Israeli fighter jets targeted Iranian weapons storehouses, intelligence facilities and a training camp near Damascus during a massive overnight bombardment, the Israel Defense Forces said Monday, accusing Iran of firing a missile at Israel a day earlier.
In addition, the Israeli Air Force bombed a number of Syrian air defense systems that fired on the attacking fighter jets, including a Russian-made Pansir S-1 battery, the military said.
“During the attack, dozens of Syrian surface-to-air missiles were fired, despite the clear warnings expressed [by Israel] to refrain from attacking. As a result, a number of Syrian air defense batteries were also attacked,” the IDF said in a statement acknowledging the attack. The public confirmation was in line with a recent departure from Israel’s previous silence about such strikes.
According to Russia, four Syrian servicemen were killed in the Israeli strikes. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor said at least seven other pro-regime fighters were killed, likely Iranian or Shiite militia troops.
The Israeli army said its series of airstrikes on Iranian targets was in response to a surface-to-surface missile that was fired by an Iranian militia at the Golan Heights a day earlier and intercepted by an Iron Dome anti-missile battery. According to Intelligence Minister Israel Katz, the missile attack was aimed at the popular Hermon ski resort, which was full of visitors at the time. Military officials, however, were more circumspect about the target of the missile, saying it could have been either a civilian or a military site on the Golan Heights.
The Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper reported Monday that the missile carried a nearly half-ton warhead.
The missile attack on the Golan appeared to come in retaliation for an alleged Israeli strike earlier Sunday against targets in the Damascus International Airport and in the town of al-Kiswah, south of the capital.
In response to the missile attack, according to the IDF, jets bombed weapons warehouses, including at least one at the Damascus airport, an intelligence facility and a training camp, all belonging to Iran’s Quds Force, the expeditionary arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which Israel and the West accuse of trying to gain a military foothold in Syria.
All of the targets, including the Syrian air defense batteries, were located around Damascus, according to the IDF.
“The Iranian attack on Israeli territory yesterday was more clear proof of the purpose of Iran’s efforts to entrench itself in Syria, and the danger this poses to the State of Israel and regional stability,” the army said in a statement Monday.
Israeli defense analysts attributed both Sunday’s alleged airstrike — which would be a rare daytime raid for Israeli forces — and the large magnitude of the overnight bombings to an attempt by incoming IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, whose tenure began last week, to demonstrate his willingness to use force against Iran in Syria.
While consistently acknowledging strikes in Syria in retaliation for both intentional attacks from the country — as it did overnight — and to errant fire that lands in Israeli territory, the military has also increasingly taken to announcing its strikes against Iranian forces in Syria.
In previous years, it had maintained a policy of ambiguity, with reports of Israeli strikes coming from within Syria or from foreign news outlets and sometimes confirmed later by unnamed defense officials.
On Monday morning, the IDF released video footage of one of its airstrikes on Syrian air defenses, including on social media.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the strikes caused casualties and extensive damage to Iranian and Hezbollah forces.
“The Israeli missiles managed to destroy weapons depots and military posts of the Iranians and the Lebanese Hezbollah in the vicinity of Damascus International Airport and the area of Al-Kiswah and Jamraya,” the group said in a statement.
A news site in the southern Syrian city of Suweida reported that eight soldiers had been brought to a local hospital with injuries sustained during the Israeli strikes, including two who died.
There was no immediate confirmation of casualties from Damascus. Syria’s state-run media described the attack as “heavy” and said Israel had launched “consecutive waves of guided missiles.” However, it claimed the majority of the missiles were shot down — a near constant claim by Syria, which many defense analysts dismiss as overstated or false.
“Our air defenses responded effectively to an Israeli air attack targeting the southern region and prevented it from achieving any of its objectives,” the SANA mouthpiece quoted a military source as saying.
The airstrike was the second attack on the airport and al-Kiswah in as many days, after the rare daytime attack attributed to Israel on Sunday morning. Both locations have been attacked by Israel in the past and are thought to house Iranian or Hezbollah assets.
“Warehouses containing weapons for Syrian regime ally Hezbollah and Iranian fighters are located in that area,” Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Observatory war monitor, said Sunday.
Israel has accused Iran of seeking to establish a military presence in Syria that could threaten Israeli security, and attempting to transfer advanced weaponry to the Hezbollah terror group in Lebanon.
Last year, the Israeli military said bases near al-Kiswah were used by pro-Iranian militias. An Iranian weapons depot at the airport was targeted in an airstrike a week and a half ago, Israel said.
Jamraya, which has also allegedly been attacked by Israel in the past, is thought to house a military facility and scientific research center.
Sunday’s alleged daytime strike came hours after a Syrian cargo plane touched down in the Damascus International Airport from Tehran, according to publicly available flight data.
Israeli and American defense officials have said ostensibly civilian cargo planes are often used to transport advanced weaponry from Tehran to pro-Iranian militias fighting in Syria, including Hezbollah.
Another flight from Iran, flown by Tehran’s Mahan Air carrier, was en route to Syria on Sunday afternoon, but turned back following the reported Israeli strikes, according to flight data. Mahan Air has been identified by defense officials as one of the cargo carriers suspected of ferrying war materiel from Iran to Syria. As a result, it is subject to sanctions by the US Treasury Department.