Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday warned neighboring countries that they would be held accountable for any attacks against the Jewish state emanating from their territory, hours after Israel carried out airstrikes in Syria to foil an Iranian drone attack.
“We won’t tolerate attacks on Israel from any country in the area. Any country that allows its territory to be used for attacks against Israel will bear the consequences. I stress: The state will bear the consequences,” Netanyahu, who is also defense minister, said during a tour of the Golan Heights with IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi.
Hours earlier, the IDF said the attack drones that Iran intended to use against Israel on Saturday night were flown into Syria from Tehran several weeks ago, along with Iranian military officials to act as advisers. The plan was personally overseen by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani, the IDF chief of staff said.
The statement by the military came as the death toll in the Israeli raids on Saturday night climbed to five, according to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor.
“If someone comes to kill you, rise up and kill him first,” Netanyahu said during the tour of northern Israel, quoting a Talmudic saying in a statement to the press.
“We have exposed that Iran’s Quds Force sent a special unit of Shiite operatives to Syria to kill Israelis in the Golan [Heights] using explosive drones,” the prime minister said. Thanks to the IDF’s “perfect” operative and intelligence work, Netanyahu boasted, Israel was able to preempt the Iranian attack plans.
“We will expose every Iranian attempt to attack us and every attempt it makes to hide behind one excuse or another,” he said.
According to IDF spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, four members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’s Quds Force were sent to Syria to form a team that would fly explosive-laden kamikaze drones into targets in northern Israel.
Conricus said the military had been monitoring the Iranian plot for “a number of weeks.”
When the IDF spotted the Iran-led team — made up of the four IRGC advisers and Shiite militiamen — moving to launch the drones on Saturday night, the Israeli Air Force took action and bombed their base.
A satellite image distributed by Israeli private intelligence firm ImageSat International showed that the compound had been completely destroyed.
Conricus said forces had been put on high alert near the Syrian frontier after the attack.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said an Iranian combatant and two fighters for the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah were among the fatalities in the strike, along with at least two others whose identities are not yet known.
The late-night airstrike, which triggered Syrian anti-aircraft fire, appeared to be one of the most intense attacks by Israeli forces on Iranian targets in Syria.
Kohavi said earlier on Sunday that Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani personally orchestrated the Iranian plan.
“The person who led this attack and commanded it was Qassem Soleimani personally. He funded, coached and trained Shiite operatives, who were supposed to carry it out,” Kohavi said in a video of a meeting in the IDF Northern Command late Saturday night, released by the military.
The army chief warned that the military must “prepare for any eventuality,” as Iran may retaliate for the Israeli strikes.
“We will [prepare] in the best way possible,” he said.
There have been few direct clashes between Israel and Iran in Syria. In May 2018, Israel said Iranian forces fired some 20 rockets at Israel, with most being shot down or failing to reach Israeli territory. In response, Israel carried out extensive airstrikes on Iranian positions in Syria.
While Israel has acknowledged carrying out thousands of airstrikes inside Syria against weapons transfers to Iran-backed fighters and to keep Iran from gaining a foothold there, it rarely acknowledges individual strikes.
The ambiguity is part of a strategy seen as helping give Tehran and Damascus cover from needing to strike back to save face. Israel has appeared to apply the same strategy in Iraq, where the IDF has been reported to have carried out a number of strikes on Iran-backed militia positions near Baghdad.
Judah Ari Gross and agencies contributed to this report.