Iranian forces in Syria did not ask the Syrian government, or even notify Syrian leaders, before launching 20 missiles at Israel just after midnight on Thursday, Fox News reported.
“It appears that the regime of Bashar Assad of Syria wants to distance itself from Iran’s military activity in its very own back yard,” Fox News’s David Lee Miller reported from the Golan Heights on Thursday
Iranian forces fired some 20 rockets at northern Israeli military bases from southern Syria just after midnight on early Thursday. The IDF said it suffered no casualties, either on the ground or in the air, and that no rockets fired from Syria made impact in Israeli territory.
The IDF hit over 50 targets in Syria in overnight strikes in response, including Iranian intelligence sites, logistic centers, weapons depots, and military bases operated by the Revolutionary Guard’s Quds Force.
Miller said that Fox News had learn from European sources that, “The Iranian major general in charge of the Al-Quds Force in Syria, Qassem Soleimani, launched last night’s attack against Israel without the knowledge or the consent of the Assad regime.”
He went on to say that the Syrian claim came, “Despite the fact that some Syrian military personnel took part in the aggression.” It was not clear if he was referring to the rocket fire against Israel or the Syrian anti-aircraft fire that was later directed at the Israeli air force.
Sources told Fox News that the Soleimani was not accountable to Damascus and could act freely without having to report to Syrian officials.
The message from Syria may be a way of avoiding further retaliation from Israel.
In his first remarks since the widespread overnight strikes, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had sent a clear message to Assad, warning him to keep Syrian forces out of the fight.
“Iran crossed a red line and we reacted accordingly,” the premier said in a Hebrew-language video released as the security cabinet were meeting at the IDF’s Tel Aviv headquarters.
The exchange was the largest-ever direct clash between the Iranian forces and the IDF, and appeared to be the largest exchange involving Israel in Syria since the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
Among the sites hit were Syrian air defenses, and Netanyahu said that was only because Assad had ignored his warning.
“Yesterday I conveyed a clear message to the Assad regime: Our activity is directed against Iranian targets in Syria. But if the Syrian army takes action against us, we will act against it,” Netanyahu warned. “That is exactly what happened yesterday, Syrian army batteries launched ground-to-air missiles against us, and therefore we hit them.”
The military earlier said it targeted a number of Syrian air defense systems — SA-5, SA-2, SA-22, and SA-17 batteries — that had fired at Israeli planes, despite the military’s Arabic-language spokesperson explicitly warning earlier that “any Syrian involvement will be met with the utmost severity.”
At least 23 fighters were killed, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, including five Syrian regime troops and 18 other allied forces.
Judah Ari Gross, Michael Bachner, and agencies contributed to this report.