Bahrain backs Israeli strikes on Iranian targets in Syria

In rare endorsement of IDF operation, FM Al-Khalifa says any country in the region has the ‘right to defend itself’

Raphael Ahren is a former diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Bahrain Foreign Minister Shaikh Khalid Bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa, during a meeting at the Arab League headquarters in the Egyptian capital Cairo, on November 19, 2017. (AFP Photo/Khaled Desouki)
Bahrain Foreign Minister Shaikh Khalid Bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa, during a meeting at the Arab League headquarters in the Egyptian capital Cairo, on November 19, 2017. (AFP Photo/Khaled Desouki)

In an extremely rare expression of support for an Israeli military operation, the foreign minister of Bahrain on Thursday said Israel’s overnight attack on Iranian targets in Syria was legitimate in light of Tehran’s increasing aggression.

“As long as Iran continues the current status quo of its forces and rockets operating in the region, any country — including Israel — has the right to defend itself by eliminating the source of danger,” Khalid bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa posted on his Twitter account, writing in Arabic.

Responding to missiles fired into Israel from Syria, the Israeli Air Force overnight launched a major operation against Iranian targets in the country, wiping out much of Tehran’s military infrastructure there, officials said.

The missiles, which according to Israel were fired by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ al-Quds Force, were targeting forward operating bases on the Golan Heights, a territory much of the international community considers illegally occupied by Israel.

At least 23 troops were killed during the Israeli retaliatory strike, 18 them non-Syrians, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Earlier on Thursday, the UK and Germany condemned the Islamic Republic for shooting rockets at Israeli bases and called on the two sides not to escalate the situation.

“The United Kingdom condemns in the strongest terms the Iranian rocket attacks against Israeli forces. We strongly support Israel’s right to defend itself,” Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said.

Britain’s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson arrives in Downing Street in London on March 7, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS)

“We urge Iran to refrain from further actions which will only lead to increased instability in the region. It is crucial to avoid any further escalations, which would be in no one’s interest,” he added. “We also continue to call on Russia to use its influence to press those in Syria to cease their destabilizing activity and work towards a broader political settlement.”

A spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry in Berlin said Germany was “deeply concerned” by Iran’s rocket attacks on Israeli army outposts.

“These attacks are a severe provocation that we most strongly condemn. We have always emphasized that Israel has the right to defend itself,” the spokesperson said.

“At the same time, it is key that the situation not escalate any further,” she added. “This particularly means we must do everything we can to finally arrive at a sustainable political solution to the conflict in Syria – it is needed to end the suffering of the Syrian population, and to not further threaten stability in the entire region.”

Meanwhile Russia, a staunch ally of Iran and Syria, called “for restraint from both sides.”

Moscow is “concerned” by the tension, Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said. “We have established contacts with all parties and we call for restraint from all parties. It’s very worrying and a source of concern. We have to work to ease the tension.”

Four of the 20 projectiles launched at Israel were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system and the rest fell in Syria, according to the IDF.

Lebanese soldiers inspect remains of a Syrian surface-to-air missile that had apparently been fired at Israeli jets during an extensive air campaign against Iranian targets in Syria, which landed in the southern Lebanese village of Hebarieh, on May 10, 2018. (Ali Dia/AFP)

The rockets included both Grad and Fajr-5 models, according to the military. The IDF said the initial missile barrage was launched by members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ al-Quds Force.

It appeared to be the first time Israel attributed an attack directly to Iran, which generally operates through proxies.

In all, the army said it carried out approximately 50 retaliatory raids against IRGC targets, including intelligence centers, weapons depots, storage facilities, observation posts, and logistics centers in Syria, as well as the rocket launcher that carried out the initial attack.

The overnight exchange was the largest-ever direct clash between the Iranian and Israeli militaries, and appeared to be the largest exchange involving Israel in Syria since the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

An illustrative map showing the general locations of Israeli strikes in Syria in response to a presumed Iranian attack on the Golan Heights on May 10, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

The military said it also targeted a number of Syrian air defense systems — SA-5, SA-2, SA-22 and SA-17 batteries — that had fired at Israeli planes, despite the military’s Arabic-language spokesperson explicitly warning earlier that “any Syrian involvement will be met with the utmost severity.

In the days and weeks before the Iranian barrage, defense officials repeatedly warned that Israel would respond aggressively to any attack from Syrian territory.

Tehran has repeatedly vowed revenge after the T-4 army base in Syria was struck in an air raid — widely attributed to Israel — on April 9, killing at least seven members of the IRGC, including a senior officer responsible for the group’s drone program.

AFP and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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