Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu revealed on Sunday morning that Israel has carried out hundreds of attacks against Iranian and Hezbollah targets, confirming reports of an Israeli airstrike in Damascus on Friday night.
Speaking at the start of the weekly government meeting, Netanyahu said the Israel Air Force attacked Iranian weapons depots at the Damascus International Airport in Syria over the weekend. "The accumulation of recent attacks proves that we are determined more than ever to take action against Iran in Syria," Netanyahu said.
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Netanyahu told the cabinet that outgoing Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot worked alongside the government against a variety of threats, including Iran’s gaining a foothold in Syria, “In this framework, the IDF attacked Iranian and Hezbollah targets hundreds of times.”
The prime minister praised Eisenkot for ending "40 years of dedicated service in the IDF, four of them as Chief of Staff" on Tuesday. During Eisenkot’s term, Netanyahu said the IDF has worked with “exceptional cooperation with all of the security arms – the Shin Bet, Mossad, Israel Police and other bodies.”
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Netanyahu concluded by saying: “Gadi, this is a worthy conclusion to your term as the 21st Chief of Staff. On behalf of the people and the nation, I would like to thank you for your dedicated service to the people and the state. I will have more to add at the farewell ceremony, but at this stage I will suffice with two words: Thanks Gadi.”
In a series of interviews over the weekend, Eisenkot confirmed for the first time that Israel carried out “thousands” of attacks against Iranian targets in Syria.
The attacks against Iranian targets, and not only on Hezbollah arms convoys, were authorized by cabinet in 2017.
“We noticed a significant change in Iran’s strategy. Their vision was to have significant influence in Syria by building a force of up to 100,000 Shi'ite fighters from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq. They built intelligence bases and an air force base within each Syrian air base,” he explained in his interview to the New York Times.
The Syrian state news agency said Israeli warplanes fired a number of missiles toward the Damascus area on Friday, triggering Syrian air defences that shot most of them down.
"The results of the aggression so far were limited to a strike on one of the warehouses at Damascus airport," the SANA news agency cited a military source as saying. The attack took place at 11:15 P.M., it said, adding that the jets attacked from the Galilee in northern Israel. It caused damage but no casualties, the report said.
Syrian state media broadcast footage of what it said were the air defences firing, with bright lights seen shooting across the night sky. Explosions were heard in one of the videos.
According to SANA, "eight enemy targets spotted in the skies of Damascus exploded." The agency also quoted a source from Syria's Transportation Ministry as saying that business in airport would carry on as usual.
Hezbollah's Al-Manar TV said the attack was broader than usual, targeting areas ranging from the eastern Damascus suburb of Dmeir to Kiswa south of capital all the way to the village of Dimas in the west near the Lebanon border.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said airstrikes targeted an area near the airport while others hit the area of Kiswa, which is home to positions and storage sites for Iranian and Hezbollah forces allied with Syria's government.
There was no immediate word from Israel, which rarely comments on such attacks. Israel is widely believed to have been behind a series of airstrikes in Syria that have mainly targeted Iranian and Hezbollah forces.
Last month, an Israeli official confirmed that Israel had conducted airstrikes on Iranian targets in Syria. On Christmas day, Israeli aircraft flying over Lebanon fired missiles toward areas near Damascus, hitting an arms depot and wounding three soldiers. Russia alleged that those strikes "directly endangered" two civilian flights.
Israeli drones and warplanes were heard flying Friday afternoon over Lebanon.
Although Russia and Israel established a system to avoid friction between Israeli aircraft operating in Syria and Russian military planes in the area, a Russian aircraft was downed by Syrian anti-aircraft missiles during an Israeli airstrike in September.
The Russians blamed Israel for the mishaps, a claim that Israel vigorously denied. Russia announced it had delivered the S-300 air defense system to Syria in October following the incident.
Jack Khoury, Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report