Israel Intensifies Efforts Aimed at Cutting Iran’s Air Link with Syria to Send Weapon Systems to Hezbollah


Foreign Affairs

Tel Aviv: Israel has intensified its operations aimed at fully cutting the air link between Iran and Syria that’s being used by Tehran to send advanced weapon systems to its proxy in Lebanon, the Hezbollah. The new defence ties between Iran and Russia create hurdles but according to defence sources here, in spite of the new situation “every measure” will be taken to stop the flights.

As one of the sources said, Israel is following the intensive effort made by Iran to supply advanced weapons to the Hezbollah in Lebanon and by using real time intelligence is hitting the shipments. Iran is using cargo flights after the ground route has been attacked many times in recent months. At this stage Israel is closely following the cargo flights without taking action against the airlines, but defence sources here said that the continued arms transfer air link will “be dealt with in every action need”. The sources added that attacking a civil cargo aircraft in a civil airport will have grave consequences for Israel, but pointed to “other measures” that can be used without attacking the cargo aircraft. The sources refused to be specific.

In September, Israel attacked Damascus International Airport, causing damage to the main runway. This damage was repaired after a few days and the airport became operational again. Damascus Airport, located 25 km from Damascus has 2 parallel runways, of which the longest is 11,811 feet long. Most of the flights are performed by Mahan Air that according to a report prepared by the Israeli Alma Research and Education Centre points to the fact that the airline, operates under the auspices of the IRGC under the umbrella of the “Mola al-Movahedin Charitable Organization”(MMC). This so-called “civilian” organization brings together companies and other civilian entities.

Israeli sources who asked not to be identified said that the recent attack on Damascus International Airport was only a warning. One of them said that if the cargo flights with Iranian made weapon systems continue, Israel may attack again, this time causing heavy damage to the runway but also to the airport navigation and communication systems. “This will shut down the airport completely. But as I understand this is the policy regarding the weapon carrying flights from Iran,” one of the sources added.

A former high ranking officer in the Israeli air force who talked on condition of anonymity said that that all the options mentioned above are effective but added one more – a Cyber-attack that will take the airport navigation and control systems and make these vital assets useless. “Israel has all the tools for such an attack that will make the airport blind and deaf and will paralyse it,” he added.

The Israeli defence forces has some very advanced Cyber units. The most known is Unit 8200. According to the Washington Institute, this unit was instrumental in the attack on the Iranian Natanz nuclear facility.

Unit 8200, in collaboration with the US National Security Agency (NSA), reportedly carried out an attack in 2009-2010. They were apparently able to introduce a computer virus—called Stuxnet—into the facility despite it having an air gap in place, meaning that the facility was physically disconnected from the wider internet. The virus targeted the operating system for Natanz’s uranium centrifuges, causing them to speed up wildly and break, the monitoring system was also apparently hacked so that the damage, when it happened, initially went unnoticed by the Iranians.

Dr Mordechai Kedar, an Israeli senior expert on Iran and Middle East issues said that the new relations between Iran and Russia without any doubt encourages Tehran to reuse the cargo flights from Iran to Syria.

“They feel good with their new friend and that explains their recent moves,” the expert said.