Israel struck what it said were Iranian targets in Syria on Monday in response to missile fire it blamed on Iran, sparking concerns of an escalation after a report that 11 fighters were killed.
Israel announced the strikes against facilities it said belonged to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force as they were occurring, continuing its recent practice of speaking more openly about such raids.
It said the strikes were in response to a medium-range, surface-to-surface missile the Quds Force fired from Syria at the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights on Sunday, which Israeli air defences intercepted.
“The air force struck a strong blow against Iranian targets in Syria after Iran fired a missile from there toward Israel,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.
“We do not allow such acts of aggression to pass by. We are acting against Iran and against the Syrian forces who are tools of Iranian aggression.”
Iranian media quoted Air Force Commander Aziz Nasirzadeh as saying “our current and future generations are eagerly and full-heartedly ready for battling with the Zionist regime and eradicating them from the face of the earth.”
“We assure the Iranian people that we are ready to retaliate against any threat,” he was quoted as saying, though it was not clear if he spoke before or after the Israeli strikes.
Israel said targets included munitions stores, a site at Damascus International Airport that was allegedly the Quds Force’s main logistics hub in the country, an Iranian intelligence installation and an Iranian military training camp.
It said it also hit Syrian air defence batteries in response to dozens of missiles fired from them.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor said at least 11 pro-regime fighters, including two Syrians, were killed.
Russia, which like Iran is a key backer of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the country’s war, said the Israeli strikes killed four Syrian soldiers and wounded six, while damaging Damascus airport infrastructure.
– Hezbollah ‘also targeted’ –
The Observatory said air strikes and ground-to-ground missiles hit targets around the capital including near the Damascus airport, as well as near the Thaala military airport in Sweida province to the south of the capital.
The targets included weapons depots belonging to the Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah and Iranian fighters, it added.
The chain of events leading to the strikes began Sunday.
Damascus initially accused Israel of carrying out raids in southern Syria.
Syrian state news agency SANA quoted a military source saying Syria’s air defences went into action after Israel launched the air strikes.
In those strikes, the Russian army said Syrian air defences had destroyed seven Israeli projectiles, after four of the Jewish state’s F-16 military planes “fired rockets into Syrian territory”.
Shortly afterwards on Sunday afternoon, Israel said it had intercepted what it then called a rocket fired at the Golan Heights from Syria.
Video spread online of skiers on Mt. Hermon in the Israeli-controlled Golan watching air defences fire to intercept the missile. The ski centre was closed on Monday.
Israel then early Monday announced it was striking Quds Force targets in Syria while SANA reported that Syrian air defence systems had responded to “enemy” fire.
Israel has pledged to stop its main enemy Iran from entrenching itself militarily in neighbouring Syria.
It has carried out hundreds of air strikes there against what it says are Iranian military targets and advanced arms deliveries to Tehran-backed Hezbollah.
Its warplanes have been targeted by anti-aircraft fire during such raids, but it has rarely faced surface-to-surface missile fire in response.
– Russian anger –
Netanyahu and other Israeli officials have been speaking more openly about the country’s strikes in Syria in recent days, which some analysts partly attribute to the premier wanting to burnish his security credentials ahead of April 9 elections.
Others say it carries a strategic military purpose as well by sending a stronger message.
But Israel also risks an escalation with Syria and Iran, as well as possibly further angering Russia at a time when the United States is seeking to withdraw its forces from Syria.
Military coordination between Israel and Russia in Syria took a hit after a friendly fire incident in September that led to a Russian plane being downed by Syrian air defences during an Israeli raid.
The incident angered the Kremlin and complicated Israel’s operations in Syria, particularly after Moscow’s delivery of the advanced S-300 air defence system there in response.
On Thursday, Israeli military officials concluded a series of talks with their Russian counterparts aimed at improving their coordination there.
More than 360,000 people have been killed and millions displaced since the start of Syria’s civil war with the brutal repression of anti-government protests in 2011.
Israeli raids inside Syria since 2013
Beirut (AFP) Jan 21, 2019 -
Israel has carried out hundreds of air strikes in neighbouring Syria since 2013, targeting regime forces along with their allies Iran and the Lebanese movement Hezbollah.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed not to let Iran — which backs Syrian President Bashar al-Assad — entrench itself militarily in the war-torn country.
Here is a recap of some of the major reported Israeli strikes, which the Jewish state does not always directly confirm.
– First strikes –
In January 2013 Israeli planes hit a military complex near Damascus suspected of holding chemical agents, according to a US official.
Israel later implicitly confirms the strike, for the first time since the start of the Syrian war in 2011.
In May 2013, Israel strikes the Jamraya scientific research centre near Damascus, a weapons depot and an aircraft unit, according to a diplomat in Beirut.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor which relies on a network of sources inside the country, says 42 soldiers are killed.
– Hezbollah hit –
In January 2015, a raid blamed on Israel on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights kills six Hezbollah personnel and a general from Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards.
Hezbollah commander Samir Kantar, who spent almost 30 years in Israeli prisons, dies in a raid blamed on Israel near Damascus in December 2015, according to Hezbollah.
In March 2017 Israel says it has targeted “sophisticated” weapons destined for Hezbollah near the central town of Palmyra.
In December 2017, Israeli planes again target the Jamraya research centre in Damascus, along with a weapons depot, according to the Observatory.
– Iranians targeted –
In February 2018 Israeli raids hit Syrian and Iranian targets after an Israeli fighter jet crashes under Syrian fire.
In April, Syria and its ally Russia accuse Israel of a dawn bombing raid on a Syrian airbase that kills 14 fighters, including seven Iranians.
Later that month, at least 26 mostly Iranian fighters are killed in a raid Syria says bore the hallmarks of an Israeli operation.
In May 2018 an attack near Damascus, blamed on Israel, kills 15 pro-regime foreign fighters including eight Iranians.
Israel carries out dozens more raids that month on what it says are Iranian targets, as Iranian rocket fire hits the occupied Golan Heights.
At least 27 pro-regime fighters are killed, including 11 Iranians, the Observatory says.
In July, Syria accuses Israel of bombing a military position in Aleppo province. At least nine pro-regime fighters die, including three foreigners.
In September, Syrian air defences responding to an alleged Israeli strike accidentally down a Russian transport aircraft with a crew of 15, sparking tensions between Israel and regime backer Moscow.
Israeli bombs hit several positions near Damascus in November and December 2018. In both cases, the targets are Hezbollah or Iranian weapons depots, the Observatory says.
– Israel ‘determined’ –
On January 12, 2019, Syrian air defences shoot down Israeli missiles targeting a transport ministry warehouse at the Damascus international airport, state news agency SANA reports.
Netanyahu confirms the strike and says Israel is “more determined than ever to act against Iran in Syria.”
On January 15, he tells Iran to remove its forces from Syria “fast” or face continued attacks.
On January 20, Israel announces its Iron Dome aerial defence system has intercepted a rocket fired from Syria by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force.
In response, Israeli fights jets carry out further strikes inside Syria, targeting Iranian facilities and Syrian aerial defence batteries.
The Observatory says the next day that at least 11 fighters were killed in the raids.
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Washington (AFP) Jan 17, 2019
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