Foreign minister blames Iran for rocket fire from Syria

After Iron Dome intercepts projectiles in early morning attack, Israel Katz says Israel’s efforts to block Iranian presence in the area are working

Then-foreign minister Israel Katz at a Likud election campaign stop in Jerusalem, September 16, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Then-foreign minister Israel Katz at a Likud election campaign stop in Jerusalem, September 16, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Foreign Minister Israel Katz on Tuesday accused Iran of being behind the morning’s rocket fire from Syria toward northern Israel, claiming that Jerusalem’s years-long campaign against Tehran’s entrenchment in Syria was working.

Israel’s anti-missile defense system intercepted four rockets fired early Tuesday from neighboring Syria toward the Golan Heights. No hits on Israeli communities were reported.

“This incident is an Iranian operation against the State of Israel,” Katz told the Ynet news site.

Israel has carried out hundreds of airstrikes on Iranian-linked targets in Syria in recent years and top officials have repeatedly vowed to prevent Iran from entrenching itself on the Israel-Syrian border.

“The State of Israel will continue to act according to its policy. The policy was and remains to prevent Iran from establishing itself in the area,” he said.

But he said Israel wouldn’t be dragged into a “war of attrition” with the Islamic Republic, Katz said, adding: “We are not Saudi Arabia.”

He said Israel’s actions against Iran in the region have borne fruit and the threat from Tehran was currently lower than it was several years ago.

This picture taken on August 25, 2019 from the Israeli side of the Golan Heights shows self-propelled artillery guns positioned along the border with Syria. (Jalaa MAREY / AFP)

“If Iran had the option of pushing a button and going several years back, without US sanctions and the aggressive Israeli activity countering its attempts, it would have pushed that button,” he contended. “The Iranian threat exists, but is less than what it used to be. I am telling you, Iran is suffering greatly from the American sanctions.”

Katz expressed support for the current anti-government protests in Iran over gas price hikes, while clarifying that Israel “is not a superpower” that can interfere in internal Iranian matters.

Minutes after Tuesday morning’s rocket launches, explosions were heard in Syria near Damascus International Airport early on Tuesday morning, the official SANA news agency reported. Some Syrian outlets speculated that the blasts were an Israeli airstrike, while others said it may have been the sound of the rockets being launched at Israel.

Israel refuses to comment on the specifics of its operations against Iran in Syria.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, citing Syrian sources, said that four or five missiles hit sites south and southwest of the capital near where four rockets were launched minutes earlier at Israel.

The Lebanese terror group Hezbollah and other Iran-backed militias are active in the area, the sources said.

A picture taken on April 9, 2018, shows an Iron Dome missile defense battery, designed to intercept and destroy incoming short-range rockets and artillery shells, deployed on the Golan Heights near the border with Syria. (Jalaa Marey/AFP)

The incident came a week after Syrian state media reported that an Israeli strike hit the home of a senior Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist in Damascus, Akram al-Ajouri, killing his son and another person. Islamic Jihad accused Israel of being behind the strike in Damascus. The Israeli army refused to comment.

On the same day, an Israeli airstrike killed Islamic Jihad military commander Baha Abu al-Ata, whom Israel blamed for recent rocket fire into its territory, in a strike on his home in Gaza City. Around 450 rockets were fired into Israel from the Gaza Strip in the aftermath of the military operation against Abu Al-Ata, according to the Israeli army. A ceasefire between Israel and Islamic Jihad was reached after 50 hours of clashes, but the deal remains precarious.

Iran has forces based in Syria, Israel’s northern neighbor, and supports Hezbollah. In Gaza, it supplies Islamic Jihad with cash, weapons and expertise.

Israel has reportedly hit targets in Damascus airport and the surrounding area many times in the past.

In August, in a rare announcement, the IDF said it had targeted sites in the town of Aqrabah, southeast of Damascus, near the city’s airport to foil what it said was an imminent armed drone attack on Israel by Iran-backed fighters.

In January Israel was said to have conducted a daylight missile attack on Iranian targets at the airport. Iran responded by firing a surface-to-surface missile at the northern Golan Heights, which was intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system over the Mount Hermon ski resort, according to the Israel Defense Forces.

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