Israel strikes planned drone operation in Syria
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.
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.