Israel Strikes Iranian Targets in Syria After Missile Launch

Missile fired at Israel was launched by Iranians in Syria, military says ■ Russia: 4 Syrian soldiers killed, 30 Israeli missiles destroyed ■ Watchdog: 11 killed ■ Israel says targets include arms depot, Iranian training site

A satellite image showing the location of Iranian targets struck by Israel, January 21, 2019.
IDF Spokespersn

The Israeli military attacked Iranian targets Sunday night in Syria, the Israel Defense Forces spokesman said, hours after its Iron Dome system intercepted a missile launched from Syria following a strike on an airport south of Damascus on Sunday attributed to Israel.

Russia's defense control center said that four Syrian soldiers were killed and six were wounded in the attack, adding that Syrian military air defenses destroyed more than 30 cruise missiles and guided bombs during the air strikes.

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The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 11 were killed in the strike, only two of which were Syrian.

Following the strike, IDF spokesman Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis said Iranian forces carried out the missile attack toward Israel on Sunday, noting that the ground-to-ground missile was Iranian made.

The missile fire, Manelis said, was aimed toward the northern Golan Heights and civilian areas, with the intention of harming civilians. According to him, the fire was carried out by Iranian command and not by local militias.

"This was planned in advance as an attempt to deter us from continuing to act against them," Manelis said of the Iranians, adding it shows the danger posed to Syria by allowing Tehran to act from within civilian territory.

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Manelis said that Israel had warned Syria ahead of the strike. "We warned the Syrians not to fire anti-aircraft missiles at our planes during the strike and they chose to fire anyway. The Syrian response led us to attack Syrian air defense systems in three waves of strikes by the Israel Air Force."

Targets struck by the IDF, which number at around 10 according to its statement, include weapons warehouses at the Damascus International Airport and in other locations, an Iranian intelligence site and an Iranian training camp in Syria's south.

"During the strike, dozens of Syrian surface-to-air missiles were launched, despite clear warnings to avoid such fire. In response, several of the Syrian Armed Forces' aerial defense batteries were targeted," the military said in a statement.

Following the strike, the commander of the Iran's air force, Brig. Gen. Aziz Nasirzadeh, was quoted as saying that "The young people in the air force are fully ready and 'impatient' to confront the Zionist regime and eliminate it from the Earth." The quote appeared on the Young Journalist Club, a website supervised by state television. 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to Nasirzadeh's comments on Monday, affirming Manelis' statement and saying Israel will not abide by Iran's establishment in Syria and its threat to destroy Israel.

Iron dome missile launch captured by skiers on Israel's Hermon
A video of one of the strikes.

"Whoever tries to hurt us – we hurt them. Whoever threatens to destroy us will bear the full responsibility," he said, adding that "We are acting against Iran and against the Syrian forces that abet the Iranian aggression."

Syrian state media cited a Syrian military source as saying Israel launched an "intense attack through consecutive waves of guided missiles", but that Syrian air defenses destroyed most of the "hostile targets". 

Witnesses in Damascus said loud explosions rang out in the night sky. 

The Israeli military said earlier on Sunday that missiles fired toward the northern Golan Heights were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system. It added in a statement on Monday that an Iranian force fired these missiles, but said it holds the Syrian regime responsible for any activity in its territory.

"The Iranian attack toward Israel's territory is yet another clear proof of the intention behind Iran's attempts at entrenchment in Syria and of the danger they pose to the State of Israel and to regional stability," the army said. "The IDF will continue to operate with decisiveness and determination against Iran's entrenchment in Syria."

The Israeli army also said the popular winter tourist site on Mount Hermon in the Golan Heights would be shut for the day, citing security concerns. It added that otherwise things remained "routine" along the frontier with Syria. 

The missile launch came after Syrian state media said its air defenses repelled an Israeli attack in the south of the country, bringing down seven missiles. Russia claimed that Israel was behind the attack, which targeted an airport in southeast Damascus.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, on a visit to Chad, spoke about the reported strikes. "We have a set policy, to target the Iranian entrenchment in Syria, and to harm whoever tries to harm us," he said. "This policy doesn’t change when I am in Israel or while I am on a historic visit to Chad."

Israel's policy of ambiguity regarding its Syria strikes has been all-but-lifted recently by Netanyahu and former IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot.

It began with Eisenkot’s proud assertion to the New York Times of attacks on thousands of targets in the north during his tenure. Last week, Netanyahu took public responsibility for attacking Iranian weapons stores in Syria a few days earlier.

"The accumulation of recent attacks proves that we are determined more than ever to take action against Iran in Syria," Netanyahu said, while Eisenkot said that Israel "struck thousands of targets without claiming responsibility or asking for credit.”  

DPA contributed to this report.