Israel: Iranian forces fired rockets at Golan Heights
ISRAEL AND IRAN LURCH CLOSER TO ALL-OUT WAR IN SYRIA AFTER ALLEGED ROCKET ATTACK ON GOLAN HEIGHTS
srael 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.
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 Syrian 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 said the Quds Force, the expeditionary wing of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, carried out the attack at around 12.10am on Thursday. Israel accused General Qassem Soleimani, the leader of the Quds Force, of being behind the attack.
“It was ordered and commanded by Qassem Soleimani and it has not achieved its purpose,” said Lt Col Jonathan Conricus, a spokesman for the Israeli Defence Forces.
Syrian forces fired missiles at the Israeli attack Credit: AFP
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.
Syrian state media reported Israeli missile attacks targeting Baath City in Quneitra, near the border with the Golan Heights. The Syrian regime said it had intercepted several missiles over Damascus, Homs and the southern city of Suwayda.
An Israeli soldier stands on a tank as another jumps off it near the Israeli side of the border with Syria in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights Credit: Reuters
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.
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.
Israeli soldiers stands on a closed road near the Syrian border in the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights Credit: Xinhua / Barcroft Images
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”.
IRAN FIRES ROCKETS AT ISRAELI MILITARY IN ‘FIRST DIRECT ATTACK EVER’
Jerusalem: Confrontation between Israel and Iranian forces sharply escalated on Thursday after Iranian forces shelled Israeli army outposts overnight, prompting one of the heaviest Israeli strikes in Syria since its civil war began in 2011.
The attack into the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights marks the first time Iranian forces have fired directly onto Israeli troops from Syria, where Iran-backed Hezzbolah militias support President Bashar al-Assad in the civil war.
Within hours, around noon AEST, Israel said it had attacked dozens of Iranian targets in Syria in response to the rocket salvo. The attack came after Israel said it had detected unusual Iranian troop movements across the border and had intelligence about a possible attack from Syrian soil.
Israel also struck five Syrian anti-aircraft batteries that fired at its planes, the Israeli military said in a statement to local media.
Heavy military jet activity, explosions and air-defence fire could be heard throughout the night in the area. An Israeli military spokesman said around 20 Iranian projectiles or rockets were fired by Quds forces, a special unit affiliated with Iranian Revolutionary Guards.
Syrian state media said dozens of Israeli missile strikes hit a radar station, Syrian air defence positions and an ammunition dump, underscoring the risks of a wider escalation involving Iran and its regional allies.
The damage in Golan Heights was “limited” Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus said, adding that Israel had intercepted “a few” of the Iran rockets and there were no reports of casualties.
Tensions between Israel and Iran had already spilled over in Syria. Iran vowed retaliation after an Israeli air strike last month killed seven of its military personnel in a desert airbase in Syria.
Israel regards Iran as its biggest threat, and has repeatedly targeted Iranian forces and allied militia in Syria. It has repeatedly warned in recent months that it would not accept a permanent Iranian military presence in Syria.
Syrian state media said Israeli missiles had been brought down over Damascus, Homs and Sueida.
Flames rising after an attack in an area known to have numerous Syrian army military bases, in Kisweh, south of Damascus, Syria. Syrian state-run media said Israel struck a military outpost.
Fearing that Iran and Hezbollah are setting up a Lebanese-Syrian front against it, Israel has occasionally struck at their forces. Iran blamed it for an April 9 air strike that killed seven of its military personnel in Syria, and vowed revenge.
Expectations of a regional flare-up were stoked by US President Donald Trump’s announcement on Tuesday that he was withdrawing from the Iranian nuclear deal. An hour later, Israeli rocket rockets targeted a military base in Kiswah, Syria, killing 15 people, including eight Iranians, the Syrian Obse The Israeli miliary said it “views this event with great severity and remains prepared for a wide variety of scenarios.”
With Syria’s civil war raging just across the border, Israeli residents of the Golan Heights have become used to the air-raid sirens and errant fire. But recent days have been different, and war jitters have spread across Israel.
On Wednesday, it had seemed like business as usual on the Golan, a plateau that rises dramatically behind the Sea of Galilee, captured from Syria by Israel in the 1967 war. Children went to school and wineries welcomed groups of tourists.
But Israel trucked in tanks and additional air defence batteries, and the military chief of staff touched down in a helicopter to tour the area to assess the army’s readiness.
Trump’s decision to pull the US out of the nuclear deal with Iran has given Tehran less reason to exercise caution in confronting Israel, analysts said.
“US withdrawal has accelerated the escalation between Israel and Iran,” said Ofer Zalzberg, and analyst at International Crisis Group. “Iran faces less restraint in terms of the timing for a retaliation,” he said, adding that Iran likely had been waiting for the US decision before formulating its next move.
While Trump was in Washington announcing the withdrawal on Tuesday, US time, Golan residents were being told to open up their bomb shelters – the first time the army has instructed them to do so during seven years of civil war in nearby Syria.
At Kibbutz Ein Zivan, a few miles from the Syrian border, David Spelman had pulled up a text on his phone sent from the regional council just minutes after Trump finished speaking. It instructed resident to be “watchful and prepared”.
A population with a pioneering spirit, Golan
Heights was officially annexed by Israel in 1981, but that action has not been internationally recognised.
“You have different level of worries, but people are pretty seasoned here,” said Spelman, a former regional council member who has lived on the kibbutz since it was established in 1968.
“There are certain points of time that you have to face things head on, and Netanyahu is doing it,” he said of Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.
“It’s a really tense time,” said one regional council official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss preparations. “We are telling the citizens to still have regular life; children are going to school. But our job and the army’s job and people involved in security, it’s 24 hours. It’s something a little more this time.”
At a winery on Ein Zivan, American tourists said they were unaware the US government had told its employees to stay away from the Golan until the situation stabilises.
“Seems like much ado about nothing,” one said as he left after a tasting.
Amid warnings of a potential attack, some 62 per cent of Israelis think a war is imminent, according to a poll commissioned on Wednesday by Israel’s Hadashot news channel.
“Iran will retaliate through proxies, sooner or later, against Israeli military sites in the north,” Gary Samore, a former White House coordinator for arms control and weapons of mass destruction, said at a security conference in Herzliya, Israel.
But he said that no side is interested in a full-scale conflict, and there is debate in Iran over how to proceed. He said Iranian President Hassan Rouhani wants to avoid confrontation because he is trying to preserve the nuclear deal with world powers. But Iranian miliary commanders want to retaliate for the death of Iranian soldiers.
Rouhani said his government remains committed to a nuclear deal with Europe, Russia and China, despite the US decision to withdraw, but is also ready to ramp up uranium enrichment if the agreement no longer produces benefits.
Netanyahu had been a leading advocate of a US withdrawal, but his military chiefs had been more cautious. Netanyahu met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Wednesday. Russia, which is backing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces alongside Iran, is seen as key in preventing Iranian-Israeli tensions from escalating.
Israel, determined not to let Iran expand its military presence in Syria, has struck over the border at least 100 times during the war, extending its targets from suspected arms convoys to Iranian-linked military bases.
“Iran is not fully inside. It has not yet succeeded in building what it wants to build there, and now is the time for Israel to push back,” said Chagai Tzuriel, director general of Israel’s Intelligence Ministry