On June 11th, the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency, SANA, confirmed heavy damage to two operational runways, 23R and 23L, at Damascus International Airport following an Israeli missile attack. The airport came under attacked at around 4:20 am local time by the missiles fired from Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, leaving three vast craters and no casualties.
The Syrian Ministry of Transport said in a statement released on the day of the missile strikes that, “landing and departing flights were suspended today till further notification as a result of the Israeli aggression since it caused heavy damages to the airstrips in several localities and to the navigation lights in addition to the damage occurred in the airport lobby.” The Ministry later announced that the runways would remain in-operational and that the military and civilian areas of the airport are being reconstructed, with an estimated reopening date of June 20th.
There was no official reaction from Israel. However, the attack faced backlash from the international community. Imran Riza, the United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syrian Arab Republic, commented that “targeting civilian objects and infrastructure runs contrary to international and humanitarian law.” Syria’s allies also criticized the attack. Maria Zakharova, the spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, condemned the attack as “an unacceptable violation of international norms.” The Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hossein Amir-Abodollahian, also stated that, “Israel’s attacks on Syria’s infrastructure are not only in violation of the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, but also contravene international laws and humanitarian principles.”
Previously, Israel had frequently launched missile attacks near the Damascus airport, but this is the first time the entire airport has been rendered unusable. This airport attack may now intensify the conflict between Syria and Israel as, under the excuse of self-protection, it will justify any future attacks launched by either country. However, an attack on airport infrastructure is not the full extent of the damage. Innocent civilians are also involved, and their lives are severely affected. The impact of the damaged runways could potentially cause massive disruption as all flights have now been cancelled. Syrians in the Northeast Al-Hasakah Governorate are now stranded as flying by plane was the only transport link available due to road blockades by extreme militant groups. This Northeastern Governorate, along with the Aleppo Governorate to the North, hosts a large population which, since the Syrian Civil War began, relies on humanitarian relief. The damage to the Damascus airport runways means that essential relief items mainly delivered to these areas via air transport may be affected.
However, tensions between the two countries are not new. Since the Syrian Civil War broke out in 2011, Israel has continuously conducted missile attacks against Syria, targeting government troops, Iran-backed forces, and Hezbollah fighters – Lebanon’s Shia group, and the scale of the attacks and the casualties they cause is increasingly alarming. On April 27th this year, an Israeli air raid killed 10 combatants near Damascus, including six Syrian soldiers. This was the deadliest raid in 2022. Israel has rarely commented on air strikes in the past, but has said that they are necessary to prevent Iran from entrenchment in Syria.
This unprecedented attack on the Damascus airport, which appears to be part of an intentional strategy to render the airport in-operational, is likely to escalate tensions between Syria and Israel in the near future. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that another version of this attack will not happen again. As long as Israel continues to target Syria – not stopping air strikes until Damascus no longer allows Iran to utilize Syrian military capacity – Syria will prepare for a counterattack.