Israel’s security cabinet met Thursday evening at the IDF’s headquarters in Tel Aviv as tensions with Tehran boiled over into direct confrontation for the first time and an Iranian official warned revenge “will come.”
But Israeli officials had a warning of their own for Iran following a night of widespread Israeli airstrikes on Iranian targets in Syria, launched in response to Iranian rocket fire aimed at northern Israel.
“If the Iranians look more carefully [at the situation], they’ll understand that we can hit them even more dramatically,” Public Security and Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan told Hadashot TV news ahead of the cabinet meeting. “I think they now understand the IDF’s capabilities, its intelligence abilities, our capacity to strike both Iranian [forces] and Syrian.”
The Israel Defense Forces said Thursday evening that it had hit over 50 targets in Syria in its overnight strikes, including Iranian intelligence sites, logistic centers, and military bases operated by the Revolutionary Guard’s Quds Force.
Among the targets were also a weapons depot in the international airport in Damascus, as well as positions, observation posts, and arms placed in the buffer zone on the Israel-Syria border.
“All of the targets that we engaged were effectively destroyed,” an IDF spokesman said, causing “significant damage” to the Iranians.
The overnight 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.
The extensive retaliatory raids came after Iranian forces fired some 20 rockets at northern Israeli military bases from southern Syria just after midnight. The IDF 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. Four of the Iranian rockets were intercepted by Iron Dome and 16 fell short and landed inside Syria.
Erdan said Israel has “no intention to escalate, and no desire to get to the point of a general war” with Iran.
“It’s better to manage a calculated risk now, with the potential for [war], than to deal with this in a few years, when we may find ourselves facing a possibly existential threat directed toward us from Syria. Last night we knew in every likely scenario what the IDF’s response would be and approved it ahead of time,” he added.
Iranian media described the attacks as “unprecedented,” but there was no official Iranian comment on Israel’s claims.
An unnamed member of Iran’s national security council told Al-Jazeera that “Israel is making strategic blunders and it will pay a high price. Threats will not help. The Iranian revenge will come.”
Russia’s defense ministry said Israel’s strikes on Syria saw 28 planes take part in raids with a total of around 70 missiles fired. It said half of the missiles were shot down.
“28 Israeli F-15 and F-16 aircraft were used in the attack, which released around 60 air-to-ground missiles over various parts of Syria. Israel also fired more than 10 tactical ground-to-ground missiles,” the ministry said in a statement quoted by the Interfax news agency.
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.
The monitor said the regime troops killed in the strikes included an officer, adding that the other casualties included Syrians and foreigners, without specifying their nationality.
Syria’s military denied the Observatory’s report, saying the Israeli airstrikes killed three people and wounded two others, destroyed a radar station and an ammunition warehouse, and damaged a number of air defense units.
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said earlier that the IDF had destroyed “nearly all” of Iran’s military infrastructure sites in Syria.
Four of the 20 projectiles launched by Iranian troops 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.
The IDF said the initial missile barrage was launched by members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ al-Quds Force. It appeared to be the first time Israel attributed an attack directly to Iran, which generally operates through proxies.
The military said it also 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.”
In the days and weeks before the Iranian barrage, defense officials repeatedly warned that Israel would respond aggressively to any attack from Syrian 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 IRGC, including a senior officer responsible for the group’s drone program.
“Nobody knows what happens next,” concluded Minister Erdan in his interview. “The Iranians just suffered a serious blow. Their plan to attack Israel failed. There can be additional scenarios [i.e., attempts by Iran to attack Israel] in the coming days and we have to prepare for that.”
Agencies contributed to this report.