>>> Israel launches massive military strike against Iranian targets in Syria
By Loveday Morris, Ruth Eglash and Louisa Loveluck
MOUNT BENTAL, Golan Heights — The Israeli military said Thursday that it had bombed dozens of Iran-linked military facilities in Syria, as tensions between the three countries soared.
The army said in a statement that its fighter jets had targeted Iranian intelligence and logistics sites around Damascus, as well as munition warehouses, observation and military posts — what a top official said were most of their facilities in the country.
The attacks followed a wave of overnight missile strikes directed at Israeli territory — all of them apparently intercepted — that Israel blamed on Iran.
An Israeli military spokesman said the rockets were fired by Iran’s Quds Force, a special forces unit affiliated with Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, marking the first time Iranian forces have ever fired directly on Israeli troops.
From Mount Bental on the Golan Heights, Israeli military spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus pointed out where he said an Iranian rocket salvo had fired toward Israel just after midnight. “We saw it was very clear what the Iranians were doing, attacking Israel from Syrian soil,” he said.
Four of the 20 rockets were on target, he added, but were then intercepted, while the rest fell short. Israel responded by hitting 70 Iran-linked sites in Syria. “This was by far the largest strike we have done, but it was focused on Iranian sites,” he said.
Syrian air defenses were also struck after they fired on Israeli jets, he acknowledged.
Israel and Iran have been on a collision course in Syria, as Israel has vowed not to let Iran build a presence and escalated attacks against Iranian targets across the border. Iran had vowed retaliation after seven of its soldiers were killed by an Israeli airstrike in April.
Analysts say President Trump’s scrapping of the Iran deal means it has less to lose by retaliating, and the move has added weight to hard-liners in the Islamic Republic who want to show strength.
In a statement carried by Syria’s state news agency, an unnamed foreign ministry official described the overnight attacks as a “new phase of aggression.”
In Washington, a statement from White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders condemned Iran’s “provocative rocket attacks from Syria against Israeli citizens” and supported 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,” the statement said. “Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) bears full responsibility for the consequences of its reckless actions.” It called on Iran and its allies, including Hezbollah, “to take no further provocative steps.”
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group, said that at least 23 people were killed in Thursday’s Israeli strikes across Syria, including five Syrian soldiers and 18 allied militia men, without specifying whether any were Iranian. The Syrian army, however, said only three died in the strikes and most of the Israeli missiles were intercepted.
Russia, meanwhile, issued its own analysis of the attack, saying it was carried out by 28 Israeli fighter jets firing 60 missiles and another 10 surface-to-surface missiles with Syrian air defenses intercepting half of them.
There were no immediate statements from Iran after the Israel strikes. On Wednesday, however, Iran’s defense minister, Brig. Gen. Amir Hatami, pledged that Iran would continue to develop its missile capabilities. Hatami, speaking to officials in Tehran, made no direct mention of Israel or other nations, but cited pressures from “enemies of Iran,” according to Iran’s Fars news agency.
Tehran’s strong support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has allowed it to deepen its foothold across Syria, but Iranian media downplayed Tehran’s role in the violence, depicting the clashes instead as between Israel and Syria.
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Israel’s Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said the strikes targeted “almost all of the Iranian infrastructure in Syria.”
The army spokesman Brig. Gen. Ronen Menalis also said Israel could still do plenty more if it was so inclined.
“What we did tonight is only the tip of the iceberg of the Israeli Army’s capability,” he said Thursday morning on Israel Army Radio.
Among the targets that were hit were Iranian intelligence sites, a logistics headquarters belonging to the Quds Force, military logistics compound in Al-Kiswah, an Iranian military compound in Syria, north of Damascus, munition storage warehouses of the Quds Force at the Damascus International Airport, intelligence systems and posts associated with the Quds Force, observation and military posts and munition in the buffer zone, the Israeli army said.
Speaking at the annual Herzliya Conference on Thursday morning, Liberman said his country’s position was clear, “we will not allow Iran to turn Syria into a front line post against Israel.”
Air raid sirens sounded in the Golan Heights shortly after midnight Thursday. In nearby Tiberias, on the edge of the Sea of Galilee, explosions could be heard above the music of bars entertaining busloads of tourists. The explosions were followed by sporadic fire into the early morning hours.
Israeli residents of the Golan Heights reported a restless night in bomb shelters but that life had returned to normal Thursday morning. Schools were open and farmers continued with work as usual.
Targets belonging to the al-Quds Force and the Revolutionary Guard throughout Syria have taken a significant hit,” said army spokesman Menalis. “In the next few hours they will understand very well how much we have hit them.”
Both Russia and France have called for a de-escalation of the situation.