Israel Strikes Iranian Forces in Syria After Explosives Found on Border

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Missiles flying into the sky near international airport, in Damascus, Syria, January 21, 2019.
Missiles flying into the sky near international airport, in Damascus, Syria, January 21, 2019.Credit: AP

The Israeli military said Wednesday morning that it struck Iran-backed targets in Syria in response to explosive devices that soldiers had uncovered on the Israeli-Syrian border the previous day.

The IDF spokesperson, Brigadier General Hidai Zilberman, confirmed that Israel had attacked eight targets, including "arms depots, military headquarters and compounds and surface-to-air missile batteries."

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"We are prepared for any scenario, both on the ground and with air defenses," Zilberman said, adding that the situation for Israeli Golan Heights residents remained "complete routine." 

Defense Minister Benny Gantz said Wednesday that "The IDF struck military targets belonging to the Iranian Quds Force and the Syrian military in response to the explosives left on the Syrian border, within Israeli territory." He added, "The Syrian regime is responsible for everything that is done from its territory and within its territory."

Israel rarely claims responsibility for attacks in Syria attributed to its military.

Earlier on Wednesday, Syrian state television said Israeli missiles had flown over the Syrian Golan Heights and conducted raids around Damascus. Live footage showed blasts across the skies of the capital.

State-run Syrian news agency SANA reported that Syrian air defenses intercepted the Israeli attack over Damascus. Three military personnel were killed and one was injured in "Israeli aggression" on Syria, SANA quoted a Syrian military source as saying.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that 10 were killed in the strike, adding that the casualties were "Syrian, Arab and Iranian." 

Following the attack, Israel said it was in response to the Tuesday discovery of several explosive devices in the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights near the border between Israel and Syria. Engineering teams neutralized the explosives shortly after they were uncovered. 

During a visit to the northern border later on Tuesday, Defense Minister Benny Gantz said Israel would not tolerate the planting of explosives in the Golan. "We cannot turn a blind eye to this. It's a grave incident," Gantz told reporters.

"The attack was carried out in response to the explosive devices that were placed near the Israeli border by an Iranian-backed Syrian cell," an army statement said.

"Syria allows Iranians to continue to establish themselves in its territory, including in the southern Golan Heights," Zilberman said on Wednesday. "We witnessed a similar case in August, when the IDF intercepted troops attempting to plant explosives. The current incident is apparently proof that the other side did not understand the message from August."

In early August, Israeli troops and aircraft fired simultaneously on a squad of four in the buffer zone between the border and Israel's security fence, killing all its members. The military said the unit, whose members were dressed as shepherds, was on its way to plant explosives in Israeli territory. 

"These attacks have two clear messages: we will not allow Iran to establish itself in Syria, not even in the southern Golan Heights, and we will not allow Syria to ignore everything that happens in and out of its territory. We expect UN forces to monitor and fulfill their role in the region," Zilberman added.

The army said that they "hold the Syrian regime responsible for all actions taken in its territory and will not allow for the violation of Israeli sovereignty." 

Zilberman said the targets hit on Tuesday night included "a military camp under Iranian command near the airport in Damascus; a military site near Damascus used by senior Iranian officers; the headquarters of Division 7 in the Syrian Golan Heights, from which Iranian Quds Force personnel operate; and Syrian army surface-to-air missile batteries."

In recent months, Israel has also allegedly targeted pro-Iranian positions in Syria, with SANA reporting Israeli airstrikes in Quneitra, in the Syrian Golan Heights, in late October.  

A Syrian opposition war monitor also claimed that Israel carried out an airstrike on Iran-backed fighters in eastern Syria, killing 10 fighters, including eight Iraqis, on September 14.

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