IDF retaliatory attack on dozens of Iranian targets in Syria kills 23 fighters
JACK GUEZ (AFP)
Israeli strikes on dozens of targets in Syria overnight killed at least 23 fighters, including five Syrian regime troops and 18 other allied forces, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Thursday.
The Israeli army confirmed early Thursday morning that it launched an extensive campaign of retaliatory strikes on Iranian-operated bases in Syria, responding to a barrage of rockets and missiles fired by Iran towards the Israeli part of the Golan Heights only hours before.
“Overnight, IDF fighter jets struck dozens of military targets belonging to the Iranian Quds Forces in Syrian territory,” an army statement said, referring to the special forces unit affiliated with Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and seemingly the first time Israel attributed an attack directly to Iran rather than its proxies.
The Quds force did not claim responsibility for the attack and semi-official Iranian media have attributed the fire to the Syrian army.
The Syrian foreign ministry heralded the attack as a "new phase" of the seven-year long Syrian civil war.
The Syrians believe that Israel's "direct confrontation... signals the start of a new phase of the war on Syria," according to a statement published by state new agency SANA.
The Syrian foreign ministry called the attacks "a serious threat to international peace and security" and said that Israel's "aggressive behavior... will not lead to anything but an increase in tension in the region."
Russia's defense ministry said Thursday that 28 Israeli planes were used in the attack, firing some 70 missiles.
"28 Israeli F-15 and F-16 aircraft were used in the attack, which released around 60 air-to-ground missiles over various parts of Syria. Israel also fired more than 10 tactical ground-to-ground missiles," the ministry said in a statement, quoted by Interfax news agency.
Described by IDF Spokesperson Lt. Jonathan Conricus as Israel’s most extensive military operation in decades especially that vis-a-vis Iranian targets, the counter-attack carried out by air force fighter jets was said to hit targets deep within Syria.
A source in the Israeli security establishment cited by Haaretz said it was the largest attack carried out by Israel since it signed a disengagement agreement with Syria in May 1974.
Iranian targets said to have been struck by Israel included, “intelligence sites, logistic facilities, military compounds, storage facilities, listening and collection facilities as well as observation posts,” the statement confirmed. In addition “vehicles that served as rocket launchers” responsible for firing towards Israel, were also destroyed.
Iranian positions in Syria were said to have sustained heavy damage, however Iranian casualties were yet to be confirmed.
Russia, whose country provides massive military and diplomatic backing to Assad's regime, was said to have been notified about the Israeli attack before it occurred. The two countries have established a diplomatic hotline to avoid accidental clashes.
In talks the day prior, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Russia's President Vladimir Putin that "it is the right of every state, certainly the right of Israel, to take the necessary steps in order to protect itself from this aggression."
Meanwhile during the escalation last night, despite warnings issued by Israel urging Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad not to get involved, dozens of surface-to-air missiles were fired by the Syrian regime towards Israeli jets but were said to have been unsuccessful.
“No injuries or damage were reported in the Iranian attack, and no hits were located in Israeli territory,” an IDF statement wrote.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights alleged the rockets followed a "first Israeli bombardment on the town of Baath" in Quneitra province. A senior pro-regime military source in Syria confirmed the salvo of rockets, but insisted Israel had fired first.
“According to preliminary assessments of all the targets we engaged were effectively destroyed,” Conricus said, adding that “all our air crafts returned to bases safely” in the face of facing “massive anti-aircraft fire.”
Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Thursday morning that Israel has struck "all of the Iranian infrastructure in Syria."The army claimed that the attack had set back Iranian military capabilities by “many months.”
Tehran has repeatedly vowed revenge after Israel’s alleged attack on the Iranian-operated T-4 (“Tayfur”) in Syria’s central province of Homs on April 9, that killed around seven members of the IRGC.
At around 00.10 [local time] on Thursday morning, about 20 rockets, including both Grad and Fajr-5 Models, were fired at Israeli military bases by Iranian forces from the outskirts of Damascus in southern Syria.
Four were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system, whilst the others fell short of their target exploding in Syrian territory and “not a single one impact in Israel”, Conricus said, adding that this is something Israel had been “preparing for.”
"We were prepared and we sum up this night as a success despite the fact that it is still not over. Iran carried out the attack in order to hurt the State of Israel and Qassem Soleimani and the Al Quds force that are behind the fire will bear the brunt of the results and have already paid a heavy price," IDF Spokesperson Ronen Manelis warned.
Israel continuously asserts that it will not allow Iran to entrench itself in Syria, where it has for years provided military backing to Syrian President Bashar Al Assad in the country's seven-year long bloody Civil War.
“The Iranian aggression is another proof of the intentions behind the establishment of the Iranian regime in Syria and the threat it poses to Israel and regional stability,” the IDF statement said on Thursday, however they reiterated that Israel is not seeking escalation.
Iran also provides financial and military support to Hezbollah, a Shiite militia in Lebanon that possesses thousands of rockets for use against Israel, according to Israeli estimates.
Whilst Israel does not acknowledge carrying out the series of recent strikes in Syria, it does acknowledge carrying out dozens of raids in Syria to stop what it says are advanced arms deliveries to Hezbollah.
The dramatic events also come only 24 hours after the Israeli military ordered civilian shelters in the Golan Heights to be opened and called up military reserve units after observing what it described as "irregular" activity by Iranian forces in Syria.
US President Donald Trump's withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal has added to tensions and led to a new level of uncertainty over how Iran will respond.
(Staff with AFP)
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