An explosion "targets Hezbollah" in Syria near Lebanon border: Context, background and implications
By MECRA STAFF
A dark SUV exploded near the Lebanese border in the Syrian border village of Jdeidat Yabous (جديدة يابوس) on Wednesday, April 15, 2020. The SUV was near several markets and stores on the side o the road, near the town's main arch that overlooks its street heading to Lebanon.
The SUV appears to have no license plates, or they were immediately removed following the explosion. Locals reported that UAVs or drones could be heard in the area prior to the explosion and assumed that surveillance was being carried out by Israel. Lebanese have frequently reported Israeli drone activity over the last months. The reports led to assumption that a UAV carried out an airstrike targeting Hezbollah members. Photos of the wreckage of the vehicle did not show bodies of victims. Later, perhaps within ten minutes of the explosion, new photos showed the vehicle covered by carpets in the back. It was unclear why some covered the vehicle with carpets. Men in uniform could be seen in several photos in the background. Social media users who reported the initial explosion just after 13:00 on Wednesday said there were no casualties. It was unclear if they had access to the scene. There were no videos posted of the incident immediately after it took place.
The SUV was badly damaged in the rear compartment, its doors flung open and pieces scattered several meters. Widespread assumption in Lebanese and regional media, among commentators as well, is that Israel conducted a strike on Hezbollah.
Hezbollah has been involved deeply in the Syrian civil war since 2012, supporting the Syrian regime. Hezbollah and Israel fought a war in 2006 and the group has continued to threaten Israel. It has stockpiled more than 100,000 rockets. When the Syrian regime rapidly defeated Syrian rebel factions near the Golan in Quneitra province, Hezbollah became more active near Israel's border. This has resulted in growing tensions. Iran is seeking to transfer precision-guided munitions to Hezbollah via Syria. It has used its "land bridge" or series of bases in Iraq and near the Syrian border city of Albukamal to transfer ordnance. An Iranian base called Imam Ali and other sites near Albukamal have been hit by airstrikes in June 2018, September 2019, January and March 12, 2020.
Iran has sent drones to the T-4 airbase in Syria and flown them into Israeli airspace. Iran has also reportedly sent its 3rd Khordad system to the T-4 base in Syria in April 2018. Israel has carried out more than 1,000 airstrikes on targets in Syria since 2012. Israel has targeted weapons convoys, and also infrastructure, as well as targeted leadership elements and Hezbollah members, such as Jihad Mughniyeh.
Recent tensions with Hezbollah include Israel's attempt to root out Hezbollah tunnels in December 2018, dubbed Northern shield. In August 2019 Israel carried out an airstrike on a Hezbollah "killer drone" team near the Golan. In the same month Hezbollah claimed to have found Israeli drones in Beirut and launched anti-tank missiles into northern Israel on September 1, 2019.
Tensions also follow larger regional trends with the US airstrike on IRGC Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani in January in Iraq, US repositioning of forces in the wake of rockets attacks on US facilities in Iraq, and the March 19 evacuation of US citizen Amer Fakhoury from Lebanon.
There were several other airstrikes reported in Syria against air bases. T-4 was reportedly hit in mid-January 2020. (See images of the mid-January strike). An airstrike his Syria's Shayrat airbase on March 31 (see satellite images).
The most recent airstrike on a Hezbollah member in a car was carried out on February 27 near the Golan border in Quneitra province. Imad Tawil was allegedly killed in a car near the town of Khadr. Photos online show the remains of the car. Reports asserted an "Israel drone" carried out that strike. Another airstrike near Homs took place on March 5. Lebanese reported hearing sounds of aircraft during the strike. On April 5 a Hezbollah officer named Ali Mohammed Younis was killed in southern Lebanon was killed.
Press TV was the first outlet linked to Iran and its allies to report the April 15 explosion. "Report: #Israel carries out drone strike inside Syria, near #Lebanon’s border." Many other reports emerged n the afternoon from 14:00 to 16:30. "An #Israel'i drone has targeted a #Hezbollah vehicle on the Syria-Lebanon border. No casualties reported. This is the latest in an uptick of Israeli action on #Lebanon's borders in recent days, after IDF soldier crossed the Blue Line in the South yesterday," Leila Molana-Allen of France 24 noted. One report claimed a missile missed the car enabling occupants to escape. But no other missile strike was visible.
Images of the destroyed vehicle were posted showing new angles of the destruction. Before and after shots of the vehicle with carpets put over it are also visible. The carpets were likely put over it to conceal the internal contents from UAVs. The border crossing, which has often been used by Syrians in the past during the civil war, was supposed to be closed when the explosion took place. The SUV was apparently a Jeep Cherokee. Conflicting reports throughout Wednesday April 15 discussed whether there were any victims of the explosion. The strike was reported in Lebanese media as an Israeli strike on a Hezbollah vehicle. Reuters was the first major wire agency to pick up the story. It was unclear which way the vehicle was traveling. If it was on its way to Damascus the Masnaa crossing is only around 40 minutes in driving time from the city.
Lebanese have frequently reported drone activity over the week before the explosion. On April 14 Israeli activity along the border led to Lebanese army soldiers deploying near the border. The incident came as Israel was locked down for Passover due to coronavirus.
If indeed an Israeli drone did strike at a car containing Hezbollah members on the Syrian side of the Syria-Lebanon border, this will form the latest addition to the ongoing Israeli air campaign against Iran and Iran-associated targets in Syria. Arab media reported a similar drone strike on February 27, which killed a Hesbollah member called Imad al-Tawil. The strike took place in Syria's Quneitra Province. Tawil was reported to control an IRGC-supported network in the Golan area. Shortly prior to this, Israel struck from the air at Palestinian Islamic Jihad targets in Damascus. Subsequently, in late March, Israel is reported to have hit the Shayrat air base in Homs Province.
Thus, the 'war between wars', as it is known in Israel, is an ongoing campaign which may have just witnessed its latest episode. Because today's alleged strike took place on the Syrian, not the Lebanese border, it does not depart from the tacit 'ground rules' established during this campaign, and thus no retaliation from Lebanese Hezbollah is likely.