A commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards orchestrated Thursday’s rocket fire on northern Israel from Syria, military sources said late Thursday night, prompting an unusually strong response from the Israel Defense Forces.
According to a senior Israeli security official, Saeed Izadi, the head of the Palestinian Division of the Iranian al-Quds Force planned the attack. It was carried out by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a terror group that operates mostly out of the Gaza Strip, but whose headquarters are in Damascus. The Islamic Jihad has denied its involvement.
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.
Israel held the Syrian government responsible for the attacks, retaliating with its largest assault on Syrian territory in decades. The IDF fired artillery shells and launched airstrikes against Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces, hitting 14 military posts in the Syrian Golan Heights, the defense official said.
The strikes hit artillery batteries near the city of Quneitra, several army outposts and communications antennae, local news sites reported.
The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported a number of Syrian soldiers had been injured or killed. This claim was disputed by official Syrian television, which said there were no fatalities.
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon warned 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.
“This is the intention of the bloody regime from Tehran, and the Western world cannot just sweep that fact under the rug,” he added.
Nadav Pollak, a senior researcher at the Washington Institute, told The Times of Israel that the use of rockets, instead of mortar shells, was intentional.
This is a way for the [Iranian] Quds Force to say, “You know that it was us, but the rockets prove that it was,” Pollak explained. If mortars had been used, he said, it may have been thought to be errant fire.
‘It’s the IDF saying, ‘OK, you crossed a line.”
This was a much larger assault in response than the IDF has carried out in the past in Syria, Pollak said.
“It’s the IDF saying, ‘OK, you crossed a line,'” Pollak said.
Many would have anticipated that Hezbollah, one of the dominant groups in the northern region with strong ties to Iran, would be behind this sort of attack, he said.
In recent months, however, there has been an escalation in the hostilities between the IDF and Hezbollah. If Hezbollah had carried out the attack, Pollak said, the response by Israel would have been harsher still.
“[Using the Islamic Jihad] was an attempt [by the Iranians] to distance themselves from Hezbollah,” Pollak said.
The Islamic Jihad is considered even more radical than Hamas, he said, and Iran therefore gives the group greater financial support.
“The connection between the PIJ and Syria and the Quds Force is really strong.”
Despite threats by the Islamic Jihad of an attack on Israel over Mohammed Allaan, who the terror group and Israel maintain is a member of the Islamic Jihad, and who had been on a 65-day hunger strike in an Israeli prison until Thursday, Israeli defense officials have denied any connection between the Syrian flare-up and his case.
This attack by Izadi and the PIJ was likely a response to an alleged Israeli airstrike three weeks ago, in which two Hezbollah operatives and three Assad supporters were killed, Pollak said.
In the wake of the Iran nuclear accord, the Islamic Republic may also be attempting to “test the waters” for a future larger-scale attack, Pollak posited.