May 19, 2019

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Israel Strikes Iranian Targets in Syria as Tensions Escalate

Israel Strikes Iranian Targets in Syria as Tensions Escalate
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JERUSALEM — Israeli fighter jets struck dozens of Iranian targets in Syria overnight, Israeli officials said, following soon after what the Israeli military described as an unsuccessful Iranian rocket attack against the Golan Heights.

By Thursday morning, the Israeli Air Force had destroyed “nearly all” of Iran’s military infrastructure in Syria, according to the defense minister, Avigdor Lieberman. Officials described it as a severe blow to Iran’s military capacity in the area.

For months, Israel and Iran have been conducting a shadow war in Syria under the cover of the civil war there. But the conflict has now burst into the open.

Iran has taken advantage of the chaos in Syria to build a substantial military infrastructure there to counter Israel. It has built and trained large militias with thousands of fighters and sent advisers from its Revolutionary Guards Corps to Syrian military bases. Israel’s political and security establishment have been unified and vocal in vowing to thwart Iran’s efforts to entrench itself militarily across Israel’s northern frontier by building what Israeli and American officials refer to as a land corridor from Iran, through Iraq and Syria, to Lebanon.

Israel had been bracing for a retaliatory attack from Syrian territory after a number of deadly strikes against Iranian targets there. But analysts said that Tehran had been restrained in striking back while awaiting President Trump’s decision on whether to withdraw the United States from the multinational nuclear deal with Iran.

Mr. Trump pulled out of the agreement on Tuesday. That same day, Israel put its troops on “high alert,” called up reservists, set up Iron Dome batteries and instructed the authorities in the Golan Heights to prepare public bomb shelters after detecting what it said was irregular activity by Iranian forces.

Israel’s strikes overnight were one of the country’s largest aerial operations in decades across the Syrian frontier, and by far its broadest attack yet on Iranian assets.

“This was an operation we prepared for, and were not surprised by,” said Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, a spokesman for the Israeli military.

In a statement, the military said the targets included Iranian intelligence sites; a logistics headquarters belonging to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ Al Quds force; military compounds; munition storage warehouses of the Quds forces at Damascus International Airport; intelligence systems associated with the forces; and military posts and munition in the buffer zone between the Syrian Golan Heights and the Israeli-occupied portion of the strategic plateau.

There was no immediate information about casualties in Syria. Israel reported none on its side. Colonel Conricus said the barrage of approximately 20 Grad and Fajr 5 rockets fired from Syria and aimed at Israeli positions after midnight was launched under the command of the Quds Force and utilized Iranian weapons.

Four of the rockets were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome antimissile defense system, and the rest fell short of the Israeli-controlled territory, the military said.

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