The Israeli military said it struck dozens of targets in Syria belonging to Iranian forces and the Syrian regime in the predawn hours of Wednesday morning, in response to four rockets that were fired at Israel the day before.
“The attack was carried out in response to the launching of the rockets by the Iranian Quds force from Syrian territory,” the army said in a statement. The rockets were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system.
Though Israel rarely takes direct responsibility for airstrikes in Syria, it always acknowledges conducting reprisal raids in response to attacks from the country.
The targets of Wednesday’s predawn strikes included missile launchers, weapons warehouses, command centers and bases, the army said.
Syrian media reported that two people were killed and others were injured during the overnight strikes.
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 may account for at least some of the casualties.
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said of the strike: “I have made clear that any who attack us — we will attack them. That is what we did tonight towards military targets of the Iranian Quds force and Syrian military targets.”
Footage circulated on social media showed nighttime explosions over the Damascus skyline.
The official Syrian news agency SANA quoted a military source as saying: “At 1:20 a.m. on Wednesday, Israeli warplanes… targeted the vicinity of the city of Damascus with a number of missiles. Our air defense confronted the heavy attack and intercepted the hostile missiles, and was able to destroy most of them before reaching their targets.”
Syrian authorities regularly claims to destroy most missiles in such attacks, though the veracity of such assertions is questionable. The Israeli military acknowledged being targeted by Syrian air defenses during the assault and said it destroyed several anti-aircraft missile batteries in response.
The Israeli Air Force refrained from hitting Syria’s Russian-made S-300 anti-aircraft batteries due to the presence of Russian troops in their vicinity. It was not clear whether S-300s had fired on the Israeli aircraft.
SANA added that the attack was carried out from “Lebanese and Palestinian territories.” Israel sometimes launches its strikes on Syria from planes flying over neighboring Lebanon.
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.
Early Tuesday morning Israel’s anti-missile defense system intercepted four rockets fired from Syria toward the Golan Heights. All four were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system.
Shortly afterwards blasts were heard near Damascus International Airport, the official SANA news agency reported. The agency gave no further details, but its statement came shortly after the Israeli army had announced that it had intercepted the rockets fired from Syria.
Some Syrian outlets speculated that the blasts were an Israeli airstrike, while others said it may have been the sound of the rockets being launched at Israel.
The rockets triggered sirens in the northern Golan Heights and Galilee region at 4:52 a.m., sending residents rushing to bomb shelters.
Last week Syrian state media reported that an Israeli strike hit the home of a senior Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist in Damascus, Akram al-Ajouri, killing his son and another person. Islamic Jihad accused Israel of being behind the strike in Damascus. The Israeli army refused to comment.
On the same day, an Israeli airstrike killed Islamic Jihad military commander Baha Abu Al-Ata, whom Israel blamed for recent rocket fire into its territory, in a strike on his home in Gaza City. Around 450 rockets were fired into Israel from the Gaza Strip in the aftermath of the military operation against Abu Al-Ata, according to the Israeli army, as the military struck back at Islamic Jihad targets. A ceasefire between Israel and Islamic Jihad was reached after 50 hours of clashes, but the deal remains precarious.
Israel has carried out hundreds of airstrikes in Syria against Iranian targets over the last several years, but does not generally comment on specific attacks. Iran has forces based in Syria, Israel’s northern neighbor, and supports Hezbollah and Gaza terrorists.
In August, in a rare announcement, the IDF said it had targeted sites in the town of Aqrabah, southeast of Damascus, near the city’s airport to foil what it said was an imminent armed drone attack on Israel by Iran-backed fighters.
In January Israel was said to have conducted a daylight missile attack on Iranian targets at the airport. Iran responded by firing a surface-to-surface missile at the northern Golan Heights, which was intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system over the Mount Hermon ski resort, according to the Israel Defense Forces.
Earlier Tuesday Foreign Minister Israel Katz had accused Iran of being behind the morning’s rockets.
But he also said the threat posed by Iran in Israel’s north was “less than what it used to be,” crediting “US sanctions and the aggressive Israeli activity.”