#BreakingSyria: IDF Strikes Near Damascus Airport

Israeli Defense Forces released footage of January 21 airstrike near Damascus airport, confirming Syrian state-run media claims

(Source: @LAndriukaitis/DFRLab via Google Maps, left; @yoavzitun/archive, right; Google Maps, background)

An Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) airstrike destroyed targets near Damascus, Syria, on January 21, 2019, as revealed by a recently released video.

News of the attack was first published by various Syrian state-run media outlets and was followed by a video published by the IDF. In a statement, the IDF noted that the targets of the strike were Iranian and Syrian. The short video posted on social media showed a self-propelled surface-to-air missile system, which appeared to be a Russian-made Pantsir-S1 (NATO reporting name: SA-22 Greyhound). Four people were reported dead after the attack, but the exact scale of the damage to the Syrian Armed Forces remains unknown at the moment. The attack was not the first of its kind, as the IDF released similar imagery in May 2018, which the DFRLab geolocated and confirmed.

Using the limited data from the videos, the DFRLab geolocated the area of the attack and confirmed that it took place in the vicinity of Damascus airport.

Geolocating the Target Sites

The area around the Damascus airport is heavily defended by anti-air system batteries and is, by some estimates, one of the world’s most heavily defended areas from air attacks. The fortified area around the airport can be analyzed using satellite imagery, which clearly shows large ramparts full of anti-air systems.

Geolocated areas are only a few kilometers from the Damascus airport. (Source: Google Maps)

On January 20, a video surfaced on Twitter, claiming that the Syrian Armed Forces had responded to an Israeli air raid by firing Buk missiles.

The geolocation details visible in the background helped the DFRLab confirm that the location is only a few kilometers away from the Damascus airport. The terrain visible in the video closely matched the surroundings of one of the Damascus defensive ramparts.

The visible landscape suggested the likely area of the video of the Buk system to be a few kilometers away from the Damascus airport (not visible). The yellow lines are fields from an adjacent farm. (Source: Google Maps, left; @Syr_Mil_Wik/archive, right)

The video did not provide any indication of the success of the launch, since the missile in the video flew out into the horizon with no recorded traces of it hitting a target.

The visible landscape around the Buk systems. (Source: Google Maps, left; @Syr_Mil_Wik/archive, right)

The visual comparison of the system seen in the video suggested that it was likely a Buk-M2E (NATO name: SA-17 Grizzly) system. The use of Buk-M2E by the Syrian Armed Forces was reported earlier in the conflict.

Comparison of the system seen in the video and a picture of a Buk-M2E. (Source: Weaponews.com/archive, left; @Syr_Mil_Wik/archive, right)

The January 21 IDF video, posted to its official Twitter page, was proof of a successful air raid. The video consisted of two short segments, likely taken from the self-destructing drone used in the attack. This short video showed only a few moments from the operation, not revealing the full scope of the attack. The first segment provided the geolocation details for determining the exact location of the target, while the second segment revealed at least one of the targets: a Russian made Pantsir-S1.

In the first segment, the drone was still approaching its target, while an unidentified defense system appeared to be unsuccessfully launching missiles toward the incoming drone. Background visuals revealed a certain pattern of the dug-in positions, which allowed to determine the place of the attack.

Geolocation of the targets hit by the IDF strike. (Source: @IDFonline/archive, left; Google Maps, right)

The second segment of the video showed the only recognizable defense system. This system showed high similarity to the Russian-made self-propelled, surface-to-air missile system Pantsir-S1. The images seen in the video and the images available online visibly matched. There have already been reports on the presence of these systems in Syria, especially around the Damascus airport.

Visual comparison of the vehicle seen in the IDF video and a picture of a Pantsir S-1 system. (Source: @yoavzitun/archive, left; defense-blog.com/archive, right)

Conclusion

A short video released by the IDF on January 21 allowed the DFRLab to confirm that an air raid in the vicinity of Damascus airport actually took place. At the moment it is impossible to confirm or deny the IDF statements that some of the destroyed targets were Iranian. Nonetheless, the air raid destroyed at least one target in the vicinity of Damascus, reportedly killing four and wounding six Syrian Armed Forces soldiers. No Syrian Armed Forces retaliation attack has been reported as of yet.

Judging by the video from the IDF, the Pantsir-S1 system appears to have been destroyed without successful retaliation. The fact that the highly touted Russian anti-air system was destroyed by an IDF air raid once again raises doubts about the Russian media’s claims concerning a supposedly impregnable defense shield.

The DFRLab will continue to monitor significant military developments in Syria.


Lukas Andriukaitis is a Digital Forensic Research Associate at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab (@DFRLab).

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