A senior Iranian security official on Thursday denied that his country was behind a missile barrage fired from Syria at Israeli territory the previous night that prompted Israeli airstrikes against dozens of Iranian targets inside Syria.
Iran’s Supreme National Security Council deputy head Abu al-Fadl Hassan al-Baiji said, “Iran has nothing to do with the missiles that struck the enemy entity yesterday,” according to the Al-Manar television network, which is affiliated with Lebanese terror group Hezbollah.
Some 20 rockets were fired at northern Israeli military bases by Iranian forces from southern Syria just after midnight Thursday, Israel said, prompting extensive retaliatory raids. The Israel Defense Forces said that it suffered no casualties, either on the ground or in the air, and that no rockets fired from Syria made impact in Israeli territory.
Tehran has repeatedly vowed revenge after the T-4 army base in Syria was struck in an air raid — widely attributed to Israel — on April 9, killing at least seven members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, including a senior officer responsible for the group’s drone program.
The IDF said the initial missile barrage was launched by members of the IRGC’s al-Quds Force. It appeared to be the first time Israel attributed an attack directly to Iran, which generally operates through proxies.
Four of the 20 projectiles launched at Israel were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system and the rest fell in Syria, IDF spokesperson Jonathan Conricus said. The rockets included both Grad and Fajr-5 models, according to the military.
In all, the army said it carried out some 50 retaliatory raids against IRGC targets, including intelligence centers, weapons depots, storage facilities, observation posts, and logistics centers in Syria, as well as the rocket launcher that carried out the initial attack.
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said that the IDF had destroyed “nearly all” of Iran’s military infrastructure sites in Syria.
The overnight exchange was the largest-ever direct clash between the Iranian and Israeli militaries, and appeared to be the largest exchange involving Israel in Syria since the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
In the days and weeks before the Iranian barrage, defense officials repeatedly warned that Israel would respond aggressively to any attack from Syrian territory.
Israel has said it is determined to prevent Iran from establishing forward bases in Syria, fearing they could be used to launch strikes against the Jewish state, and also to prevent advanced weapons from reaching Iran’s Lebanese proxy Hezbollah. A number of deadly airstrikes against Syrian targets that reportedly destroyed Iranian military assets have been attributed to Israel.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported Thursday that at least 23 fighters, including five Syrian regime troops and 18 other allied forces were killed in the Israeli strikes. The Syrian regime disputed that figure, saying only three people had been killed.
Russia’s defense ministry said Israel’s strikes saw 28 planes take part in raids with a total of around 70 missiles fired. It claimed Syria’s missile defense systems shot down about half of the Israeli missiles.