Appearing to confirm Syria airstrike, Bennett says IDF will keep fighting Iran

Day after attack on pro-Iranian forces outside Damascus, defense minister says Israel working to push Tehran out of Syria

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

A house that was hit by shrapnel during an alleged Israeli strike outside Damascus on April 27, 2020. (Syrian state media SANA)
A house that was hit by shrapnel during an alleged Israeli strike outside Damascus on April 27, 2020. (Syrian state media SANA)

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett on Tuesday appeared to confirm that Israel was behind an airstrike against pro-Iranian forces in Syria the day before, saying the military was working to drive Tehran out of the country.

“We have moved from blocking Iran’s entrenchment in Syria to forcing it out of there, and we will not stop,” Bennett said in a statement.

“We will not allow more strategic threats to grow just across our borders without taking action,” he said. “We will continue to take the fight to the enemy’s territory.”

The airstrike early Monday on a military airfield outside Damascus — the latest in a series of attacks on Tehran-linked forces in Syria in recent weeks — killed four pro-Iranian fighters, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Three Syrian civilians were also reportedly killed by shrapnel, though it was not clear if the fragments came from the incoming missiles or Syria’s air defenses.

The Observatory said a number of Iranian-linked command centers were destroyed in the attack.

Bennett did not explicitly confirm Israel’s involvement in the airstrike, though his comments were seen as a clear hint to that effect.

A day before the strike, Bennett also appeared to signal that one was forthcoming, telling listeners in an interview on the 103FM radio station on Sunday to “keep your ears open” for news about Israeli actions against Iran in Syria.

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett, left, meets with IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, second from left, Judea and Samaria Division commander Brig. Gen. Yaniv Alaluf, center, and other senior IDF officers in the West Bank on January 28, 2020. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

“We’ve gone from a policy of blocking [Iran] to pushing it out,” Bennett added.

Israeli military officials have warned that acknowledging such strikes adds pressure on Iran and its proxies to retaliate in order to save face.

In his statement, which was released to coincide with Memorial Day Tuesday, Bennett said Tehran — like Israel’s other enemies — was still fighting against the Jewish state.

“We’ve not yet reached the point at which the enemies of Israel accept the existence of a Jewish state in the Land of Israel. Unfortunately, I can’t promise that it will happen in our generation. Even now, the Iranian regime and its proxies are working in an effort to harm the State of Israel and its citizens,” the defense minister said.

Jerusalem says Iran’s presence in Syria, where it is fighting in support of President Bashar Assad, is a threat, as Tehran seeks to establish a permanent foothold along Israel’s northern borders. Israel has also threatened to take military action to prevent Iran from providing the Lebanon-based Hezbollah terror group with advanced weaponry, specifically, precision-guided missiles.

A vehicle that was reportedly struck by an Israeli missile strike in Syria, near the Golan border with Israel, on March 2, 2020. (Courtesy)

Though Israeli officials generally refrain from taking responsibility for specific strikes in Syria, they have acknowledged conducting hundreds to thousands of raids in the country since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011.

These have overwhelmingly been directed against Iran and its proxies, notably Hezbollah, but the IDF has also carried out strikes on Syrian air defenses when those batteries have fired at Israeli jets.

Last week Syria accused Israel of hitting targets near Homs. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the targets were “military posts for Iranian militias in the Palmyra desert.”

On April 15, a car driven by several Hezbollah operatives was targeted in a strike attributed to Israel as it made its way from Syria toward Lebanon. The passengers in the vehicle escaped after an apparent warning shot was fired next to the car.

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