Israel has attacked Iranian operating bases inside Syria in a missile blitz during the early hours of Monday morning.
In a rare public acknowledgement of an offensive military action in Syria, the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) said it had attacked up to ten sites including an arms depot and a training ground used by Iran’s elite Quds Force.
Israel’s action, focused on the airport south of the capital Damascus, was launched in response to a rocket being fired from Syria over the Golan Heights on Sunday, where it was intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defence system.
Video footage of the ground-to-ground missiles flying towards Israel were filmed from the head-cameras of Israeli skiers enjoying the snow, and later posted online by the IDF. Syrian residents also posted footage of the night-time raids that followed.
The IDF warned Syria not to retaliate as it bombed the Quds bases but Syrian air-defence systems were nevertheless deployed, leading Israel’s military chiefs to target the Syrian army’s surface-to-air missile launchers too.
“We warned the Syrians not to fire anti-aircraft missiles at our planes during the strike and they chose to fire anyway,” said IDF spokesman Brigadier General Ronen Manelis. “The Syrian response brought us to attack with three waves of strikes in Syrian air defence systems by the Israel Air Force.”
During our strike, dozens of Syrian surface-to-air missiles were launched, despite clear warnings to avoid such fire. In response, we also targeted several of the Syrian Armed Forces' aerial defense batteries. pic.twitter.com/rHxJqqpI9n
— Israel Defense Forces (@IDF) January 21, 2019
Russia said four Syrian soldiers were killed, while international observers said 11 people had been killed in the night-time attack, only two of whom were Syrian.
Syria’s advanced Russian-made air defence system is understood to have minimised the damage, intercepting more than 30 Israeli cruise missiles and guided bombs, which cost about £1.2 million each.
During a visit to the African nation of Chad, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the country had a “permanent policy” of stopping Iran from gaining a military foothold in Syria, which borders Israel to the north, while the IDF said it would continue its efforts.
“The Iranian attack toward Israel’s territory is yet another clear proof of the intention behind Iran’s attempts at entrenchment in Syria and of the danger they pose to Israel and to regional stability,” the IDF said, adding that it would “continue to operate with decisiveness and determination against Iran’s entrenchment in Syria”.
For years, Israel’s military and political leaders have not commented on strikes carried out in neighbouring countries, but this month both Netanyahu and IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot have reversed that long-held tradition, appearing keen to acknowledge Israeli action.
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