On May 10, Israeli jets struck some 70 Iranian targets in Syria in response to rocket fire attributed to Iran. It was Israel’s largest attack carried out in Syria since the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, according to an Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) spokesperson. “We will not allow Iran to establish a military presence in Syria,” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “We need to unite in order to cut off its spreading tentacles of evil there and everywhere.” The incident marked a sharp escalation between regional rivals Israel and Iran, which have increasingly come to blows since February.
The IDF has struck dozens of Iranian military targets in Syria in response to the Iranian rocket attack against Israel. Quds force is behind attack and has played the initial price. IDF remains ready for various scenarios but does not seek to escalate the situation. pic.twitter.com/4rC8gHK2LG— Jonathan Conricus (@LTCJonathan) May 10, 2018
On May 9, Iranian forces in Syria had reportedly fired 20 rockets towards Israeli military outposts in the Golan Heights. Israel’s Iron Dome aerial defense system intercepted four rockets, according to Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, the IDF spokesperson. But the rest did not land on Israeli soil, and no injuries were reported.
The IDF attributed the attack to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Qods Force, an elite unit responsible for operations outside of Iran. “It was ordered and commanded by [Qods Force chief] Qassem Soleimani and it has not achieved its purpose,” Conricus told reporters. It was reportedly the first attack carried out directly by Iran, rather than by one of its proxies, against Israel. In addition to its own forces, Iran has mobilized some 20,000 fighters from Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan to fight in Syria for the Assad regime.
Iran had vowed retaliation for an Israeli airstrike on the T-4 command center near Palmyra on April 9. T-4 had been a key point of concern for Israel since February 10, when an Israeli combat helicopter intercepted an Iranian drone that crossed the Syria-Israel border. Seven Iranian military advisers were killed in the April attack on the base. “Israel’s crime… will not go unanswered,” warned Ali Akbar Velayati, foreign policy advisor to the supreme leader.
The Iranian rocket barrage on May 9 came one day after Israel reportedly attacked a military base south of Damascus that was used by Iranian forces. Syrian state media broadcasted footage allegedly showing the downing of Israeli missiles in the Kiswah area, but the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that Israeli missiles hit IRGC weapons depots and missile launchers. The U.K-based monitoring group said that at least 15 people were killed, including eight IRGC members.
On May 10, Israel responded to the rocket attack with a wide-scale strike on some 70 Iranian targets in Syria. Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said the strikes targeted “almost all of the Iranian infrastructure in Syria.” Conricus said it was “by far the largest strike” that Israel has carried out. The following targets were hit, according to Israel:
- Iranian intelligence sites
- A Qods Force logistics headquarters
- A military logistics compound in al Kiswah
- An Iranian military compound north of Damascus
- Qods Force munition storage warehouses at Damascus International Airport
- Intelligence systems and posts associated with the Qods Force
- Observation and military posts
- Munitions in the buffer zone between Israel and Syria in the Golan Heights
Overnight, IDF fighter jets struck dozens of military targets belonging to the Iranian Quds forces in Syrian territory pic.twitter.com/LwBJTMkxYR— IDF (@IDFSpokesperson) May 10, 2018
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that at least 23 people were killed in the strikes. That number was expected to rise. Conricus acknowledged that Syrian air defenses were also hit after they fired on Israeli jets. Syria’s foreign ministry said the “direct confrontation… indicates the start of a new phase of aggression against” Damascus. “This aggressive conduct by the Zionist entity... will lead to nothing but an increase in tensions in the region,” an official said, according to Syrian state media.
“What we did tonight is only the tip of the iceberg of the Israeli Army’s capability,” warned Brig. Gen. Ronen Menalis on Israel Army Radio. “We will not allow Iran to turn Syria into a front line post against Israel,” Foreign Minister Liberman said at the annual Herzliya Conference on May 10.
The White House condemned Iran’s actions and expressed support for Israel’s response:
Statement from the Press Secretary on Iranian Regime Provocation against Israel
The United States condemns the Iranian regime’s provocative rocket attacks from Syria against Israeli citizens, and we strongly support Israel’s right to act in self-defense. The Iranian regime’s deployment into Syria of offensive rocket and missile systems aimed at Israel is an unacceptable and highly dangerous development for the entire Middle East. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) bears full responsibility for the consequences of its reckless actions, and we call on the IRGC and its militant proxies, including Hizballah, to take no further provocative steps.
The United States also calls on all nations to make clear that the Iranian regime’s actions pose a severe threat to international peace and stability.
European powers backed Israel but also called for restraint on all sides. “We know that we face an extremely complicated situation here. The escalation of the last few hours shows it is truly a matter of war and peace, and I can only call on all involved to exercise restraint,” said German Chancellor Angela Merkel. France “demands Iran desist from all military provocation and warns it against all temptations for regional hegemony,” the French foreign ministry said in a statement. “We call on Iran to refrain from any further attacks and for calm on all sides. We call on Russia to use its influence in Syria to prevent further Iranian attacks,” a spokesperson for Theresa May said.
In a tweet, Bahrain’s foreign minister, Khalid bin Ahmed al Khalifa, defended Israel’s right to defend itself. “As long as has breached the status quo in the region and invaded countries with its forces and missiles, any country, including Israel, has the right to defend itself by destroying sources of danger,” he wrote in Arabic.
Syria has become a battlefield for tensions between Iran and Israel that for decades had played out in neighboring Lebanon. Since 2011, many of the some 100 Israeli airstrikes have targeted Iranian military positions as well as weapons caches and transport convoys to prevent Iran from delivering advanced rockets and missiles to Hezbollah through Syria. In 2015, an Israeli airstrike killed Mohammad Ali Allah-Dadi, an IRGC general, and six Hezbollah fighters in Syria’s Golan Heights.
As of February 2018, Iranian forces and their proxies were deployed in nearly 40 facilities—including headquarters, logistical nodes, drone control rooms, training centers and other sites, not including forward positions. Tehran has tapped a wide variety of forces to fight in the Levant, including the IRGC and the conventional army. Iranian presence has varied from the high hundreds to the low thousands. Qassem Soleimani has been routinely photographed with militias for several years. By April 2018, more than 500 Revolutionary Guards had been killed.
Iranian combat fatalities in Syria since January 2012: IRGC (551); Regular Military: (8). April 2018: 7. pic.twitter.com/xLfHGAZYwH— Ali Alfoneh (@Alfoneh) April 10, 2018
On May 10, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu issued a stark warning to Iran in a statement:
Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu's Statement on Attack in Syria
"Iran crossed a red line. We responded accordingly. The IDF carried out a very wide-ranging attack against Iranian targets in Syria.
Thanks to a correct deployment of our forces both offensively and defensively, the Iranian action failed. No rocket landed in Israeli territory and our policy is clear: We will not allow Iran to establish a military presence in Syria.
Yesterday I delivered a clear message to the Assad regime: Our action is directed against Iranian targets in Syria; however, if the Syrian military acts against us, we will act against it. This is exactly what happened yesterday – Syrian military batteries fired surface-to-air missiles against us and, therefore, we attacked them.
The international community needs to prevent the Iranian Al-Quds force from establishing itself in Syria. We need to unite in order to cut off its spreading tentacles of evil there and everywhere.
I repeat: Whoever hurts us – we will hurt them sevenfold, and whoever is preparing to hurt us – we will act to hit them first. This is what we have done and this is what we will continue to do."
On May 10, Iran’s foreign ministry condemned Israel’s attack as a violation of Syria’s sovereignty:
Statement by Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Bahram Ghassemi
“The Zionist regime’s multiple strikes on the Syrian soil and the blatant violation of the country’s sovereignty, especially in recent days, was a clear act of aggression and a potent example of the crisis-seeking, lie-oriented and domineering nature of this regime, which wouldn’t like to see stability, security and tranquility in the region, and believes its security is contingent upon the insecurity and instability of the region.”
“The Zionist regime’s constant attacks on Syrian soil, which came under self-made and baseless pretexts, amount to a breach of Syria’s national sovereignty and territorial integrity and runs counter to all international rules, regulations and norms, and the silence of countries and international circles in the face of such acts and aggressive behavior by the Zionist regime is tantamount to a green light to the regime in order to continue its acts of aggression.”
“Over the past seven years, the Syrian nation and government resisted brutal and customized attacks by terrorist groups on behalf of the Zionist regime, the U.S. and some of their regional allies, and, by imposing defeats on them, kept their supporters from achieving their goals.”
“Today, the main sponsors of these terror groups have directly launched attacks against Syria, hoping to make up for the heavy defeats suffered by the same terrorists that they themselves created, and tip the balance in favor of these moribund groups.”
Chronology of Israeli Strikes in Syria in 2018
January 9, 2018: Israel reportedly struck a weapons depot known for housing Hezbollah’s advanced SCUD missiles outside Damascus, the Syrian military claimed. “Our air defenses responded to three Israeli missile attacks on military positions in the al-Qutayfah countryside,” Syrian military officials said. Israel did not comment.
Feb. 10, 2018: Israel intercepted an Iranian drone that crossed into Israeli airspace from Syria. Israeli air forces then attacked the T-4 command center the Iranian drone was launched from near Palmyra. One Israeli fighter jet crashed in northern Israel on its way back after coming under Syrian antiaircraft fire. Israel then hit eight Syrian targets and four Iranian positions in Syria.
April 9-10, 2018: Israel reportedly hit the T-4 airfield and command center near Palmyra with missiles in an overnight strike. Seven Iranian military advisors were reportedly killed. “Israel’s crime… will not go unanswered,” warned Ali Akbar Velayati, foreign policy advisor to the supreme leader.
April 13, 2018: Israel said the Iranian drone it shot down in its territory in February was armed with explosives. By intercepting the drone the “combat helicopters prevented the attack Iran had hoped to carry out in Israel,” the Israeli military said.
April 16, 2018: An Israeli military source reportedly confirmed Israel carried out the April 9 attack on the T-4 airbase in Syria, according to the New York Times.
April 17, 2018: Israel’s military seemed to imply it could hit Iran’s “air force” that it had deployed in Syria if Iran were to respond to the attack on the T-4 airbase. The Israeli military reportedly leaked documents that showed five Syrian bases allegedly being used for Iranian drones and cargo aircrafts. It also named three IRGC members suspected of commanding projects, such as missile units.
April 29 - May 1, 2018: Israel allegedly struck two Iran-linked military bases in Syria, killing at least 26 people, including 11 Iranian fighters. “We don’t comment on foreign reports and we have no information at this time,” said Israel’s military spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus. The strikes reportedly hit a weapons depot for surface-to-surface missiles in northern Syria, destroying 200 missiles. The second target was the Neirab military base southeast of Aleppo. “Well will respond to any aggression on Iran at the right time and place,” said Alaeddin Boroujerdi, chairman of Parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Commission.
May 8, 2018: Israel reportedly struck Iranian military facilities south of Damascus, killing 15 people, eight of whom were Iranian, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
May 9, 2018: Iranian forces in Syria fired some 20 rockets toward Israeli military positions in the Golan Heights, according to Israel’s military. Several rockets were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system. The others caused minimal damage to Israeli facilities and no casualties were reported.
May 10, 2018: In response to the rocket attack, Israel carried out its largest strike in Syria since the 1973 Arab-Israeli War. It hit some 70 Iranian targets, according to an Israeli Defense Forces spokesperson. Prime Minister Netanyahu said Israel’s air strikes were “appropriate” because Iran had “crossed a red line.” “We will not allow Iran to establish a military presence in Syria,” he warned.
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