'We are in the midst of a continuous battle,' PM says

Netanyahu: Iran rocket fire ‘crossed a red line and we reacted accordingly’

PM urges international community to unite and cut Tehran’s ‘tentacles of evil’ spreading in Syria, says IAF hit Syrian forces after they ignored his warning not to get involved

Michael Bachner is a news editor at The Times of Israel

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a video published by his office on May 10, 2018. (Screen capture: YouTube)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a video published by his office on May 10, 2018. (Screen capture: YouTube)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday said Iran had “crossed a red line” with its missile barrage directed at Israel on Wednesday night, and that the IDF “reacted accordingly” by striking over 50 Iranian targets in Syria in response.

In his first remarks since the widespread overnight strikes, Netanyahu also said he had sent a clear message to Syrian leader Bashar Assad, warning him to keep Syrian forces out of the fight.

Netanyahu also called on the international community to unite and cut the Revolutionary Guard’s “tentacles of evil” spreading in Syria and elsewhere.

“Iran crossed a red line and we reacted accordingly,” the premier said in a Hebrew-language video, released as the security cabinet was meeting at the IDF’s Tel Aviv headquarters.

Iranian forces fired some 20 rockets at northern Israeli military bases from southern Syria just after midnight on early Thursday. The IDF said 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 were intercepted by Iron Dome, and the other 16 fell short.

“The IDF conducted a very extensive attack on Iranian targets in Syria. Thanks to sufficient preparations by our forces, both in defense and in offense, the Iranian operation failed. No missile landed in Israeli territory,” Netanyahu said.

“The Israeli nation is proud of the IDF and trusts it,” he added. “We are in the midst of a continuous battle and our policy is clear: We will not allow Iran to entrench itself militarily in Syria.”

The IDF hit over 50 targets in Syria in overnight strikes in response, including Iranian intelligence sites, logistic centers, weapons depots, and military bases operated by the Revolutionary Guard’s Quds Force.

The 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.

Among the sites hit were Syrian air defenses, and Netanyahu said that was only because Assad had ignored his warning.

“Yesterday I conveyed a clear message to the Assad regime: Our activity is directed against Iranian targets in Syria. But if the Syrian army takes action against us, we will act against it,” Netanyahu warned. “That is exactly what happened yesterday, Syrian army batteries launched ground-to-air missiles against us, and therefore we hit them.”

This photo provided early Thursday, May 10, 2018, by the government-controlled Syrian Central Military Media, shows missiles rise into the sky as Israeli missiles hit air defense position and other military bases, in Damascus, Syria. (Syrian Central Military Media, via AP)

The military earlier said it 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.”

Addressing world leaders, Netanyahu said that “the international community needs to prevent Iran’s Quds Force from entrenching itself in Syria. We need to unite to cut its tentacles of evil spreading there and everywhere.”

“I repeat: If anyone hurts us — we will hurt them sevenfold,” he concluded. “And if anyone prepares to harm us — we will take preemptive action to harm them first. That’s what we did and what we will continue to do.”

President Reuven Rivlin meanwhile called Iran “the greatest threat to world peace” and said its leadership had a “monstrous plan to wreak havoc, death and destruction.”

Rivlin spoke Thursday evening at the annual Herzliya Conference, saying that Tehran’s nuclear program and its regional ambitions in the Middle East cannot be separated since they are both “part of a monstrous plan by the Iranian leadership designed to wreak havoc, death, and destruction in the region and around the world. We expect our friends to stand with us in the fight against this danger.”

President Reuven Rivlin speaking at the Herzliya Conference on May 10, 2018. (Gilad Kavalerchik/Herzliya Conference)

“We are faced with an ongoing conflict with the Iranian regime,” Rivlin added. “The Islamic Republic of Iran… is the greatest threat to world peace in general, and particularly in the Middle East and Israel.”

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.

An illustrative map showing the general locations of Israeli strikes in Syria in response to a presumed Iranian attack on the Golan Heights on May 10, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

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.

An unnamed member of Iran’s national security council earlier 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.”

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said the IDF had destroyed “nearly all” of Iran’s military infrastructure sites in Syria.

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. In February, Iran launched a drone carrying explosives into Israel from T-4.

Judah Ari Gross and agencies contributed to this report.

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