Israel confirms strike in Syrian Golan, further cracking ambiguity policy

Before heading to anti-Iran conference in Poland, Netanyahu says IDF is fighting Iranian entrenchment in Syria ‘every day, including yesterday’

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

An Israeli army Merkava tank takes part in a military drill in the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights on February 12, 2019. (Photo by JALAA MAREY / AFP)
An Israeli army Merkava tank takes part in a military drill in the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights on February 12, 2019. (Photo by JALAA MAREY / AFP)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday confirmed that Israel had carried out a military strike in the Syrian Golan Heights the night before, further breaking from Israel’s previous policy of ambiguity around its activities against Iran in Syria.

“We are working all the time to block Iran. We operate every day, including yesterday, against Iran and its efforts to entrench itself in the region,” Netanyahu said before boarding a flight to Poland for a conference focused on Tehran’s activities in the Middle East.

On Monday night, Syrian state media reported that Israel had shelled targets in the deserted Syrian city of Quneitra.

According to the state-run SANA news agency, an Israeli tank or tanks shelled an abandoned hospital in Quneitra and a nearby observation post.

Quneitra lies just across the border on the Golan Heights, in the demilitarized zone between the countries.

The Israeli military did not immediately respond to the reports at the time.

According to SANA, the shelling caused material damage but no casualties.

Israeli military reporters were told that the strike targeted Iranian-backed Shiite militiamen trying to set up a base of operations near the Israeli border. The tank shelling was also meant to serve as a warning to Syria and other Iranian proxies that Israel would not tolerate Tehran’s efforts to establish a permanent military presence in the Syrian Golan.

Until recently, Israel typically refrained from commenting on its military activities against Iran in Syria, neither confirming nor denying strikes. Over the past two months, however, this policy of ambiguity has been largely abandoned by Israeli military and political officials, who have begun more openly discussing the Israel Defense Forces’ operations in Syria.

Israel has carried out hundreds of airstrikes in Syria to thwart attempts to smuggle weapons to the Hezbollah terror group and keep Iranian-backed forces from entrenching themselves near the border.

A report last week indicated that advanced Russian S-300 air defense batteries had been set up in Syria to stop Israeli attacks.

On Monday, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said that Israeli airstrikes on Syria are unlawful and cannot be justified.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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