Damascus shook with sounds of explosions just before dawn, and firing by Syrian air defenses over the city was heard for more than five hours. Syria’s state news agency SANA said Israeli missiles hit air defense positions, radar stations and a weapons warehouse, but claimed most incoming rockets were intercepted.
It is the most serious military confrontation between the two bitter enemies since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011 and comes just days after President Trump pulled the United States out of a nuclear deal with Iran over the objections of key European allies.
Iran has sent thousands of troops to back Syrian President Bashar Assad, and Israel fears that as the fighting nears an end, Iran and tens of thousands of Shiite militiamen will turn their focus to Israel.
The Observatory said the attacks killed 23 fighters, including five Syrian soldiers. It said it was not immediately clear if Iranians were among those killed.
Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, a military spokesman, said Israel was not looking to escalate the situation. But he said troops will continue to be on “very high alert.”
“Should there be another Iranian attack, we will be prepared for it,” he said.
Speaking at the Herzliya Conference, an annual security gathering north of Tel Aviv, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Israel would response fiercely to any further Iranian actions.
“We will not let Iran turn Syria into a forward base against Israel.,” he said. “We, of course, struck almost all the Iranian infrastructure in Syria, and they need to remember this arrogance of theirs. If we get rain, they’ll get a flood. I hope that we ended this chapter and that everyone understood.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Moscow sees Thursday’s strikes as a “very alarming development.”
He noted that in contacts with the leadership of both countries, including a meeting Wednesday between Putin and Netanyahu, “we underlined the necessity of avoiding any actions that might be mutually provocative.”.
In a statement, the White House said the “United States condemns the Iranian regime’s provocative rocket attacks from Syria against Israeli citizens, and we strongly support Israel’s right to act in self-defense.