TEHRAN, Iran — Tehran accused Israel on Monday of “flagrant” aggression in Syria, after an air strike hit a regime base killing four Iranian “military advisers,” Iranian media said.
The Islamic Republic condemned “strongly the aggression and the air strike by the Zionist regime” against the T-4 airbase in Homs, Iran’s foreign ministry said in a statement.
The ministry called on “all free states… to not be indifferent to this flagrant Zionist aggression,” adding that the air strike further complicated the situation in the war-torn country.
Iran’s Fars news agency said “four Iranian military advisers” were killed in Monday’s attack on the military airport.
The news agency, which is close to the country’s elite Revolutionary Guards, had earlier reported that three Iranians had “fallen as martyrs.”
The ministry’s press release made no mention of the dead.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the country’s conflict, said 14 fighters were killed, including Syrian army officers and Iranian forces.
Tehran, along with Moscow, is one of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s main allies and has played an important role in his recent victories.
The Syrian regime and Moscow also blamed Israel for carrying out Monday’s strike.
The Israeli army has refused to comment.
Israel is believed to have carried out numerous raids inside Syria since 2013, targeting the regime and its Lebanese arch-foe Hezbollah, which is backed by Iran.
Iran has deployed thousands of fighters to Syria, presented as “volunteers” from Afghanistan and Pakistan and trained locally by Iranian “military advisers.”
Clement Therme, a researcher at London’s International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), estimated the number of Afghan fighters in Syria at “between 10 and 20 thousand.”
Iranian forces sent to Syria are there in a more “advisory than fighting” capacity, given their low death toll, as compared to that of the Lebanese Hezbollah terror group or Afghans, added the Iran expert.
Iran does not recognize the existence of Israel, which views Tehran as an existential threat and regularly denounces Tehran’s support for Hezbollah, the Lebanese terror group on Israel’s northern border.
Israel has regularly expressed its concern about the Iranian presence in Syria, fearing the long-term establishment of hostile forces in the neighboring country.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that Israel will hit anyone who intends to harm the country, appearing to indirectly refer to the predawn missile strike.
Netanyahu was in the southern town of Sderot, during the signing of an agreement on a housing project. Sderot is a frequent target of rockets from nearby Gaza.
“The first thing that is happening here may be summarized in one word — security: Security for Sderot, security for the area adjacent to the Gaza Strip, security for the Negev, security for Israel, security in the future,” Netanyahu said.
“We have one clear and simple rule and we seek to express it constantly: if someone tries to attack you — rise up and attack him. We will not allow, here on the Gaza border, them to hurt us. We will hurt them,” he said.
“Security in the present is a necessary condition for security in the future and what we have here today is a powerful expression for our future security,” Netanyahu said, apparently referring to the dual threats Israel faces in the north and in the south.
Israel conducted an airstrike against the Tiyas base on February 10, after an Iranian operator working out of it flew an Iranian-made drone into Israeli territory, according to the army.
“Iran and the [Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps’ special unit] Quds Force for some time have been operating the T-4 Air Base in Syria next to Palmyra, with support from the Syrian military and with permission from the Syrian regime,” the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement at the time.
Construction Minister Yoav Galant, a former IDF major general and a member of Israel’s security cabinet, would not comment directly on the attack, but reiterated the “red lines” that Jerusalem considers grounds for launching strikes.
“In Syria, many forces, from various bodies and coalitions, are operating. Each one says what it says and denies what it denies,” he told Israel Radio. “We have clear interests in Syria and we set red lines. We will not allow weapons to pass from Syria to Lebanon, and we will not allow the establishment of an Iranian base.”