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IDF launches airstrikes against Iranian Quds Force in Syria

Israeli military claims credit for attack, says it was in response to explosives placed on border; Syrian media says strike is near Damascus, 3 soldiers killed

Syrian Air defenses respond to alleged Israeli missiles targeting south of the capital Damascus, on July 20, 2020. (AFP)
Illustrative: Syrian Air defenses respond to alleged Israeli missiles targeting south of the capital Damascus, on July 20, 2020. (AFP)

Israeli fighter jets attacked military sites controlled by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the Syrian military around Damascus early Wednesday morning in response to explosives troops uncovered on Israel’s border with Syria on Tuesday, the military said.

The Syrian state news agency SANA said three soldiers were killed and one was injured in the attack, which targeted sites in southern Syria. There were no immediate reports of casualties from the IRGC.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a pro-opposition organization based in the United Kingdom, said 10 people in total were killed in the Israeli strikes, some of them Iranian. This could not be immediately confirmed. The Observatory has in the past been accused of inflating and even inventing casualty figures. In general, Israel does not intentionally target people in its strikes, instead focusing on infrastructure, as this has been found to reduce the likelihood of retaliation by Iran and its proxies.

“Israel Defense Forces warplanes attacked military targets belonging to the Iranian Quds Force and the Syrian military tonight in Syria,” the military said, referring to the IRGC’s expeditionary unit, which supports and directs Iranian proxies in Syria.

“The attack damaged warehouses, command posts and military complexes, as well as batteries of surface-to-air missiles,” the IDF said.

SANA reported that the Israeli strike hit targets near Damascus, causing “material damage,” but did not elaborate further on the locations or extent of the destruction. The state news outlet also said Syrian air defenses shot down several incoming Israeli missiles, though Syrian war analysts generally dismiss the regime’s regular claims of interceptions as false, empty boasts.

The military said the airstrikes were in response to the explosives that it discovered on the border Tuesday, which it said were planted “by a Syrian cell that acted under Iranian direction.”

On Tuesday, IDF engineers uncovered and disarmed the explosive devices, which had been planted inside Israeli-controlled territory in the southern Golan Heights, but on the Syrian side of the security fence, an area where Israeli troops routinely conduct patrols, indicating that the explosives were meant to be used against those soldiers.

Following the discovery, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and the military said they held Syria responsible for the incident.

The IDF has launched hundreds of strikes in Syria since the start of the civil war in 2011 against moves by Iran to establish a permanent military presence in the country and efforts to transport advanced, game-changing weapons to terrorist groups in the region, principally Hezbollah. Israel has deemed both of these activities to be serious threats that it is prepared to take military action to prevent.

Though Israel officially maintains a policy of ambiguity regarding its activities in Syria — in the hopes of not giving Iran and Syria a reason to respond — the IDF consistently acknowledges carrying out airstrikes on targets in Syria that either are in response to specific attacks from the country, as was the case this week, or were attempts to preempt and prevent attacks from Syria.

 

Defense Minister Benny Gantz seen during a visit on the Israel-Lebanon border, northern Israel, on November 17, 2020. (David Cohen/Flash90)

In August, following a similar case in which explosives were planted on the border, the IDF said it conducted a series of airstrikes on Syrian military targets, but did not mention Iranian forces.

In October, Gantz seemed to hint that Israel was behind a strike on a Syrian position near the Golan Heights border, indicating it was a move against Iranian entrenchment in the area.

Last month, the IDF completed its premier exercise of the year, a large-scale simulation of war in the north against Hezbollah and other Iranian proxies, and of a smaller conflict in the Gaza Strip.

The northern border has been tense in recent months, following as-yet unfulfilled threats of retaliation by the Hezbollah, after one of the terror group’s fighters was killed in Syria in an airstrike attributed to Israel in July.

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