Israel hits Syria again, aiming for Iran targets

Israel launches strikes into Syria early on Monday as part of its increasingly open assault on Iran's presence there.

BEIRUT • Israel struck in Syria early yesterday, the latest salvo in its increasingly open assault on Iran's presence there, rocking 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.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor said 11 people were killed. Syria's ally Russia said four Syrian soldiers had died and six were wounded.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the air raid had mostly targeted Iranian forces, but also hit Syrians helping them. "We will strike at anyone who tries to harm us," he said.

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 nearly eight-year civil war to help President Bashar al-Assad's government.

Israel, regarding Iran as its biggest threat, has repeatedly attacked Iranian targets in Syria and those of allied militia, including Lebanon's Hizbollah.

With the April 9 election approaching, Israel's government has begun discussing its strikes more openly, and has also taken a tougher stance towards Hizbollah on the border with Lebanon. It said a rocket attack on Sunday was Iran's work.

The Israeli shift comes a month after US President Donald Trump unexpectedly announced a plan to pull the 2,000 US troops from Syria, a move long sought by Mr Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies.

The Israeli military said its fighter jets had attacked Iranian "Quds Force" targets early yesterday, including munition stores, a position in the Damascus International Airport, an intelligence site and a military training camp.

Its jets then targeted Syrian defence batteries after coming under fire.

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 ski resort in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

Syria said it was Israel that had attacked and its air defences had repelled the assault.

The Russian defence ministry said Syrian air defences, supplied by Russia, had destroyed over 30 cruise missiles and guided bombs, according to RIA news agency.

In Teheran, airforce chief 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.

Washington has sought to reassure allies that it still aims to eject Iran from Syria despite pulling its own troops out.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 22, 2019, with the headline 'Israel hits Syria again, aiming for Iran targets'. Print Edition | Subscribe