The Israeli army said Sunday that for several months it has been following Iran's plan to carry out an attack against Israel from Syrian territory.
"The person behind this is [head of Iran's Quds Force] Qasem Soleimani," Israel Defense Forces' Spokesman Ronen Manelis told reporters.
According to Manelis, "the Iranians plan was to send several drones into Israel, armed with explosives, and kill Israelis. These are drones we see in action in Iraq, Syria and Yemen."
The chief of the Israeli army, Aviv Kochavi, said that Soleimani personally oversaw the operation and trained the Iranian activists who were meant to carry it out.
Several weeks ago, Manelis said, an Iranian plane landed in the Damascus airport, "carrying Iranian security advisers, Shi'ite militia members and equipment to use for the attack." The team then set up base in a compound run by the Quds Force, and according to the Israeli army, began planning the attack.
The Israeli army spokesman said that last Thursday, four members of the team arrive at a structure in the village of Erneh in the Golan Heights with their equipment. Israel, he said, thwarted that attack, but the cell retained possession of the drones.
This is an incident that must be made public, Manelis said, explaining why Israel took the extraordinary step of confirming the strike. He added that Israel is prepared "defensively and offensively" as this incident is not over yet "and there could be developments."
>> Read more: Iran wanted revenge over Iraq strike. Israel foiled it – for now | Analysis
In a rare move, Israel confirmed it struck in Syria overnight Saturday to thwart a drone attack by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards' elite Quds Force. Syrian opposition activists reported three deaths in the attack.
The Israeli army said the foiled attack entailed launching several drones at targets in northern Israel.
A senior Revolutionary Guards commander denied on Sunday that Iranian targets had been hit in Israeli air strikes in Syria, the semi-official ILNA news agency reported.
"This is a lie and not true. ..Israel and the United States do not have the power to attack Iran's various centers, and our [military] advisory centers have not been harmed," said Revolutionary Guards Major General Mohsen Rezaei, who is also the secretary of a powerful state body, ILNA reported.
However, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition organization, said two Hezbollah operatives and an Iranian were killed in the attack.
Later overnight, Hezbollah claimed two Israeli drones crashed in Beirut.
In anticipation of possible retaliatory rocket fire, the Israel Defense Forces deployed air defenses in northern Israel. Authorities, however, have not issued any special safety instructions for local residents.
Earlier, Syrian state television reported explosions above Damascus and said air defenses had intercepted "hostile targets."
Following the IDF's confirmation of the strike, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: "I repeat: Iran has no immunity anywhere...I have given the instruction to prepare for any scenario. We will continue to act against Iran and its proxies with determination and responsibility on behalf of Israel's security."
The latest strike comes amid accusations of Israel conducting airstrikes against Iranian targets in Iraq in recent weeks.
Most recently, Syrian state media reported that an Israeli missile had struck western Quneitra province in early August.
On Friday the New York Times published a report citing senior American intelligence officials who said that Israel was responsible for several strikes in Iraq. The report also quoted a senior Middle Eastern intelligence official who said that Israel was specifically responsible for a July 19 attack north of Baghdad on a base he told the Times was being used by Iran's Revolutionary Guards "to transfer weapons to Syria."
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now