Israel has claimed responsibility for a series of attacks on Iranian military targets, in a rare move that risks escalating tensions between the two feuding countries.
Israel said the latest strikes were in retaliation to Iranian forces launching a surface-to-surface missile from the Damascun area toward the northern part of the Israeli-held Golan Heights, The New York Times reported.
The country made the unusual move of announcing its strike, marking an increasingly open confrontation with Iran after years of ambiguity.
ISRAEL LAUNCHES ATTACKS ON IRAN
Israel’s military targeted Iranian installations near Damascus overnight, just hours after intercepting a rocket fired from Syrian territory.
At least 11 people died in the raids, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The Russian military said four Syrian troops were among those killed, but no further details were given on the casualties or their nationalities.
Iran’s Brigadier General Nasirzadeh issued a scathing response to the attack, saying: “The young people in the air force are fully ready and impatient to confront the Zionist regime and eliminate it from the Earth”.
Lieutenant General Jonathan Conricus, the Israeli military spokesman, said Iranian forces had struck Hermon ski resort prior to the attack, using a mid-range surface-to-surface missile fired from the outer border of Damascus.
He said the attack was “definitive proof” of Iran’s intentions to intensify war in Syria.
“That’s a civilian site and there were civilians there. We saw that as an unacceptable attack by Iranian troops, not proxies in Syria,” he said on Monday morning.
“In addition to that, the area from which the Iranians fired their missile is an area we have been promised that the Iranians would not be present in.
“We know it was not done in the spur of the moment, it was a premeditated attack,” he added.
Former Israel Major General Yaakov Amidror, who served as Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu’s national security adviser until 2013, warned it was a message from Israel that they weren’t afraid to take things further.
“Israel is determined to continue to prevent Iranians from building an independent war machine in Syria and is ready to take the risk of exchange of fire,” he told reporters in a briefing. “And if needed we will neutralise Syrian anti-aircraft.
“The more Iranians try to launch rockets into Israel the more severe will be the attack in response,” he said. “It is about a strong signal to Iranians. We’re ready to escalate if you don’t stop.”
WHY DID ISRAEL ADMIT TO THE ATTACK?
For years, Israel has remained largely silent about its attacks against Iran and its Shiite proxies operating in neighbouring Syria.
But in recent weeks, military and political leaders have become increasingly outspoken about these activities.
This policy appears to be aimed at sending a message to key players in Syria, including President Bashar Assad and Russia, that Iran’s continued presence there risks triggering even tougher and potentially destabilising Israeli action.
“Whoever tries to harm us, we will harm them. Whoever threatens to destroy us will bear the full responsibility,” Mr Netanyahu said yesterday.
But it also risks heating up the atmosphere between the bitter enemies. Iran’s air force chief, for instance, said his forces are “ready for a fight”.
Israel considers Iran to be its greatest enemy, and as Syria’s civil war winds down, it has repeatedly warned that it will not allow Iranian troops — who have been fighting alongside Assad’s forces — to maintain a permanent presence in post-war Syria.
While Israel has largely stayed out of the fighting in Syria, it has carried out scores of air strikes on suspected Iranian arms shipments to the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, which is also fighting alongside Assad’s troops.
With few exceptions, Israel has maintained a policy of ambiguity, neither confirming nor denying the air strikes.
But in the latest violence, the Israeli military announced on Monday that it had struck a series of Iranian targets, including munition storage facilities, an intelligence site and a military training camp, in response to an Iranian missile attack a day earlier.
Israel said the missile, fired by Iranian forces in Syria, was intercepted over a ski resort on the Golan Heights and that there were no injuries. The Iranian launch followed a rare Israeli daylight air raid near the Damascus International Airport.
Since 2013, the Israeli army has claimed hundreds of attacks on what it says are Iranian military targets and advanced arms deliveries to Tehran-backed Hezbollah, with the goal of stopping its main enemy Iran from entrenching itself militarily in neighbouring Syria.
On Monday, Mr Netanyahu said that Iran made “explicit statements” on its intention “to destroy Israel”.
Israel and Iran have had a tense relationship since the latter’s Islamic revolution of 1979.
Since then, Syria has been one of Iran’s key allies.
When Syrians began protesting the al-Assad government in 2011, there were reports the Iranian government was assisting the regime to quell the protests.
In mid-2013, Iran sent 4000 troops to aid the al-Assad government forces, and from that point onward it continued to step up its support.
Israel, meanwhile, has remained relatively neutral in the conflict, and has mostly kept a low profile. However, it has long held concerns about Iran’s influence in the region.
The latest confrontation is significant as it marks the most serious clash between Iran and Israel since Syria’s civil war began seven years ago.
Both countries are key figures in the region, and there are fears an open conflict between them will risk dragging neighbouring Lebanon and other surrounding countries into a new war.