Russia and Syria blamed Israel Monday for the attack on a military airbase near the city of Homs that left at least 14 people dead. The strike was likely a response to the chemical attack on Douma Sunday that killed 70, including a number of women and children.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry said Monday two Israeli F-15 fighter jets fired eight guided missiles at the Tiyas air base, known as T4, without entering Syrian airspace.
Syria’s missile defense systems shot down five missiles, but three hit their target, killing 14, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a U.K.-based monitoring group.
Though analysts believe a large number of Russia troops are located at T4, Moscow said there were no Russian casualties in the attack. Some Iranian advisers are reported among the dead.
Israel has yet to comment on the strike, while the U.S. and France have denied involvement.
Early reports on Syria’s state-run TV blamed Washington. An “aggression was perpetrated on T4 air base in several strikes that is most likely to be an American attack,” a Sana report said, likely a nod to President Donald Trump’s threat Sunday that “Animal Assad” would have a “big price to pay” for the chemical atrocity. The U.S. reference was later removed.
In response to the chemical attack, Trump explicitly criticized Russian President Vladimir Putin Sunday — a first for an administration under investigation for alleged collusion with Moscow during the 2016 presidential vote.
Yet Trump’s intentions toward Syria remain opaque.
Exactly a year ago, he unexpectedly launched an attack on a Syrian air base following a chemical attack in Khan Shaykhun. Some 59 U.S. Tomahawk missiles were fired, striking aircraft, buildings, and fuel silos.
Yet as recently as last week Trump advocated for pulling troops out of Syria completely, against the advice of the Pentagon.
“I want to get out,” he said at the White House. “I want to bring our troops back home.”
Another factor in defining Trump’s response will be the presence of new national security adviser John Bolton, part of the team that huddled with Trump over the weekend. Bolton is a well-known military hawk who has said he believes the U.S. military should be deployed preemptively.
Back in February he outlined his views on Assad and the Syrian regime:
Other voices in government over the weekend called for a more aggressive response to the Syria crisis. Veteran Republican Sen. John McCain said Sunday Trump should “demonstrate that Assad will pay a price for his war crimes.”
Bolton’s first official task Monday will be to chair a meeting of the national security council, which will draft a selection of responses to the chemical attack for Trump.
Cover image: Damaged buildings line a street in the war-ravaged city of Homs in central Syria on Feb. 14, 2018. (Kyodo via AP Images)