In rare move, IDF releases images of predawn strikes on Iranian, Syrian targets

Military shows video footage, photographs of sites it says it targeted in Syria in response to an attempted attack on the Golan border

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

The Israel Defense Forces on Wednesday night released images of some of its predawn airstrikes against Iranian and Syrian military sites in southern Syria, which came in response to an attempted attack on Israeli troops that was thwarted the day before.

The video (above) showed the attacks on three of the eight targets struck by the Israeli military in the early hours of Wednesday morning. The military did not specify the location of the three sites, but they appeared to be military positions on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights.

The military said it bombed “warehouses, command posts and military complexes, as well as batteries of surface-to-air missiles” in its early morning retaliatory strikes.

In the footage, incoming Israeli missiles are seen striking targets, causing large explosions.

On Thursday morning, the IDF also released aerial before-and-after photographs of two sites bombed in the strikes: a military complex used by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ expeditionary Quds Force; and a command center of the Syrian military’s 7th Division, which Israel says cooperates widely with Iranian forces in Syria.

A before-and-after photograph showing the damage caused by the Israel Defense Forces to what it says is an Iranian military complex outside Damascus on November 17, 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)

Syrian state media reported that three Syrian soldiers were killed in the strikes. All three appeared to serve in air defense batteries that were destroyed by the IDF after they fired on Israeli jets.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a pro-opposition organization based in the United Kingdom, said 10 people in total were killed in the Israeli strikes, some of them Iranian. This could not be immediately confirmed and was not reported by other groups in Syria. The Observatory has in the past been accused of inflating and even inventing casualty figures.

A before-and-after photograph showing the damage caused by the Israel Defense Forces to a command center of the Syrian military’s 7th Division in southern Syria on November 17, 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)

In general, Israel does not intentionally target people in its strikes, instead focusing on infrastructure, as this has been found to reduce the likelihood of retaliation by Iran and its proxies.

On Tuesday, IDF combat engineers disarmed three anti-personnel mines within Israeli territory, near the Syrian border, which the military believes were planted by Syrian nationals on behalf of Iran several weeks before.

Three anti-personnel mines that Israel says were planted inside Israeli-controlled territory along the border with Syria, which were uncovered on November 17, 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)

“We will not allow Iran to establish itself militarily in Syria against us, and we won’t allow any attempt to attack us from Syria. Whoever attacks us — their blood is on their head,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a video statement.

Netanyahu said the IDF struck “significant” targets connected to Iran and the Syrian military.

IDF Spokesperson Hidai Zilberman said the targets included a barracks used by senior Iranian officers outside Damascus and a base used by Iran to orchestrate its activities in the country next to the Damascus International Airport. These strikes did not appear in the video footage.

The IDF generally maintains a policy of ambiguity regarding its activities against Iran and its proxies in Syria, refusing to publicly acknowledge its actions, with the exception of retaliations to attacks, as was the case this week.

The military has in the past released video footage of its strikes in Syria that are in response to attacks from the country.

Zilberman told reporters on Wednesday that the retaliatory strikes were intended as both a message to Iran that “we won’t allow Iranian entrenchment at all and next to the border specifically,” and a message to Syria that it will be held responsible for allowing Tehran to maintain a presence in its country.

The spokesman said that Israel tried to send a similar message to Iran and Syria in August after a previous attempt to plant bombs along the border, but it evidently “wasn’t received.”

Three anti-personnel mines that Israel says were planted inside Israeli-controlled territory along the border with Syria, which were uncovered on November 17, 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)

Zilberman said the military was prepared for the possibility of retaliation from Iran or Syria, with Iron Dome and other air defense systems on high alert.

Israel views a permanent Iranian military presence in Syria as an unacceptable threat, which it will take military action to prevent.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz threatened further action if Iran again attempted to carry out attacks on Israeli forces or continued to establish a permanent military presence in Syria.

“The IDF last night struck military targets belonging to the Iranian Quds Force and the Syrian military in response to the planting of bombs on the Syrian border within Israeli territory. I say again to our enemies: Israel will not accept violations of our sovereignty anywhere, and we will not allow a dangerous force build-up on any border,” Gantz said in a Hebrew video statement.

According to the spokesman, the military knew there were Iranian officers in the barracks when the attack was carried out, but did not specifically target them or the areas in the building where they were located.

A map showing the approximate location of where Israel says three anti-personnel mines were planted by Syrian nationals working on behalf of Iran, in a buffer zone between the ceasefire line between Israel and Syria and a security fence, on November 17, 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)

According to Zilberman, the three Claymore-style mines planted along the border were set there by Syrian nationals who live near the border, at the instruction of the IRGC Quds Force. The mines were uncovered in a buffer zone near the border that is under Israeli control but is on the Syrian side of the security fence, where the IDF regularly conducts patrols, indicating that the explosives were meant to be used against soldiers.

It was the same area where Iranian-backed Syrian operatives tried to plant mines in August, though in that case the four men were spotted by the IDF at the time and killed.

Since that attempt, the IDF has more closely monitored the area to prevent a similar attack.

Zilberman said the military did not yet know when the three mines were planted along the border, but that it seemed to have been several weeks ago. The IDF was investigating how the Iranian-backed operatives were able to evade detection and plant the bombs.

On Tuesday morning, the IDF sent a team of combat engineers into the area to disarm the mines.

Zilberman said the military called on the UN peacekeeping force that is meant to maintain the 1974 ceasefire between Israel and Syria to prevent such attacks in the future.

The IDF has launched hundreds of strikes in Syria since the start of the civil war in 2011 against moves by Iran to establish a permanent military presence in the country and efforts to transport advanced, game-changing weapons to terrorist groups in the region, principally Hezbollah.

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