After Syria strikes, Israeli security cabinet holds emergency meeting

Jerusalem mum on overnight raids, which some have blamed on Jewish state; ministers attend confab at army headquarters on tensions in north

Ministers in the security cabinet, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, receive briefings from IDF officers while touring the Golan Heights, February 6, 2018. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Ministers in the security cabinet, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, receive briefings from IDF officers while touring the Golan Heights, February 6, 2018. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

The high-level security cabinet convened for an emergency meeting on Monday afternoon, hours after missile strikes in Syria reportedly killed some 18 Iranian troops.

Ministers were told to arrive at the Kirya military base, which is also home to the Defense Ministry, in Tel Aviv at 1:30 p.m. The impromptu meeting, which lasted for an hour and a half, focused on the rising tension on Israel’s northern borders.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, who was returning from New York, did not make it back in time for the meeting.

Israel has not commented on the strikes, which some Syrian media outlets were blaming on the Jewish state.

Intelligence Minister Israel Katz told Army Radio on Monday morning that he was “not aware” of the latest strikes.

But, he said, “all the violence and instability in Syria is the result of Iran’s attempts to establish a military presence there. Israel will not allow the opening of a northern front in Syria.”

The Kan public broadcaster also reported on Monday that a security cabinet tour of the home front command, scheduled for Tuesday, had been canceled.

Syrian state media reported overnight that “enemy missiles” had struck government targets in Hama and Aleppo provinces, without mentioning any casualties or who may have been responsible.

In the hours after the strikes, media reports said that 18 members of Iran’s military, including a senior officer, were killed in the raids. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said 26 pro-regime fighters, most of them Iranians, had been killed. There were conflicting reports on the number of casualties, with some opposition-linked outlets placing the overall number of fatalities at 38.

Iran subsequently denied that its bases in Syria had been targeted or that any of its soldiers had been killed.

Videos of the blast show a fireball lighting up the night sky.

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The Hama facility was said to house a weapons depot, which accounted for the size and intensity of the blast, which could be seen from kilometers away and reportedly registered on seismographs in the area.

The opposition-linked Orient news outlet noted that the base was known to be the headquarters of Iranian militiamen and had been “heavily involved” in attacks against rebel forces in the area.

While some sources blamed Israel for the purported strikes, Syrian state-owned news site Tishreen said late Sunday the raids were carried out by the United States and British forces. The Western troops launched nine ballistic missiles from military bases in northern Jordan that struck Syrian bases near Aleppo and Hama, the news outlet said on its Facebook page.

Other media outlets claimed the attacks were carried out by aircraft bombers, and Hezbollah-linked sources and other regime outlets attributed the strikes to Israel.

There was no official statement from the US or Britain about the attack. As a rule, the Israeli Air Force does not comment on its activities abroad.

On Sunday, Liberman said Israel would uphold its right to operate in Syria against any threats, and would not be deterred if Russia supplies the Syrians with advanced air defense systems. He added that Israel would stop at nothing to prevent Iran from using Syrian territory as a base to attack Israel.

Israel, Liberman said, “will prevent Iran from establishing a forward base in Syria at any cost.”

Earlier this month, seven Iranian military personnel were killed in an airstrike on Syria’s T4 air base in Homs. Syria, Iran and Russia blamed Israel for that attack. Israel did not confirm or deny it.

Israel has repeatedly voiced concerns that, as well as trying to deliver advanced weaponry to the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah, Iran has been using the unrest in Syrian as a means to establish forward operating bases that could be used to launch rocket attacks and other military action against Israel.

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