Is­rael strikes planned drone op­er­a­tion in Syria

The Morning Call - - NATION & WORLD - By James McAu­ley and Liz Sly

JERUSALEM — Is­raeli war­planes struck tar­gets in Syria overnight Satur­day to avert a planned drone at­tack by Ira­nian oper­a­tives, ac­cord­ing to the Is­raeli mil­i­tary, in a sharp es­ca­la­tion of ten­sion in the re­gion.

The strikes tar­geted the town of Aqraba south­east of Da­m­as­cus, where Ira­nian Quds Force and al­lied mili­tias were ready­ing a “large scale at­tack of mul­ti­ple killer drones on Is­rael,” the Is­raeli De­fense Forces said on their Twit­ter ac­count.

Syr­ian state me­dia said Syr­ian air de­fenses were ac­ti­vated to in­ter­cept the strike and claimed they brought down most of the Is­raeli mis­siles. Videos posted on so­cial me­dia showed a huge blaze rag­ing at the site of the strike and an­ti­air­craft mis­siles streak­ing through the night sky.

Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu hailed what he called “a ma­jor op­er­a­tional ef­fort” by the Is­raeli mil­i­tary.

“Iran has no im­mu­nity any­where,” he tweeted. “If some­one rises up to kill you, kill him first.”

The Is­lamic Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Guards Corps, which com­mands the Quds Force, de­nied any Ira­nian tar­gets had been struck in Syria.

“This is a lie and not true,” said the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Guard’ Maj. Gen. Mohsen Rezaei, ac­cord­ing to the Ira­nian ILNA news agency. “Is­rael and the United States do not have the power to at­tack Iran’s var­i­ous cen­ters and our ad­vi­sory cen­ters have not been harmed.”

Iran maintains that it has no mil­i­tary forces in Syria, only ad­vis­ers.

Is­rael placed its mil­i­tary on high alert in case of re­tal­i­a­tion from Syria or the Ira­nian al­lied forces de­ployed there, said mil­i­tary spokesman Jonathan Con­ri­cus.

“We are still on high alert, with forces de­ployed for de­fen­sive as well as for of­fen­sive con­tin­gen­cies, un­der­stand­ing very well that the Ira­nian Quds force might try to at­tack again. We are ready for var­i­ous sce­nar­ios,” he said.

Is­rael has struck hun­dreds of tar­gets in Syria over the past seven years, most of them tar­get­ing Ira­nian and Iran-al­lied mili­tias or its ef­forts to trans­fer so­phis­ti­cated weaponry to Hezbol­lah.

This is the first time how­ever that Iran has been al­leged to be in­volved in an at­tempt to launch such a seem­ingly large-scale at­tack against Is­rael. If an at­tack on this scale had taken place, it would have risked trig­ger­ing an all-out war be­tween Iran and Is­rael that could en­gulf Syria, Le­banon and also Iraq.

Over the past month Is­rael has also ex­panded its strikes to Iraq, tar­get­ing as many as four Ira­nian-backed mili­tia bases where weapons were be­ing stored in what are sus­pected to be drone strikes. Is­rael has nei­ther con­firmed nor de­nied that it was re­spon­si­ble for the ex­plo­sions at the bases, but U.S. and Is­raeli of­fi­cials con­firmed to The As­so­ci­ated Press last week that Is­rael car­ried out the at­tacks.

JALAA MAREY/GETTY-AFP

A bat­tery of Is­rael’s Iron Dome de­fense sys­tem stands ready to de­stroy in­com­ing rock­ets. Is­rael was on high alert in case of re­tal­i­a­tion, said spokesman Jonathan Con­ri­cus.

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