Report: Israel coordinates, gets approval from US on some Syria airstrikes

Israel regularly coordinates many of its airstrikes in Syria with US officials, and in some cases even awaits American approval for its raids, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.

The paper, citing unnamed US officials, said the secret collaboration is focused in eastern Syria, and specifically the area of the al-Tanf American military base, near the country’s borders with Iraq and Jordan.

The US base is in a prime location for Iranian interests — located near a highway connecting Iraq and Southern Syria, Iran-backed forces see it as a viable supply route.

The coordination is meant to prevent Israel’s actions from interfering with US efforts against the Islamic State group in the region, the report said.

Israel conducts airstrikes in Syria primarily to contain Iran’s attempts to transfer weapons and other support to its proxies in the country and to the Lebanon-based Hezbollah terror group.

The Journal said Israel chooses its targets independently and does not receive approval from the US for all of its airstrikes in Syria. The official described the policy as a “well-developed and deliberate process.”

It noted that the US is careful not to be directly associated with Israel’s efforts against Iran.

“There is tacit American support for the Israelis acting to blunt the Iranians’ efforts to spread weapons around and build their leverage throughout the region,” Dennis Ross of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy told the paper. “But there has also been a consistent hesitancy about wanting any fingerprints on this.”

Ross said the coordination was natural: “It would be irresponsible if there was not deconfliction and coordination because of the risk that we could have an inadvertent problem.”

Coordination was said to have begun in 2017 when the Israeli Air Force started to fly near the al-Tanf military base to avoid Syrian aerial defense equipment; the IAF now clears planned flights with the US Central Command, which conducts an assessment. The command also reports details of planned flights to the US defense secretary and others, who can also choose to conduct assessments.

Illustrative: US Gen. Joseph Votel speaks to reporters during a visit to the al-Tanf military outpost in southern Syria, Monday, Oct. 22, 2018. (Lolita Baldor/AP)

The Journal said the US asked Israel to modify its operations at least twice: the first was in advance of the 2019 Delta Force raid in Northern Syria in which US forces assassinated then-IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi; the second occurred amidst intense fighting between US and IS forces in the Euphrates River Valley.

The report said that the US does not play a role in Israeli airstrikes in Iraq. Israel has not confirmed such strikes take place. It is also not involved in Israeli airstrikes that do not fly in the area of the al-Tanf base, including last Friday’s airstrike on the Damascus airport.

The newspaper said Iran has attempted to pressure Washington to curtail Israel’s operations. Following an October 2021 drone attack on the base, Tehran conveyed that the strike was a response to Israeli actions, officials said.

Illustrative: Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces Gen. Mohammad Hossein Bagheri, left, and Commander of the Army Gen. Abdolrahim Mousavi visit an underground drone base tunnel of the Army in the heart of the country’s western Zagros Mountains, Saturday, May 28, 2022. (Iranian Army via AP)

Until January 2021, US military coordination with Israel was delegated to the country’s European Command, in a bid to separate US collaboration with Israel and its collaboration with Arab forces that did not wish to be associated with Israel. Former US president Donald Trump ordered the inclusion of Israel in Central Command in the wake of Jerusalem’s normalization deals with Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, and Israel’s generally warmer relations — open and clandestine — with various Arab nations as they face a common enemy in Iran.

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