Israeli F-16s Provide Close Air Support to Turkish-Sponsored Jihadists in Syria’s Aleppo

On March 29 the Israeli Air Force deployed F-16 fighters to conduct multiple air strikes against Syrian Arab Army forces in the Aleppo governate near the Turkish border, with the attacks coinciding with escalated offensives by Turkish backed Islamist militia groups against Syrian forces in the region. The attack caused close to 40 deaths and many more casualties, among them both civilians and military personnel. British sources reported that Lebanese Hezbollah ground units and a weapons depot near Aleppo International Airport were also targeted. The attack allowed jihadist militias on the ground to escalate their offensives, although they were reportedly successfully repelled by the end of the day despite the Israeli air support provided. Israel previously supported a range of militia groups fighting the Syrian government operating near the Syrian-Israeli border regions, which was confirmed by video footage in the late 2010s and subsequently stated by Israeli Defence Forces Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot in January 2019. With these having diminished in strength, Turkish sponsored jihadist militias have maintained an important frontier for Tel Aviv and its allies within NATO to continue to place pressure on Syria.

Israel and Turkey have waged parallel campaigns to support Syrian insurgents and provide them with air support, with the two U.S. allies both flying F-16s for the large majority of these missions. Remaining jihadist militias in Syria are heavily concentrated in the Idlib governate near Aleppo and straddling the Turkish border, with Syrian efforts to expel these forces having consistently been halted by Turkish interventions including major air strikes similar to those recently launched by Israel. As Turkey is set to play a key role in supporting allied American efforts to expand production of artillery rounds, which will allow increased deliveries of much needed 155mm shells to Israel, the Turkish Air Force is also set to receive a major upgrade to its fighter capabilities with the sale of F-16 Block 70/72 fighters, which will further increase pressure on Syrian defences. Israeli strikes on Syrian targets far from its own territory near the Turkish border highlights the close integration of the multiple frontiers on which Syria’s defences continue to be challenged, with Israel and Turkey remaining the two leading regional challengers to the Arab state’s security.