Israel hits Iranian and Syrian targets around Damascus – military

 Israel hits Iranian and Syrian targets around Damascus – military

srael says it has hit Iranian targets around the Syrian capital, Damascus.

The Israel Defense Forces says the overnight operation targeted the elite Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, as well as Syrian air defences.

The Syrian military says it shot down most of the Israeli missiles. But a monitoring group reported that at least 11 pro-government fighters were killed.

The IDF says it acted after the Quds Force fired a rocket from Syria towards the occupied Golan Heights on Sunday.

Iran, Israel’s arch-enemy, has sent thousands of military personnel to support Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad in the country’s civil war.

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Syria war: Who’s fighting whom?
What do we know about the Israeli operation?
The IDF rarely admits carrying out attacks inside Syria. But it announced the start of Monday’s strikes on the Quds Force in a tweet.

A statement issued later said Israeli fighter jets had hit munition storage sites, a site located in Damascus International Airport, an Iranian intelligence site and an Iranian military training camp.

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The jets also struck several Syrian military air defence batteries after dozens of surface-to-air missiles were launched “despite clear warnings”, it added.

“Syria is paying the price for allowing Iran to further its expansionist policies on Syrian soil,” IDF spokesman Lt Col Jonathan Conricus said. “The IDF is determined to continue to defend Israeli civilians and sovereignty against Iranian aggression.”

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based monitoring group, reported that weapons depots and positions belonging to Iranian forces and the Iran-backed Lebanese militant group, Hezbollah, were hit.

It said at least 11 fighters, including two Syrians, were killed.

What does the Syrian military say?
Syria’s state-run Sana news agency quoted a military source as saying it “confronted an Israeli attack” and “prevented it from achieving its objectives”.

The IDF said it targeted Syrian air defence batteries after they ignored warnings not to fire
“Our air defences dealt with the situation and intercepted the hostile missiles, downing most of them before reaching their targets as they continue their heroic response to the aggression,” the source added, without mentioning any casualties.

The Russian military, which like Iran also backs the Syrian government, said more than 30 missiles and guided bombs were shot down.

However, it added that the “infrastructure” of Damascus International Airport was partially damaged and that four Syrian soldiers were killed and six were wounded.

The head of Iran’s air force, Brig Gen Aziz Nasirzadeh, said the country was “fully ready and impatient to confront the Zionist regime and eliminate it from the earth”, according to the Young Journalist Club website.

What prompted Israel to strike?
The operation came a day after the IDF said the Quds Force had launched an Iranian-made surface-to-surface rocket from Syrian territory towards the northern Golan Heights, which was intercepted by the Iron Dome air defence system.

The rocket launch followed a reported Israeli air raid on Damascus airport on Sunday afternoon, which a Syrian military source said air defences also “thwarted”.

New rules of the game
By Jonathan Marcus, diplomatic correspondent, BBC News

The strategic context on Israel’s northern border is changing. All the major actors are trying to influence the new rules of the game. President Assad has survived; in large part due to Iranian support. President Trump is pulling out US ground forces from Syria. And Russia, which also backs Mr Assad, is eager to put its diplomatic stamp on future developments.

It is this new context that – in part – explains Israel’s greater willingness to speak publicly about its air campaign.

The strategic dialogue between Israel and Russia continues at a high level. Only last week senior Russian officers were in Israel for talks. But Russia has not persuaded the Syrians to remove or contain Iran’s growing presence.

Israel’s war of attrition is set to continue. But the firing of a missile from Syria, which prompted an additional wave of Israeli strikes, shows just how dangerous things are becoming.

How often does Israel attack Iranian targets in Syria?
Until recently the IDF rarely commented on reports of strikes. But it has become increasingly open about its attempts to dislodge Iranian forces.

“We have a set policy, to target the Iranian entrenchment in Syria, and to harm whoever tried to harm us,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said during a visit to Chad on Sunday.

Earlier this month, IDF’s former military chief-of staff Lt Gen Gadi Eisenkot told the New York Times the IDF had struck “thousands” of targets since Syria’s civil war began in 2011.

Until two-and-a-half years ago, the IDF mainly struck Iranian weapons shipments destined for Hezbollah, he said.

Iran then changed its strategy significantly, seeking to build a 100,000-strong force of Shia militia fighters from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq and constructing intelligence bases at Syrian air force facilities, he added.

Gen Eisenkot said that in January 2017 he had obtained the government’s consent to change the IDF’s tactics and strikes in Syria began to take place almost daily.

Ayomide Oyewole

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