US steps up surveillance of Iranian assets in Syria over concerns of strike against Israel

US satellites, surveillance aircraft, drones and ships have stepped up operations to monitor the movement of suspecte...

Posted: Apr 27, 2018 9:38 AM
Updated: Apr 27, 2018 9:38 AM

US satellites, surveillance aircraft, drones and ships have stepped up operations to monitor the movement of suspected Iranian anti-air and ballistic missiles inside Syria due to rising concerns they could be used to strike Israel in the coming days, according to half a dozen US officials CNN has spoken with in the last 24 hours.

US officials confirm internal assessments of the situation have contributed to the level of concern but say they have no concrete sense when and if Iran might use its position inside Syria to strike Israel.

The US continues to recognize Israel's right to self-defense and its view that Iranian weapons inside Syria could threaten Israel directly. But they are concerned that any Israeli strike could result in a counterstrike by Iranian elements inside Syria.

Defense Secretary James Mattis acknowledged the rising tensions at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Thursday. In answer to a question from Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) about whether there's a risk tensions could escalate to engulf not only Syria but the rest of the region Mattis replied, "I believe the short answer is yes senator. I can see how it might start, I'm not sure when or where, I think that it's very likely in Syria because Iran continues to do its proxy work there ... I could imagine this sparking something larger."

"We have seen them trying to bring advanced weaponry into Syria on its way to Lebanese Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. Israel is not going to wait until those missiles are in the air. Will it be cataclysmic? I hope not, I hope Iran pulls back," Mattis told the committee.

One US military official tells CNN that the Pentagon is also monitoring the situation constantly to determine if additional measures would be needed to protect US military assets and personnel in the region.

"The potential for escalation has grown," the defense official told CNN. The Pentagon is publicly trying to emphasize that any military moves by Iran "would take us where we don't want to go," the official said. "There is serious concern this could escalate."

Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, speaking to the London-based, Saudi-owned Elaph newspaper, warned the Iranians on Thursday, saying, "If Iran strikes Tel Aviv, Israel will hit Tehran."

Liberman continued, "We will destroy every military site in Syria where we see an attempt by Iran to position itself militarily. If there is not silence in Tel Aviv and in Israel, there won't be any in Tehran."

Earlier this week CNN reported that US intelligence is monitoring a series of cargo flights from Iran into Syria, that the US suspects may be carrying weapons systems into Syria for potential use by Assad regime or Iranian forces.

While weapons shipments into Syria are not uncommon, these flights caught the attention of US intelligence because they occurred in the days after the April 13th US airstrikes on Assad regime targets.

When asked by reporters at the Pentagon if he agreed with the Israeli assessment that the weapons shipments from Iran to Syria are for the purpose of striking Israel, Mattis answered, "I can't think of any other purpose for them right now."

Israel reportedly struck several targets inside Syria earlier this month, including a T4 airbase in Homs province where Iranians had placed anti-aircraft missiles as well as unmanned aerial vehicles.

Israel has launched attacks on sites in Syria in the past, most notably in February when it struck twelve targets including three aerial defense batteries, as well as four targets which the Israel Defense Forces described as Iranian. That attack came after the shooting down of an Israeli F-16 fighter jet by Syrian forces, and the infiltration of Israeli airspace by what the IDF said was an Iranian drone.

A senior Iranian security official said Iran would punish Israel for the recent airstrikes on the T4 airbase in Homs, according to Iran's semi-official FARS news agency. Ali Shamkhani the Secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, and former defense minister, said Israel has not yet realized that the era of "hit-and-run" has come to an end and it should pay the price for such "stupidity."

But Israel has also laid out its own red lines, including not allowing the transfer of high-powered weapons to Hezbollah; any breach of Israeli sovereignty; and working to prevent Iran from entrenching itself in Syria.

The base that was struck, known as T-4, has an Iranian presence, which Iran confirmed when the semi-official Fars News Agency said four Iranians had been killed in the strike. In addition, Israel says an Iranian drone that penetrated Israeli airspace in February was launched and controlled from this base.

Speaking to Israeli Army Radio, leader of the opposition Yesh Atid party, Yair Lapid, said: "T-4, which is the base we're talking about, is no longer just a Syrian base, it is a Syrian-Iranian base. And Israel has said -- and we are clear on this -- that Israel will not accept an Iranian military presence in Syria and will not accept (Iran's) creeping presence in Syria. This has a price."

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 309223

Reported Deaths: 7153
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto21005250
Hinds19989411
Harrison17590303
Rankin13388277
Jackson13169243
Madison9965212
Lee9900170
Jones8319161
Forrest7554149
Lauderdale7232237
Lowndes6306144
Lamar614685
Lafayette6081118
Washington5296133
Bolivar4778130
Oktibbeha458097
Panola4461103
Pearl River4447142
Warren4310119
Marshall4302103
Pontotoc417672
Monroe4063132
Union405175
Neshoba4009176
Lincoln3892109
Hancock373785
Leflore3471124
Sunflower332090
Tate325984
Pike3226105
Scott311973
Yazoo305369
Alcorn301566
Itawamba297977
Copiah294365
Coahoma290779
Simpson290486
Tippah285368
Prentiss276659
Marion266479
Leake262473
Wayne261541
Grenada257385
Covington255380
Adams247082
Newton246161
George238947
Winston226181
Tishomingo222867
Jasper220248
Attala213673
Chickasaw205857
Holmes187272
Clay183354
Stone179733
Clarke178177
Tallahatchie176240
Calhoun165632
Yalobusha160236
Smith159734
Walthall131143
Greene129633
Lawrence126823
Noxubee126634
Montgomery125842
Perry125238
Amite121041
Carroll121026
Webster113932
Jefferson Davis105932
Tunica103425
Claiborne101430
Benton97525
Kemper95728
Humphreys94732
Franklin83123
Quitman78916
Choctaw74417
Wilkinson65329
Jefferson64928
Sharkey49817
Issaquena1686
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 522512

Reported Deaths: 10790
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson755371494
Mobile39129799
Madison34124500
Tuscaloosa25408444
Montgomery24059573
Shelby23225242
Baldwin20730302
Lee15638166
Calhoun14358311
Morgan14171273
Etowah13705348
Marshall12012220
Houston10416279
Elmore10024203
Limestone9862148
Cullman9509191
St. Clair9486236
Lauderdale9280233
DeKalb8762183
Talladega8127173
Walker7151276
Autauga6763106
Jackson6762110
Blount6532133
Colbert6236132
Coffee5436113
Dale4781111
Russell431239
Franklin421382
Chilton4130110
Covington4069115
Tallapoosa3922148
Escambia390374
Dallas3528150
Chambers3519122
Clarke347360
Marion3076100
Pike306676
Lawrence296395
Winston273272
Bibb256761
Marengo248561
Geneva246475
Pickens233259
Barbour227155
Hale218675
Butler213268
Fayette209660
Henry188444
Cherokee182744
Randolph177841
Monroe173140
Washington165538
Macon156548
Clay150255
Crenshaw149557
Cleburne147041
Lamar140034
Lowndes137353
Wilcox124727
Bullock122040
Conecuh109728
Perry107726
Sumter103332
Coosa99428
Greene91434
Choctaw58824
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