Israeli fighter jets carried out airstrikes in Syria to thwart a planned attack on Israel by Iran-backed fighters using armed drones, the Israel Defense Forces said Saturday night.
The Israeli military said its strike late Saturday targeted operatives from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force as well as Shiite militias who had been planning on sending “kamikaze” attack drones into Israel armed with explosives.
“The IDF, by Israeli aircraft, was able to thwart an Iranian attempt led by the Quds force from Syria to conduct an attack on Israeli targets in northern Israel using killer drones,” military spokesman Jonathan Conricus told reporters.
Following the strikes, several Military Intelligence units, air force squadrons and air defense units were put on high alert. Additional air defenses batteries were deployed to northern Israel as a precautionary measure.
Mayors in northern Israel were also warned of the potential for retaliatory strikes by Iranian forces.
Conricus said Israel had monitored the plot for several months and on Thursday prevented Iran from making an “advanced attempt” to execute the same plan. Then, Iran tried again late Saturday to carry out the same attack, he said.
According to Conricus, the Israeli attack targeted “a number of terror targets and military facilities belonging to the Quds force as well as Shiite militias.”
“This was a significant plan with significant capabilities that had been planned for a few months,” Conricus said. “It was not something done on a low level, but rather top down from the Quds Force.”
He said the Iranian attack was believed to be “very imminent.”
Conricus also noted that while Iranian forces had launched rockets and missiles at Israel from Syria three times during 2018, the use of “kamikaze” drones set to explode on their targets was a new and “different tactic.”
“The threat was significant and these killer drones were capable of striking targets with significant capacity,” he said.
The rare Israeli announcement of a strike inside Syria came minutes after Syrian state television reported air defenses were activated against hostile targets.
The SANA state news agency claimed that “most of the hostile Israeli missiles were destroyed before reaching their targets.”
“The attack was dealt with immediately and efficiently,” SANA said.
The Britain-based Syria Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said several missiles hit positions maintained by foreign forces, while others were downed by air defenses.
The IDF said the strikes targeted sites in the town of Aqrabah, southeast of Damascus, near the city’s airport.
It was not immediately clear if there were casualties in the strike.
There was no immediate comment from Iran on the attack.
Conricus said IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi was meeting with senior officers in the IDF Northern Command. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the Israeli strike a “major operational effort.”
“Iran has no immunity anywhere. Our forces are operating in every arena against Iranian aggressiveness,” he said in a statement.
“If someone rises up to kill you, kill him first,” he added, referencing a Talmudic passage justifying pre-emptive action. “I have directed that our forces be prepared for any scenario.”
A Twitter account maintained by the Israeli government tweeting in Persian shared a video purporting to show the strike, alongside a translation of Netanyahu’s statement.
نخست وزیر نتانیاهو: "در یک اقدام عملیاتی وسیع، حمله تروریستی نیروی قدس سپاه پاسداران علیه اسرائیل را خنثی کردیم. رژیم جمهوری اسلامی در هیچ کجا مصون نخواهد بود".
انفجار مواضع تروریستی سپاه قدس در سوریه????
— اسرائیل به فارسی (@IsraelPersian) August 24, 2019
Israel has acknowledged carrying out hundreds of airstrikes in Syria in recent years, most of them aimed at arms shipments believed to be headed from Iran to its Shiite proxy Hezbollah. Direct clashes between Israel and Iranian forces have been rare.
In February 2018, Israel shot down what it said was an armed Iranian drone that penetrated its airspace. During a subsequent Israeli attack on an Iranian position at the T-4 airbase near Palmyra, Syrian air defenses managed to down an Israeli fighter jet.
Netanyahu has recently upped his rhetoric against Iran amid reports that Israel has carried out strikes on targets linked to Tehran outside of Baghdad.
Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps is thought to have invested significant resources into developing attack drones for use against Israel and others in recent years.
Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen regularly launch attack drones at targets inside Saudi Arabia. Iran has denied supplying the rebels with the attack drones.