad and his patrons in Tehran that Israel would carry out unilateral strikes against Iranian proxy forces in Syria.

His comments came days after a meeting with Defense Secretary James N. Mattis in Washington last Thursday. It was the third high-level meeting between U.S. and Israeli defense leaders in less than a week.

U.S. Central Command chief Gen. Joseph Votel, the top commander in the Middle East, conducted a unannounced visit to Tel Aviv on Tuesday to hold face-to-face talks with Lt. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot, general chief of staff for the Israeli Defense Forces.

Israeli officials claim Tehran has fostered a 80,000-man strong proxy force, trained and equipped by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, inside Syria and is funneling heavy weapons and material to those forces via the so-called “Shia Crecent” — Iran’s long-sought land bridge linking Iran to Lebanon through Syria and northern Iraq.

Damascus‘ overtures to begin fielding Russian-built S-400 midrange missile systems, which would put Israel in range of Syrian weapons, has also upped the ante in growing tensions within the region.

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