Israel bombs Iranian targets near Damascus after missile fired at Israeli Golan
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Israel bombs Iranian targets near Damascus after missile fired at Israeli Golan

IDF warns Syria not to intervene, hours after Iranian missile fired at Israel in apparent retaliation for daylight attack near capital; army shutters Mount Hermon ski resort

Illustrative: An explosion, reportedly during Israeli airstrikes near Damascus, Syria, on January 21, 2019. (screen capture: YouTube)
Illustrative: An explosion, reportedly during Israeli airstrikes near Damascus, Syria, on January 21, 2019. (screen capture: YouTube)

Israeli forces bombed targets belonging to Iran inside Syria early Monday morning, the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement, as tensions on the northern border continued to skyrocket.

The Israeli army said at 1:30 a.m. it was “now striking Iranian Quds targets in Syrian territory,” and warned Syrian forces not to intervene.

“The IDF warns the Syrian Armed Forces against attempting to harm Israeli territory or forces,” the army said in a rare statement.

The attack came less than a day after Israel reportedly carried out a rare daylight strike on targets near Damascus, after which Iranian forces in Syria fired a retaliatory missile at Israel, according to the IDF. The exchanges ratcheted up concerns of a wider confrontation between Israel and Iran in Syria. The Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper reported Monday that the Iranian missile, intercepted en route to the Golan by Israel’s Iron Dome defense system, carried a nearly half-ton warhead.

Syria’s state-run SANA news outlet claimed Monday morning that its air defenses had shot down a number of “hostile targets.”

Videos posted online appeared to show Syrian air defense missiles being launched.

SANA claimed the strikes had come from the direction of Lebanese airspace and said explosion were heard near Damascus.

According to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor, the airstrikes tageted Iranian and Hezbollah warehouses at Damascus airport and other locations in the south and west of the capital.

The Quds Force is Iran’s expeditionary unit inside the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, which Israel and others accuse of trying to gain a military foothold in Syria.

On Sunday, Syria shot a missile at Israeli territory, in apparent response to a rare daylight attack on targets in and around Damascus widely attributed to Israel.

Israel’s air defenses managed to down the surface to surface missile before it reached Israeli airspace over the Golan Heights, according to the military.

Signaling fears of a fresh attack on Israel, the army announced it would shutter the Mount Hermon ski resort on Monday. On Sunday, the popular site had remained open despite the missile attack nearby.

The cross-border fire comes less than a week after IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi took office.

The IDF announcement regarding the strike Monday morning attack was nearly unprecedented, after years of maintaining a policy of strategic ambiguity regarding its air campaign against Iran gaining a military foothold in Syria.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other officials have seemingly become more open about Israel’s military efforts in Syria, even as the installation of more advanced Russian air defense systems and tensions with Moscow have complicated the campaign.

An Israeli army Merkava tank is loaded into a truck in the Golan Heights, on January 20, 2019. ( JALAA MAREY / AFP)

On Sunday Netanyahu appeared to confirm that Israel was behind the daylight strike while speaking to reporters in Chad.

“We have a permanent policy to hurt the Iranian entrenchment in Syria, and everyone who is trying to hurt us,” Netanyahu said. “This policy doesn’t change, whether I am in Israel or on a historic visit in Chad. It’s permanent.”

Local Syrian media said the targets of strike were in Damascus International Airport and in the town of al-Kiswah, south of the capital, both of which have been hit by Israeli attacks in the past. Last year, the Israeli military said bases near al-Kiswah were used by pro-Iranian militias. An Iranian weapons depot at the airport was targeted in an airstrike a week and a half ago, Israel said.

Israel typically refrains from commenting on individual airstrikes in Syria, but does generally acknowledge that it carries out raids against Iranian- and Hezbollah-linked targets in the country.

Israel in recent years has carried out hundreds of airstrikes in Syria against targets linked to Iran, which alongside its proxies and Russia is fighting on behalf of the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Israel has accused Iran of seeking to establish a military presence in Syria that could threaten Israeli security and attempting to transfer advanced weaponry to the Hezbollah terror group in Lebanon.

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