An Israeli military official confirmed Monday that Israel carried out last week’s strike on Iranian forces in a Syrian airbase, the New York Times reported.
“It was the first time we attacked live Iranian targets — both facilities and people,” an unnamed senior military source told The Times’ Thomas Friedman.
The senior official also noted to Friedman that last Monday’s strike on the T-4 Air Base near Palmyra in central Syria came after Iran launched an explosives-laden drone into Israeli airspace in February. The strike reportedly targeted Iran’s entire attack drone program at the base. Iranian media reported that seven members of the country’s military were killed in the strike, out of at least 14 reported fatalities.
The drone incident was “the first time we saw Iran do something against Israel — not by proxy,” the official said. “This opened a new period.”
There was no official confirmation of the unnamed official’s statements.
Military officials said Friday that the Iranian drone was carrying enough explosives to cause damage. Its precise intended target in Israel was not known, they said.
The February incident marked an unprecedented direct Iranian attack on Israel. Israel’s acknowledgement of the nature of the drone’s mission “brings the confrontation” between Israel and Iran “into the open” for the first time, Israel’s Channel 10 news noted Friday.
Meanwhile Tehran threatened Monday to deliver a response to the alleged Israeli strike, saying it would come “at the right time” and that Israel would “regret” what it had done.
“The Zionist entity will sooner or later receive the necessary response and will regret its misdeeds,” Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi told reporters in a weekly meeting, according to Iranian news media.
“The Zionist regime should not be able to take action and be exempt from punishment,” Qasemi said, adding that “the Syrian and resistance forces will respond in a timely fashion and appropriately in the region.”
The warning came after a senior military leader in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps last week warned that Iran would destroy Israel if it continued its actions.
On Thursday, Ali Shirazi, liaison for Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to the elite Quds Force, said that “Iran is not Syria. If Israel wants to survive a few more days, it has to stop this childish game.”
“Iran has the capability to destroy Israel and given the excuse, Tel Aviv and Haifa will be razed to the ground,” he said, according to Iran’s Fars news agency.
Israel has refused to officially comment on the attack, for which it has been blamed by Iran, Russia and Syria. Two US officials were also quoted as saying that Israel had carried out the strike, adding that Washington was informed in advance.
On Tuesday a different adviser to Khamenei threatened Israel.
“The crimes will not remain unanswered,” Ali Akbar Velayati said during a visit to Syria, according to the official Islamic Republic News Agency.
The target of the reported airstrike was the Tiyas air base — also known as the T-4 air base — outside Palmyra in central Syria. Israeli TV reports said Iran was building its own air base there, and that a major weapons system of some kind had been destroyed.
Israel has previously carried out at least one explicitly acknowledged attack on the base, which it said was home to an Iranian drone program.
Last Wednesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a stern speech at a state ceremony on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day, warned Iran not to test Israel’s resolve, asserting that the Jewish state would respond to Tehran’s “aggression” with “steadfastness.”
“We are preventing Iranian activity in Syria. These are not just words,” Netanyahu asserted.
Without going into specifics, Netanyahu said that “the events in recent days teach us that standing up to evil and aggression is the mission imposed on every generation.”
“In the Holocaust we were helpless, defenseless and voiceless,” he said. “In truth, our voice was not heard at all. Today we have a strong country, a strong army, and our voice is heard among the nations.”
Also on Wednesday, responding to the escalating threats between Israel and Iran, Russian President Vladimir Putin asked Netanyahu to avoid any steps that could increase instability in Syria.
Netanyahu, for his part, said Israel would continue to counter Iran’s efforts to build up its military presence in the war-torn country.
The tensions with Iran also come against a backdrop of heightened tensions between Syria, backed by Iran and Russia on the one side and the United States and its European allies on the other.
On Saturday, US, French and British missiles destroyed sites suspected of hosting chemical weapons development and storage facilities Saturday, in a move lauded by US President Donald Trump as “perfectly executed.” It came in response to a suspected toxic gas assault by in the Syrian town of Douma by President Bashar Assad’s forces.
It was the biggest international attack on Assad’s regime since the start of Syria’s seven-year war.
Alexander Fulbright contributed to this report.