Many of the airstrikes Israel carries out in Syria are covertly coordinated with the U.S., in an attempt to avoid interference with American strikes on ISIS, current and former U.S. officials told The Wall Street Journal.
While American officials have been tight-lipped about Israel's raids – which have sought to stop the flow of advanced weapons from Tehran to Lebanese Hezbollah and weaken Iran's fighters in Syria – for several years, many of the allied country's missions have been reviewed in advance by senior U.S. Central Command and Pentagon officials.
The goal for the U.S. is to confirm that Israel's strikes don't affect the American-led military campaign to stamp out Islamic State militants who have been attempting to return to power following the defeat of their self-professed caliphate.
According to the Journal, the coordination between the two allies has not been previously reported and the discretion surrounding it reveals how Washington has tried to be supportive of Israel without being drawn directly into its ally's proxy war against Iran.
"There is tacit American support for the Israelis acting to blunt the Iranians' efforts to spread weapons around and build their leverage throughout the region," Dennis Ross, a former U.S. Middle East peace envoy told the Journal. "But there has also been a consistent hesitancy about wanting any fingerprints on this."
Israeli missions in eastern Syria that come close to the al-Tanf garrison, a U.S. outpost near the Syria-Jordan border, are the primary focus of the U.S. review, as the garrison is situated below one of the Israeli attack routes.
Current and former officials told the Journal that although the overwhelming majority of reviewed Israeli raids have been approved, the U.S. does not review all Israeli operations carried out in Syria and it does not help the Israelis choose their targets.
Israel's strikes have required close coordination with the U.S., beginning in 2017, when Israeli aircraft began to fly close to the al-Tanf garrison to avoid Syrian air defenses, current and former officials told the Journal.
After Israel provides details of its planned missions to the Central Command, the command conducts a review and notifies the U.S. defense secretary and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who may conduct their own review.
"Since Israel is sensitive to the fact that what happens in the region may fly back at U.S. troops, I would guess there are at least prewarnings and not just deconfliction," Assaf Orion, a retired Israeli brigadier general, told the Journal.
Orion served in the planning directorate of the Israel Defense Forces, but added that he had no direct knowledge of the procedure.
While the U.S. has largely given the go-ahead for the strikes it reviews, current and former officials told the Journal that the U.S. has sometimes requested modifications.
The U.S. has, at times, requested that Israel hold off on its strikes when the U.S. military was involved in a sensitive operation, as occurred when the U.S. was planning the 2019 Delta Force raid in northwest Syria that killed Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the ISIS leader.
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