Israel launched air strikes against Iranian forces in Syria Monday, taking the rare step of publicly announcing the attack in real time.
The strikes, fired in retaliation for what Israel said was an attempted Iranian rocket attack Sunday, hit targets including a training camp, an intelligence site, storage depots and a site at the Damascus airport, Israel’s military said.
The attack targeted the Quds Force, the elite Iranian military unit in charge of overseas operations, Israeli officials added.
“We have started striking Iranian Quds targets in Syrian territory,” Israel’s military said in a tweet early Monday as its jets took off. “We warn the Syrian Armed Forces against attempting to harm Israeli forces or territory.”
UK-based monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 11 pro-government fighters were killed in the attacks, while Syria’s ally Russia said four Syrian soldiers were killed.
Israeli military spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus said the strikes were in response to a surface-to-surface rocket fired by the Quds Force towards the occupied Golan Heights Sunday, which was intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system.
The Israeli Defense Forces posted footage taken from a ski-field on Mount Hermon that captured the incoming rocket being intercepted.
Conricus said the missile had been smuggled into Syria specifically for the attempted strike on Israel, and was fired from “an area we were promised the Iranians would not be present in.” This was likely a reference to information provided by Moscow, with whom Israel liaises seeking assurance that Tehran’s forces do not approach its border.
Syria claimed Monday it had downed most of Israel’s missiles, although the IDF released footage showing them hitting their targets.
Israel, which sees Iran as its key threat, has drawn a red line over Tehran’s deepening presence across its border in Syria and has repeatedly carried out strikes against Iranian assets there. It recently acknowledged having carried out hundreds of strikes in Syria in recent years on targets associated with Iran and its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah.
Shortly after the missile fired at Israel was intercepted Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his government has a “defined policy” regarding the Syrian conflict: “to harm Iranian entrenchment in Syria and to harm anyone who tries to harm us.”
After launching the retaliatory strikes, the IDF said Iranian missile represented “definitive proof of its real intentions of its entrenchment in Syria, which endangers the State of Israel and regional stability.” It vowed to “continue operating determinedly to thwart Iranian entrenchment in Syria.”
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Monday’s missile barrage lasted almost an hour and were the most significant Israeli assault since May, when it unleashed a similar a wave of attacks.
The Israeli strike came a day after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told President Donald Trump in a phone call that his military is ready to take over security in Manbij, the northern Syrian city where and ISIS-claimed bomb killed four Americans last week.
The city is controlled by Kurdish-led, U.S.-backed forces whose fate hangs in the balance as the U.S. prepares to withdraw its 2,000-odd troops from the war zone, where Trump claims he has defeated ISIS.
The American presence has effectively deterred Turkey from attacking the Kurdish forces, which it considers to be terrorists. Trump has warned Turkey not to attack the Kurds as the two allies work on a negotiated solution for north-east Syria following the U.S. withdrawal.
Cover image: A picture taken early on January 21, 2019 shows Syrian air defense batteries responding to what the Syrian state media said were Israeli missiles targeting Damascus. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)