Israel claims to have destroyed dozens of Iranian military targets across Syria in one of its biggest air operations in recent decades.
Thursday morning’s strikes came after Israel said Iranian Revolutionary Guards based in Syria launched 20 rockets at Israeli military positions on the occupied Golan Heights. All the projectiles were either intercepted or fell inside Syria and there were no Israeli casualties.
In a statement, the Irish Defence Forces said all its personnel operating on the Golan Heights as part of the UN peacekeeping mission there were safe and accounted for. “ The situation is being closely monitored,” it said.
According to Russia’s defence ministry, 28 Israeli planes took part in the subsequent raids on Syria, during which about 70 missiles were fired. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 23 people were killed, including five Syrian troops and other Syrian and foreign fighters. The Syrian military said only three people were killed.
Israel said that among the sites destroyed were Iranian weapons storage facilities, logistical headquarters, intelligence centres and the launcher used to fire the rockets at the Israeli Golan. Syrian anti-aircraft positions were also hit, Israel said, after they tried unsuccessfully to shoot down the Israeli planes.
Israeli defence minister Avigdor Lieberman, abandoning Israel's traditional policy of refusing to confirm responsibility for such strikes, accused Iran of constantly trying to expand and create new proxies and fronts.
“We hit almost the entire Iranian infrastructure in Syria,” he said. “They must understand that if it rains here, it will pour there. I hope that we have finished this chapter and that everyone got the message.”
Mr Lieberman stressed that while Israel had “no interest in escalation”, it remained prepared for any scenario.
The reported attack on the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, just past midnight, would mark the first time Iranian forces have attacked Israel from Syria, where they have deployed along with Iran-backed Shia militias and Russian troops to support Syrian president Bashar al-Assad in the seven-year-old civil war.
Israel had been bracing for an Iranian attack after a suspected Israeli air strike last month killed seven Iranian military personnel on a Syrian air base, including a senior officer responsible for the Revolutionary Guards's drone programme. On Tuesday, just hours after US president Donald Trump pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal, Israeli rockets struck a military base near Damascus, killing15 people, including eight Iranians.
Israel regards Iran as its biggest threat, and has repeatedly targeted Iranian forces and the powerful Iranian-backed Lebanese militia Hizbullah.
A senior Iranian security official denied that Tehran was behind the rocket attack on Israel.
Syria’s foreign ministry accused Israel of starting “a new phase of aggression against” Damascus. “This aggressive conduct by the Zionist entity . . . will lead to nothing but an increase in tensions in the region,” state news agency Sana cited a ministry official as saying.
Israel says it informed both Washington and Moscow ahead of the military operation. Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov urged Iran and Israel to avoid acts that could lead to the conflict spiralling out of control.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said the Golan attack was "just further demonstration that the Iranian regime cannot be trusted and another good reminder that the president made the right decision to get out of the Iran deal".
In an extremely rare expression of support for an Israeli military operation, Bahrain’s foreign minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa said all countries in the region, including Israel, have the right to respond to Iranian aggression.
Although Israeli forces remain on a high state of alert, public security minister Gilad Erdan stressed that Israel had no desire to get into an all-out war with Iran, and the Israeli assessment is that Tehran is also not interested in an escalation at this juncture.