Israel, Turkey and U.S. All Escalating Attacks on Hamas Ally Syria

In aftermath of the outbreak of open hostilities between Israel and the Palestinian militia group Hamas on October 7, the Israeli Air Force quickly began initiating attacks on targets across neighbouring Syria and Southern Lebanon. With the possibility of intervention by Syria-based militia groups and the Lebanese militia Hezbollah having repeatedly been raised, these attacks were seen as pre-emptive measures to weaken adversaries’ ability to enter the war. Primary targets in Syria have been the country’s two main international airports in Damascus and Aleppo, as well as key infrastructure across the country. Israeli sources have reported that some of the attacks, namely those on military infrastructure, were launched in response to rocket artillery attacks against Israel by militias based in Syria. The Syrian Arab Army’s inability to suppress Western and Turkish backed Islamist insurgencies during the 2010s fuelled a growing dependance on allied militia groups, many of them armed and trained by Iran and closely aligned with Hezbollah, to maintain security – allowing them to gain a foothold in the country with a particular emphasis since the late 2010s on building up capabilities near Israel’s borders. 

In parallel to Israeli strikes, the two NATO members with the largest military presences in the Middle East the United States and Turkey have simultaneously been responsible for escalated attacks on Syria over the past three weeks. U.S. forces have frequently clashed with the Syrian Armed Forces and government aligned militias since 2016, with the U.S. Military occupying large areas of northeastern Syria and extracting oil from the area to fund its military occupation – which has been criticised internationally as illegal if not a war crime. With the United States increasingly involved in the Israeli-Palestinian war effort in support of the former, its military facilities have also been targeted by militia groups in Syria and Iraq. American air strikes on October 26 specifically targeted militia forces in Syria, which were aligned not only with the Syrian government but also with Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas. An F-15 and a pair of F-16 fighters used precision guided munitions to neutralise a weapons and ammunition storage facility in Abu Kamal near the border between Syria and Iraq. U.S. government forces have consistently claimed that Iran is the primary force behind both Hamas’ fighting capabilities and the militia groups which have targeted American bases in Syria and Iraq.  

In parallel to Israeli an American attacks, jihadist militant groups heavily funded and armed by Turkey and operating under the protection of the Turkish Armed Forces in Northwestern Syria moved to escalate attacks on Syrian population centres soon after Israeli-Hamas hostilities broke out. The Russian Defence Ministry reported in mid-October that jihadists were “plotting attacks on the civilian population, areas where Russian and Syrian forces are deployed, as well as civilian infrastructure facilities with the use of unmanned aerial vehicles and modified medium-range multiple launch rocket systems.” The following week jihadists from the Al Nusra Front and possibly other groups were reported to have bombarded Syrian positions, leading Syrian and Russian forces to retaliate rapidly the latter with air strikes. Jihadist militias in Northeastern Syria are not only protected, armed and trained by Turkey, but have also for over a decade had Turkish special forces embedded within their ranks as a means of further bolstering capabilities and improving coordination with Turkish military units. Their operations have thus consistently aligned with Turkish and broader NATO interests, including not only in their campaign against Syria, Iran and their allies but also their specific targeting of key Russian military facilities in Syria which host strategic assets threatening Western Bloc security. The risks involved attacking Syrian and Russian forces directly has made use of jihadist proxies a key means for Turkey to achieve its objectives in the theatre.