(BBC)— Israel says it has struck almost all of Iran’s military infrastructure in Syria following an Iranian rocket attack.
The Israeli military said 20 rockets were fired at its positions in the occupied Golan Heights overnight.
It responded by launching what a spokesman called “one of the broadest aerial operations in recent years”.
There was no immediate comment from Iran, whose deployment of troops to Syria to back the government in the country’s civil war has alarmed Israel.
Iran has repeatedly called for an end to the existence of the Jewish state.
Israel’s military had been anticipating an attack by Iranian forces after reportedly carrying out a number of strikes on their facilities in Syria in recent months. They included one on an airbase in April that killed seven Iranian troops.
What happened in the Golan?
Israel occupied most of the Syrian Golan Heights in the 1967 Middle East war and later annexed it in a move not recognised internationally.
The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) said that early on Thursday morning about 20 rockets had been launched at its forward posts there by the Quds Force, the overseas operations arm of Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guards force.
IDF spokesman Lt Col Jonathan Conricus said four rockets were intercepted by the Israeli Iron Dome aerial defence system, while the others fell short of their targets. No injuries or damage were reported.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based group that monitors the civil war in Syria, confirmed that “dozens of rockets” were fired from Quneitra province and the south-western Damascus countryside towards the occupied Golan.
It did not identify those responsible, but said the rocket attack came after Israeli forces bombarded Baath, a Syrian-controlled town in the Golan demilitarized zone.
A senior source in an Iranian-led regional military alliance that supports Syria’s government also told AFP news agency that Israeli forces had fired first.
How did Israel respond to the rocket fire?
An IDF statement said fighter jets had struck “dozens of military targets” belonging to Iran inside Syria. They included:
- Intelligence sites associated with Iran and the “Radical Axis” – a term Israeli officials use to refer to an alliance between Iran, Syria, Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement and Palestinian militant groups such as Hamas
- A logistics headquarters belonging to the Quds Force
- A military logistics compound in Kiswah, a town south of Damascus
- An Iranian military compound north of Damascus
- Quds Force munition storage warehouses at Damascus International Airport
- Intelligence systems and posts associated with the Quds Force
- Observation and military posts and munition in the Golan demilitarised zone
- The Iranian launcher from which the rockets were fired overnight
The IDF said it had also targeted several Syrian military air defence systems after they fired at the Israeli fighter jets despite an Israeli “warning”.
Syrian state news agency Sana reported that the army’s air defences had shot down scores of missiles but that some missiles had hit a number of air defence battalions, radars and an ammunition depot.
Later, Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman told a conference in the town of Herzliya that the IDF had “hit almost all of the Iranian infrastructure in Syria”.
“They must remember that if it rains here [in Israel], it will pour there,” he said. “I hope that we have finished this chapter and that everyone got the message.”
Russia, which is also supporting the Syrian government in the civil war, said that Israel had fired more than 60 air-to-surface and 10 surface-to-surface missiles during the raid and that air defences shot down more than half of them.
The Syrian Observatory reported that at least 23 people were killed in the strikes, including five Syrian soldiers and 19 other allied fighters.
‘No-one wants an all-out war’
By Jonathan Marcus, defence correspondent, BBC News
These events have tactical and strategic dimensions.
In the short-term the Iranians are seeking “pay back” for an Israeli strike against one of their bases in Syria a little over a month ago. On Wednesday night, according to the Israeli military, Iran’s Quds Force launched rockets against Israeli positions in the Golan Heights.
But the scale of the attack was limited – a single multiple-barrel rocket launcher appears to have been used, which the Israelis say they subsequently destroyed. They then apparently hit every Iranian facility they know of in Syria to send a powerful message to Tehran.
But neither Israel nor Iran appear to want an all-out war at this stage.
Nonetheless their strategic rivalry is clear. Tehran is seeking to establish itself as a military player in Syria to open up another potential front against Israel. And Israel is equally determined to prevent this.
Why does Israel hit Iranian interests in Syria?
Iran has deployed hundreds of troops to the country. It says they are there as military advisers to the Syrian military.
Thousands of militiamen armed, trained and financed by Iran have also been fighting alongside Syrian soldiers.
While supporting Mr Assad, Iran has significantly increased its military presence in Syria – something Israel considers a direct threat.
Mr Lieberman stressed that while Israel had “no interest in escalation”, it had to “be prepared for any scenario”.
“We are facing a new reality where Iran is attacking Israel directly and trying to harm Israel’s sovereignty and territories,” he added.