Israel confirms attacking Iranian forces in Syria

Until now Israel has largely refrained from public admissions of its covert military operations in neighboring Syria.
Image: Syrian air defenses intercept Israeli missiles targeting an area in Damascus, Syria
Syrian air defenses intercept Israeli missiles targeting an area in Damascus on Monday.Youssef Badawi / EPA

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By Associated Press

JERUSALEM — In an extraordinary statement, the Israeli military confirmed early Monday that it attacked Iranian military targets in Syria.

The military said the targets included munition storage facilities, an intelligence site and a military training camp.

The strikes were in response to a surface-to-surface rocket that Iranian forces fired toward Israel on Sunday that was intercepted by Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system over a ski resort in the Golan Heights. That followed a rare Israeli daylight air raid near the Damascus International Airport.

"We have started striking Iranian Quds targets in Syrian territory," the military statement said. "We warn the Syrian Armed Forces against attempting to harm Israeli forces or territory."

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Until now Israel has largely refrained from public admissions of its covert military operations in neighboring Syria, in order to avoid large-scale involvement in the eight-year civil war.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Monday's strikes lasted for nearly an hour and were the most intense Israeli attacks since May. It said 11 were killed in the strikes. The Russian military said four Syrian troops were among those killed. There were no further details on the casualties or their nationalities.

Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, an Israeli military spokesman, said the Iranian missile attack that prompted the strong Israeli response was "premeditated." Iranian forces in Syria fired the mid-range surface-to-surface missile toward Israel from the Damascus area — a missile that had been smuggled into Syria specifically for that purpose, he said. Conricus declined to further identify the type of missile, but said it hadn't been used in any of the internal fighting of the civil war and had "no business" being in Syria.

Israel only recently acknowledged carrying out hundreds of strikes in Syria in recent years. It previously typically offered only general warnings against allowing Iran to establish a military foothold in Syria and refrained from commenting directly for fear of triggering a reaction and being drawn into the deadly fighting.

Monday's announcement went a step further, reporting the strikes in real time and detailing the targets.

Conricus would not confirm whether the measures marked an official abandonment of the policy of ambiguity, merely saying that it was a "retaliatory strike against active aggression by Iran."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently confirmed that Israel has struck hundreds of targets in Syria linked to Iran and the Lebanese Hezbollah militant group, including a weapons facility two weeks ago. Iran and Hezbollah are allied with the Syrian government in the civil war.

Two hours after the reports that Israel's Iron Dome intercepted a rocket fired toward the Golan Heights, Netanyahu said in a statement: "We have a defined policy: to harm Iranian entrenchment in Syria and to harm anyone who tries to harm us."