Israel strikes back against Syrian targets and threatens ‘storm’ on Iran after Golan Heights attack

Air defence systems intercept Israeli missiles over Syrian airspace, the Syrian Arab News Agency reports - Credit: AFP

Syrian forces fired missiles at the Israeli attack Credit: AFP

Raf Sanchez  |   The Telegraph

Israel and Iran lurched closer to an all-out war in Syria on Thursday after Iranian forces allegedly fired rockets into the Golan Heights and Israel responded with some of its heaviest airstrikes in years.

The exchange of fire was the most direct confrontation between the Middle East rivals after years of escalating tensions in Syria and came just one day after Donald Trump pulled the US out of the Iran nuclear agreement and reimposed sanctions on Tehran.

According to the Israeli military, Iranian forces based in Syria fired a barrage of around 20 rockets at Israeli troops in the Golan, the mountainous region Israel captured from Syria in 1967 and has occupied since.

No Israelis were hurt and there was only limited damage to Israeli positions in the Golan, a military spokesman said.

Israel struck back with widespread strikes against dozens of targets inside Syria, Lt Col Conricus said. The attack appeared to be one of the largest Israel has carried out since it began periodic strikes against Iran and its ally Hizbollah inside of Syria.

Among the targets were Iranian intelligence bases, a Quds force logistics headquarters, and a weapons depot at the Damascus international airport, according to Israel.

Syrian regime air defence systems also fired missiles at attacking Israeli aircraft. Israel said that it struck several of the anti-aircraft systems and also destroyed the Iranian Uragan rocket launcher used to fire the rockets into the Golan.

Israel’s Iron Dome missile defence system brought down four of the rockets, the military said.

The raids were one of the largest Israeli military operations in recent years and the biggest such assault on Iranian targets, the military said.

“We hit nearly all the Iranian infrastructure in Syria,” Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s defence minister, told a security conference on Thursday morning.

“They need to remember the saying that if it rains on us, it’ll storm on them. I hope we’ve finished this episode and everyone understood.”

A senior pro-regime military source in Syria confirmed the salvo of rockets, but insisted Israel had fired first.

Israel said it had informed Russia, Syria’s ally, of the strikes before carrying out the attack. The Israeli and Russian militaries have a “deconfliction channel” designed to stop the two sides from accidentally attacking each other in the crowded skies above Syria.

 Missiles fire is seen over Damascus - Credit: Reuters

Golan Heights – locator map

A long-running cold war between Israel and Iran across the Syrian border has turned increasingly hot in recent months. At least seven Iranians were killed on April 9 during a suspected Israeli strike on the T4 airbase in central Syria, prompting Iran to vow revenge against Israel.

Hours after Mr Trump announced he was pulling the US out of the Iran deal on Wednesday, Israel allegedly carried out a strike against an Iranian facility south of Damascus. Nine people were reported killed, including some Iranian fighters.

In February, Iran allegedly launched an armed drone from Syria into Israel. Israel shot down the drone and carried out a wave of airstrikes in response. One Israeli F-16 was shot down by Syrian air defence systems during the attack, the first time Israel has lost a warplane in combat since 1982.

Iran’s presence in Syria

Israel has said repeatedly it will not allow Iran to build up a permanent military presence in Syria and is prepared to go to war to stop it.

“We are determined to block Iran’s aggression against us even if this means a struggle. Better now than later,” Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, said last week.

“Nations that were unprepared to take timely action to counter murderous aggression against them paid much heavier prices afterwards.”

While Israel has scored tactical military victories over Iran in Syria, it has struggled with a broader diplomatic campaign to convince world powers to rein in Iran’s build up in Syria.

Mr Netanyahu travels regularly to Moscow – his last visit was on Wednesday – to urge Vladimir Putin to pressure Iran out of Syria. So far the diplomatic effort has yielded few visible results on the Iranian question.

Syrian media said Thursday’s attack was the first time in years that Syrians had fired at Israeli forces in the Golan Heights.

Israel has been on heightened alert in recent days, anticipating an Iranian attack. Israeli residents of the Golan Heights were told to ready their bomb shelters on Tuesday after Israel spotted what it called “irregular activity of Iranian forces in Syria”.

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