Israeli missiles struck Syria’s port of Latakia early Tuesday, according to the Syrian Defense Ministry, causing large fires and major damage in the second such attack on the vital facility this month.
The missiles were fired from the Mediterranean and targeted the commercial port’s container yard at around 3 a.m. local time, the Syrian Defense Ministry said via the state news agency SANA. No casualties were immediately reported from the strikes, which activated Syrian air defenses, according to SANA.
Israeli analysts said the Israelis had likely targeted a military consignment. A Syrian government adviser said a shipment of Iranian military spare parts was targeted in the strike.
Israeli officials declined to comment on the Latakia attack; Israel usually doesn’t confirm or deny individual strikes in Syria. Israel in recent years has regularly launched attacks on Syria that Israeli officials have said are meant to thwart military threats from Iran and its Lebanese ally, Hezbollah.
“If the strikes in Latakia were, indeed, carried out by Israel, they were presumably designed mostly to prevent the buildup of [the] Iranian’s capabilities in Syria,” said Chuck Freilich, a former deputy Israeli national security adviser, who said he wasn’t privy to information about Tuesday’s strikes. “But there is a secondary benefit of reminding the Iranians that Israel can strike at any time,” he added.
Mr. Freilich said the strikes would add pressure on Iran in the continuing talks in Vienna to revive the 2015 nuclear deal by reminding them that the military option is open if negotiations fall through.
Negotiators from Iran, the U.S. and other major powers resumed talks this week to salvage the multilateral accord, which lifted most international sanctions on Iran in exchange for strict but temporary restrictions on its nuclear program. Former President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of the deal in 2018.
The U.S. has led the push to find a diplomatic solution to constraining Iran’s nuclear capabilities. Israel, which isn’t party to the talks, has taken a two pronged approach to Iran, saying a credible military threat must be presented if talks in Vienna break down. Separately, it says it must push back against Iran’s efforts to expand its military foothold on Israel’s doorstep to the north.
Latakia’s fire brigade said on its Facebook page that containers hit were stocked with electrical appliances, metal cans of powder milk, automotive spare parts and bike frames.
Israel has expressed fears about Iran’s military buildup inside Syria, from where Israel says an attack on Israeli soil is possible if tensions with Tehran boil over.
Tuesday’s strike comes three weeks after the Latakia port was subject to a smaller attack, which Damascus also blamed on Israel.
In response to questions about the first Latakia strike, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett didn’t deny his country’s involvement. “We’re pushing back on the bad forces of this region day and night,” he said earlier this month. “We won’t stop for one second. This happens almost daily.”
Cargo vessels owned by Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines, sanctioned by the U.S. for transporting military-related cargo for Iran, frequently stop at the port, according to data from tracker MarineTraffic.
Iranian presence at the facility “put a big target on civilian infrastructure that would not be targeted otherwise,” said a U.S. official.
The strike on the port, the biggest gateway for food and other basic goods into Syria, underscores how Iran’s support for the Syrian regime, while critical for its survival, can also be a liability.
Latakia’s fire brigade said on its
page that containers hit were stocked with electrical appliances, metal cans of powder milk, automotive spare parts and bike frames and that the attack ignited engine oil stored at the port. A firefighter was hospitalized due to smoke inhalation, it added. The governor of Latakia said Tuesday afternoon the fire was under control.
The attack also damaged a local hospital and some buildings and shops adjacent to the port, SANA said.
Israel has long avoided strikes in the area of Latakia, which hosts a Syrian air base currently operated by Russia.
Mr. Freilich said it was unlikely that Israel would have launched the strikes without informing first the Russians who Israel sees as having played a stabilizing role in the conflict and its aftermath.
—Nazih Osseiran in Beirut contributed to this article.
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