A top Revolutionary Guards commander on Sunday denied Israeli claims that Iranian targets were hit in an IDF airstrike in Syria, asserting that the Jewish state lacked the power to carry out such attacks.
However, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor appeared to contradict Iran’s denial, saying an Iranian combatant and two fighters for the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah were among the fatalities in the strike.
“The Israeli raids targeting Iranian and Hezbollah posts… in the southeast of Damascus killed at least three people — two from Hezbollah and a third who was Iranian,” Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said.
Late Saturday night, the Israel Defense Forces made a rare announcement acknowledging it had carried out the attack in Syria against Iranian forces and Shiite militia members, who it said has been been working on a plan to fly explosives-laden “killer drones” into Israel.
In a statement issued just minutes after the Israeli army announced its attack, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed the military’s “major operational effort” in thwarting the attack planned by “the Iranian Quds force and Shiite militias.”
“Iran has no immunity anywhere,” Netanyahu said. “Our forces operate in every sector against the Iranian aggression. I have directed that our forces be prepared for any scenario. We will continue to take determined and responsible action against Iran and its proxies for the security of Israel.”
“This is a lie and not true,” Mohsen Rezaei, who is also secretary of Iran’s Expediency Council, a powerful state body, told the semi-official ILNA news agency on Sunday, according to the Reuters new agency.
“Israel and the United States do not have the power to attack Iran’s various centers, and our [military] advisory centers have not been harmed,” Rezaei added.
The late-night airstrike, which triggered Syrian anti-aircraft fire, appeared to be one of the most intense attacks by Israeli forces on Iranian targets in Syria.
Netanyahu, who is also defense minister, held a midnight emergency meeting at the Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv with IDF chief Aviv Kohavi and Mossad head Yossi Cohen, as well as other senior defense officials.
Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, a military spokesman, said forces had been put on high alert near the Syrian frontier after the attack.
On Sunday morning, members of Israel’s top-level security cabinet warned that Iran should not feel safe “anywhere.”
“We are taking responsibility for the attack in Syria and are saying that Iran should feel it is not safe anywhere,” Environmental Protection Minister Ze’ev Elkin told Channel 13 TV news.
“Iran is working day and night all over the Middle East in order to build an empire that has set for itself the goal of destroying Israel,” Elkin said.
Foreign Minister Israel Katz told the Kan public broadcast radio that Israel had openly taken responsibility for the strike — an unusual move — to demonstrate to Iran that it “has no immunity anywhere.”
He added: “The [Syria] action was intended to cut the head off the snake.”
Syrian state media said it had shot down most of the Israeli missiles. Military analysts often accuse Syria of exaggerating the efficacy of its air defense systems, claiming to have shot down incoming missiles that in fact hit their targets.
As regional tensions simmered in the wake of the Syria airstrike, the Iran-backed Hezbollah said Sunday that an armed Israeli drone exploded next to the group’s media headquarters in the Lebanese capital Beirut, causing significant damage, and a second crashed. Hezbollah later said the drones had not been shot down.
There have been few direct clashes between Israel and Iran in Syria. In May 2018, Israel said Iranian forces fired some 20 rockets at Israel, with most being shot down or failing to reach Israeli territory. In response, Israel carried out extensive airstrikes on Iranian positions in Syria.
While Israel has acknowledged carrying out thousands of airstrikes inside Syria against weapons transfers to Iran-backed fighters and to keep Iran from gaining a foothold there, it rarely acknowledges individual strikes.
The ambiguity is part of a strategy seen as helping give Tehran and Damascus cover from needing to strike back to save face. Israel has appeared to apply the same strategy in Iraq, where the IDF has been reported to have carried out a number of strikes on Iran-backed militia positions near Baghdad.