Jerusalem (AFP) – Israel’s army said Thursday it hit dozens of Iranian military targets in Syria overnight after rocket fire towards its forces it blamed on Iran, marking a sharp escalation between the two enemies.
The incident came after weeks of rising tensions and followed US President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal on Tuesday, a move Israel had long advocated.
It was one of the largest Israeli military operations in recent years and its biggest such raid against Iranian targets.
Israel carried out the raids after it said around 20 rockets were fired at its forces at around midnight in the occupied Golan Heights from Syria.
It blamed the rocket fire on Iran’s Al-Quds force, adding that Israel’s anti-missile system intercepted four of them while the rest did not land in its territory.
No Israelis were wounded.
“We know that comes from the al-Quds force,” Conricus said, referring to the special forces unit affiliated with Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.
“The Israeli army takes very seriously this Iranian attack against Israel.”
Later in the early morning hours, explosions could be heard in Damascus while live images were broadcast on television showing projectiles above the Syrian capital and several missiles destroyed by Syrian anti-aircraft systems.
Syrian state media reported that Israeli missile strikes hit military bases, as well as an arms depot and military radar, without specifying the location.
– ‘Not looking to escalate’ –
The official SANA news agency added that “dozens of missiles were shot down by anti-aircraft systems in Syrian airspace,” saying a number of missiles had reached their targets.
Israel’s military later confirmed it had carried out the raids, saying dozens of Iranian military targets had been struck and all its aircraft had returned safely.
Conricus said intelligence, logistics, storage and vehicles as well as the origin of the rockets were targeted.
Syrian air defences that fired on Israeli forces were also targeted, he said.
There had been no comment from Iranian officials.
“We are not looking to escalate the situation,” Conricus said, but warned Israel would respond forcefully if attacked.
Israel has been warning for weeks that it will not accept Iran entrenching itself militarily in neighbouring Syria, where Tehran is supporting President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in the civil war.
Israel has been blamed for a series of recent strikes inside Syria that have killed Iranians, though it did not acknowledged those raids.
Israel had been preparing itself for weeks for possible Iranian retaliation.
Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal has added to tensions and led to a new level of uncertainty over how Iran will respond.