The Israeli military said it carried out a new raid in Syria on Friday morning, targeting the cell that fired four rockets into northern Israel on Thursday. Syrian state television said six people were killed and seven wounded in the strike on a vehicle some 10 kilometers from the Syrian-Israeli border, in territory held by the Syrian army.
“We targeted a vehicle this morning in which there were at least five people,” an IDF source said Friday.
“We were monitoring this cell and it was attacked some 10-15 kilometers from the border, on territory firmly in the control of the Syrian military. This is an Islamic Jihad cell directed by Iran,” added the source.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Friday that despite the strike, Israel had no interest in an escalation.
“We have no intention of ratcheting up this confrontation, but our policy [of retaliating for attacks against Israeli civilians] remains as it was,” he said.
“Those who are quick to embrace Iran [following the nuclear agreement on July 14] should know that an Iranian commander directed and backed this cell that attacked Israel,” he added, echoing comments made by senior military sources.
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said the strike against the cell was proof that Israel will not tolerate efforts to harm the security of its citizens.
“We have no intention of compromising on this issue, and I suggest no one test our resolve on this matter,” he said in a brief statement after the attack.
Syrian state television said the fatalities were unarmed civilians.
It said an Israeli drone strike targeted a “civilian car” close to a busy market in the village of Kom, killing five. Ahmad Sheikh Abdul-Qader, governor of the southern region of Quneitra, said the attack happened on the road leading to the village of Khan Arnabeh, near Kom, and destroyed the car.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which tracks the country’s war, said the five dead were members of pro-government National Defense Forces. It did not elaborate.
Israel says that the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), a terror group that operates mostly out of the Gaza Strip, but whose headquarters are in Damascus, carried out the Iran, with Iranian direction and Syrian complicity.
The Islamic Jihad has denied involvement but called an urgent meeting Friday after midday prayers to discuss the targeting of the cell.
Also Friday, a Syrian military source said that at least one person was killed in a series of air strikes carried out by Israel late Thursday after the rocket attacks earlier in the day.
“The enemy aircraft struck a military position in the area of Quneitra at 11:30 p.m. (20:30 GMT Thursday), martyring one and wounding eight soldiers,” said the source, quoted by the official news agency SANA.
According to Israeli media — citing the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights — at least two people were killed in the strikes, possible two military officials close to Syrian President Bashar Assad. According to the report, the Israeli strikes included a raid on a target outside Damascus and one on a weapons depot belonging to the Syrian military.
The Israeli military said that it carried out strikes on 14 Syrian army positions in the Golan Heights on Thursday night.
“The Israel Defense Forces targeted 14 Syrian military posts in the Syrian Golan Heights,” the Israeli army said in a statement early Friday, without elaborating.
The strikes hit artillery batteries near Quneitra, several army outposts and communications antennae, local news sites reported.
The Israeli retaliation Thursday was its largest assault on Syrian territory in decades.
The Israeli government said it held the Syrian government responsible and indicated that Iran was directly behind the rocket fire on northern Israel Thursday afternoon.
A commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards orchestrated Thursday’s rocket fire from Syria, military sources said late Thursday night.
According to a senior Israeli security official, it was Saeed Izadi, the head of the Palestinian Division of the Iranian al-Quds Force, who planned the attack.
Throughout the Syrian civil war, mortar shells have occasionally strayed into Israel, but this was not the case on Thursday when four rockets struck the Upper Galilee and Golan Heights, the official said.
“We understand that this attack was clearly a deliberate one,” he said.
Ya’alon warned Thursday that the rocket fire was merely a “coming attraction” for future Iranian-funded attacks on Israel. With sanctions relief as part of the Iran nuclear deal, Tehran will increase support for its Middle East proxies, he maintained.
“What we have seen tonight is just a coming attraction for a richer and more murderous Iran,” Ya’alon said in a statement Thursday.
“This is the intention of the bloody regime from Tehran, and the Western world cannot just sweep that fact under the rug,” he added.