Monday’s airstrike on Syria, attributed to — but not claimed by — Israel, targeted an air base that Iran was constructing, and constituted the “most significant” such strike to date, Israeli television reported on Tuesday night.
Seven members of the Iranian military were among at least 14 people reported killed in the strike, and Iran has threatened Israel with retaliation.
Israel’s Channel 10 news quoted what it said was a warning from a senior source that “any Iranian reaction will be met with a very harsh Israeli response.”
Officially, Israel has stayed silent on the pre-dawn Monday strike, which has been widely attributed to the Jewish state. The Israeli security cabinet is to convene on Wednesday, in a previously scheduled meeting.
Israeli TV showed footage of the Iranian fatalities arriving back in Iran to cries from the crowds of “Death to Israel.”
The Channel 10 report said the Iranian death toll of seven may not be final.
It said Iran had lost “a significant asset” and perhaps “even an entire system” in the strike.
“All the signs are that Iran was trying to build an air base in Syria,” the TV report said, and while the Russians were professing surprise, one could assume they knew exactly what was in play, the report said.
The strike constituted the “most significant direct attack” of its kind and the Iranians will want to respond, “almost certainly from Syria,” the TV report said.
Israel was bracing for that kind of response. “We are at the start of incendiary days on the northern border,” the report said.
It also quoted Arab sources suggesting that next time Israel hits Syria, Russia may give the Assad regime weaponry that would make a strike harder for the Israel Air Force.
A report on Hadashot TV news, quoting what it said were numerous foreign reports, stressed that the target of the Monday attack was not a missile shipment but, rather, some type of “advanced systems” that could have complicated or undermined Israeli air superiority in the skies of Lebanon and Syria.
Former defense minister Ehud Barak told the same TV station that if, in a normal year, there was a 1 percent chance of all-out conflict, this year that likelihood is at 10%, and he cautioned that the Israeli home front is not adequately prepared.
Earlier Tuesday, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said Israel would not accept an Iranian “chokehold” in Syria and appeared to call on Russia to prevent the Islamic Republic from further digging itself into the region.
Liberman maintained Israel’s official stance of ambiguity about the Monday air strike, saying, “I don’t know what happened or who attacked T-4” — the name of the Syrian base that was hit in the predawn barrage.
“I know one thing for sure — we will not allow Iranian entrenchment in Syria. Whatever the cost. We have no other choice,” he said.
The defense minister made his comments during a tour of the northern town of Katzrin, not far from the border with Syria.
Israeli officials have repeatedly warned against Iran’s destabilizing activities in Syria and defined its continued presence there as a “red line,” which Jerusalem is prepared to act against militarily.
Israel’s concern is that Iran and its proxy Hezbollah, the Lebanon-based terror group, will use Syria’s border to threaten Israel and stage attacks against Israeli civilians and troops.
Russia, the main powerbroker in the region, is allied with dictator Bashar Assad, Iran, and Hezbollah in the Syrian civil war.
As Assad, backed by Moscow and Tehran, clears out the last of the rebel-held areas of Syria — allegedly using chemical weapons against civilians to do so — Israel fears that this will leave Iran open to set up positions along the border of the Golan Heights or deeper inside Syria.
Earlier on Tuesday, a top adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei threatened Israel over the airstrike.
“The crimes will not remain unanswered,” Ali Akbar Velayati said during a visit to Syria, according to the official Islamic Republic News Agency.
Israel has previously carried out at least one explicitly acknowledged attack on the Tiyas base, which it said was home to an Iranian drone program.
Israel has refused to comment on the Monday attack, for which it has also been blamed by Russia and Syria. NBC News quoted two US officials as saying that Israel carried out the strike, adding that Washington was informed in advance.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday evening that Israel will hit anyone who intends to harm the country.
“We have one clear and simple rule and we seek to express it constantly: if someone tries to attack you – rise up and attack him. We will not allow, here on the Gaza border, them to hurt us. We will hurt them,” he said in a speech in the Gaza border town of Sderot. “Security in the present is a necessary condition for security in the future and what we have here today is a powerful expression for our future security,” Netanyahu said, apparently referring to the dual threats Israel faces in the north and in the south.