Israel strikes in Syria in more open
assault on Iran
Send a link to a friend
[January 21, 2019]
By Ellen Francis and Ari Rabinovitch
BEIRUT/JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel struck
in Syria early on Monday as part of its increasingly open assault on
Iran's presence there, shaking the night sky over Damascus with an hour
of loud explosions in a second consecutive night of military action.
Damascus did not say what damage or casualties resulted from the
strikes, but a war monitor said 11 were killed and Syria's ally Russia
said four Syrian soldiers died.
The threat of direct confrontation between arch-enemies Israel and Iran
has long simmered in Syria, where the Iranian military built a presence
early in the civil war to help President Bashar al-Assad fight Sunni
Muslim rebels seeking to oust him.
Israel, regarding Iran as its biggest threat, has repeatedly attacked
Iranian targets in Syria and those of allied militia, including
Lebanon's Hezbollah without claiming responsibility for the attacks.
But with an election approaching, and with the U.S. vowing more action
on Iran, Israel's government has lifted the lid on strikes that it once
preferred to keep quiet, and has also taken a tougher stance towards
Hezbollah on the border with Lebanon.
It said a rocket attack on Sunday was Iran's work.
In Tehran, airforce chief Brigadier General Aziz Nasirzadeh said Iran
was "fully ready and impatient to confront the Zionist regime and
eliminate it from the earth", according to the Young Journalist Club, a
website supervised by state television.
Assad has said Iranian forces are welcome to stay in Syria after years
of military victories that have brought most of the country back under
his control, though two large enclaves are still held by other forces.
His other main ally Russia, worried about the consequences of Israeli
strikes for the wider pursuit of a war that is now entering its ninth
year, has provided Syria with air defense systems.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is hoping to win a fifth
term in the April 9 election, last week told his cabinet Israel has
carried out "hundreds" of attacks over recent years to curtail Iran and
"We have a permanent policy, to strike at the Iranian entrenchment in
Syria and hurt whoever tries to hurt us," he said on Sunday.
In a highly publicized operation last month, the Israeli military
uncovered and destroyed cross-border tunnels from Lebanon that it said
were dug by Hezbollah to launch attacks during any future war between
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has vowed to expel "every last
Iranian boot" from Syria and a senior U.S. official in Lebanon last week
criticized Hezbollah over the tunnels.
Israel last fought a war with Hezbollah, on Lebanese soil, in 2006. It
fears Hezbollah has used its own role fighting alongside Iran and Assad
in Syria to bolster its military capabilities, including an arsenal of
rockets aimed at Israel.
Tensions have also risen with Israel's construction of a frontier
barrier that Lebanon says passes through its territory along the
[to top of second column]
What is believed to be guided missiles are seen in the sky during
what is reported to be an attack in Damascus, Syria, January 21,
2019, in this still image taken from a video obtained from social
media. Facebook Diary of a Mortar Shell in Damascus/Youmiyat Qadifat
Hawun fi Damashq/via REUTERS
The Israeli military said its fighter jets had attacked Iranian
targets early on Monday, including munition stores, a position in
the Damascus International Airport, an intelligence site and a
military training camp.
Its jets then targeted Syrian defense batteries after coming under
fire, the Israeli military said, and the Defence Ministry of Russia,
Assad's strongest ally, said four Syrian soldiers were killed and
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war
monitor, said 11 people had been killed.
Syrian air defenses, supplied by Russia, had destroyed more than 30
cruise missiles and guided bombs, the Russian Defence Ministry said,
according to RIA news agency.
Syrian state media, citing a military source, said the country had
endured "intense attack through consecutive waves of guided
missiles, but had destroyed most "hostile targets".
Israel's target was the Iranian Quds Force, a special unit in charge
of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps overseas operations, the
Israeli military said.
It followed a previous night of cross-border fire, which Israel said
began when Iranian troops fired an Iranian-made surface-to-surface
missile from an area near Damascus at a packed ski resort in the
Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
Iran has yet to respond to the accusation.
Military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus said the
area it was fired from "is an area we were promised the Iranians
would not be present in", in an apparent allusion to Russian
reassurances to Israel.
Syria said it was Israel that had attacked, and its own air defenses
that had repelled the assault.
(Reporting by Ellen Francis in Beirut, Ari Rabinovitch and Dan
Williams in Jerusalem and Maria Kiselyova in Moscow; writing by
Angus McDowall; Editing by Nick Macfie and Raissa Kasolowsky)
[© 2019 Thomson Reuters. All rights
Copyright 2019 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Thompson Reuters is solely responsible for this content.