Tensions rise after Israel attacks Iranian targets in Syria
Two sides exchange threats after Israeli jets pound military positions around Damascus
Guided missiles seen in the sky during what is reported to be an attack in Damascus, Syria. Photograph: Youmiyat Qadifat Hawun fi Damashq/Reuters
Speaking after Israeli jets had pounded Iranian military and Syrian air defence positions around Damascus in the early hours of Monday morning, Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu warned that Israel will continue to act to prevent Iranian consolidation in Syria.
“Anyone who tries to hurt us, we will hurt them.”
Speaking at the inauguration of a new international airport near the Red Sea resort of Eilat, Mr Netanyahu said Israel’s air force had “delivered powerful blows to Iranian targets in Syria, after Iran fired a rocket from that area towards our territory. We will not ignore such acts of aggression as Iran attempts to entrench itself militarily in Syria”.
Iran’s air force chief said on Monday the country’s youths were “impatient” to fight a war to destroy Israel.
“We’re ready for the decisive war that will bring about Israel’s disappearance from the earth. Our young airmen are prepared for the day when Israel will be destroyed,” Brig Gen Aziz Nasirzadeh said, according to an Iranian news site.
Israel has stepped up its attacks on Iranian positions in Syria since US president Donald Trump announced last month that he was pulling American forces out of the country.
Three waves of Israeli strikes early on Monday, lasting almost an hour, targeted the elite Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, as well as Syrian air defences in the Damascus area.
The Syrian military says it shot down most of the Israeli missiles.
Russia said four Syrian soldiers were killed and a monitoring group reported at least 11 fatalities among pro-government fighters.
Israel said Monday’s strikes were in retaliation for Iranian forces launching a surface-to-surface missile from the Damascus area on Sunday towards the northern part of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
The missile was launched after Israel attacked what was believed to be an Iranian weapons storage facility close to Damascus airport.
Iran and Hizbullah, an Iranian-backed Lebanese Shia militia, are sworn enemies of Israel and have been key allies of Syrian ruler Bashar al-Assad throughout the Syrian civil war.
Coinciding with the rise in attacks in recent months, Israel has abandoned its traditional policy of ambiguity and now openly admits to carrying out raids. Earlier this month, Israel’s outgoing army chief Gadi Eisenkott admitted that Israel has struck “thousands” of targets since Syria’s civil war began in 2011.
Israel’s new openness prompted accusations that Mr Netanyahu was seeking to gain political capital ahead of the elections in April and playing a dangerous game because such a policy increases the danger of Iranian and Syrian retaliation.
Opposition Labour party Knesset member Omer Bar-Lev said the Iranian “provocation” was a reaction to the lifting of ambiguity and if the Iranian missile had hit Israel’s Golan Heights ski resort “today we would have been in an unnecessary war, only because of pre-election bragging”.