Russia on Wednesday condemned Israel for striking Iranian targets in Syria overnight, saying the operation was in contravention of international law.
In the predawn hours, the Israeli Air Force launched a large airstrike operation, targeting dozens of Iranian and Syrian military sites in Syria in response to a rocket attack on northern Israel the day before.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor said that at least 11 people were killed, including seven “foreigners” who were likely Iranian, and that others were injured during the overnight strikes.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said the strikes were a “wrong move” that is in “stark contrast” to international law, Interfax reported.
He added that Moscow had reached out to its allies regarding the incident, the report said.
Russia backs the government of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad and has criticized previous Israeli attempts to prevent an Iranian entrenchment near Israel’s northern border.
The IDF had said it coordinated its aerial campaign with Moscow through the deconfliction mechanism the two countries established in light of Russia’s significant military presence in Syria.
Israel has repeatedly said that it will not accept Iranian military entrenchment in Syria and that it will retaliate for any attack on the Jewish state from there.
Israel’s leaders issued fresh threats to Iran after the operation, with the defense minister saying even Tehran’s leaders were “not immune.”
“The rules have changed: Whoever fires at Israel during the day will not sleep at night. That was the case last week and it is the case this week,” said newly installed Defense Minister Naftali Bennett, also referring to last week’s targeted killing of Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror chief Baha Abu al-Ata in his home in Gaza, which sparked a two-day conflagration.
“Our message to the leaders of Iran is simple: You are not immune anymore. Wherever you send your octopus tentacles, we will hack them off,” Bennett added.
A senior defense official told reporters Israel believes it killed and injured a number of Iranians in the strike. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, reiterated the image of an octopus as a metaphor for Iran’s actions in Syria, as well as the implicit threat to attack Iranian leaders.
“Iran is an octopus with its head in Tehran that sends its tentacles to wrap around us. We have not yet threatened Tehran, but we are beginning to get close to the head of the octopus. We struck a building staffed by Iranians at the Damascus airport. We assess that there are Iranians killed and injured,” the official said.
The official said that Israel destroyed six Syrian air defense batteries, as well as multiple buildings on Syrian military bases that are controlled by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ Quds Force.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said of the strike: “I have made clear that anyone who attacks us, we will attack them. That is what we did tonight toward military targets of the Iranian Quds Force and Syrian military targets in Syria.”
The IDF said it was girding for several possible Iranian responses, from total calm to a full-scale attack.
“We are preparing for defense and attack, and we will respond to any attempt to retaliate,” IDF Spokesperson Hidai Zilberman told reporters Wednesday morning.
“We are ready for three scenarios: no response, a minor response, and a more significant response,” he said.
Video footage from Syria appeared to show a Syrian air defense missile crashing to the ground in a heavily populated area shortly after launching, which could account for the casualties.
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Zilberman said the targets of its strikes were all located within 80 kilometers of Israel’s border and were focused around Damascus and the Syrian Golan Heights.
The Quds Force is a part of the Islamic Republic Revolutionary Guards Corps responsible for extraterritorial operations, and is a key actor in Syria — both against rebels and in Tehran’s efforts to entrench itself along Israel’s border and threaten the Jewish state from there.
AFP contributed to this report.