Israel declares strikes on Iranian targets in Syria
BEIRUT- Israel struck in Syria early on Monday as part of its increasingly open assault on Iran's presence there, in a second consecutive night of military action.
The Israeli military said its fighter jets had attacked the Iranian targets early on Monday, including munition stores, a position in the Damascus International Airport, an intelligence site and a military training camp.
Israeli jets then targeted Syrian defence batteries after coming under fire, the Israeli military said, and the Defence Ministry of Russia, Assad's strongest ally, said four Syrian soldiers were killed and six wounded.
Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, an Israeli military spokesman, said the Iranian missile attack that prompted the strong Israeli response was "premeditated."
Iranian forces in Syria fired the mid-range surface-to-surface missile toward Israel from the Damascus area — a missile that had been smuggled into Syria specifically for that purpose, he said.
Conricus declined to further identify the type of missile, but said it hadn't been used in any of the internal fighting of the civil war and had "no business" being in Syria.
The Israeli spokesman would not confirm whether the measures marked an official abandonment of the policy of ambiguity, merely saying that it was a "retaliatory strike against active aggression by Iran."
He said Israel had sent warnings to Syria ahead of the attack to refrain from attacking Israeli warplanes, but that Syria ignored those warnings and fired anti-aircraft missiles. He said Israel responded by destroying Syrian anti-aircraft batteries.
The Russian military said that the Syrian air defenses shot down over 30 Israeli cruise missiles, a claim that was doubted in Israel.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, said 11 people had been killed.
Syrian air defences, supplied by Russia, had destroyed more than 30 cruise missiles and guided bombs, the Russian Defence Ministry said, according to RIA news agency.
Syrian state media, citing a military source, said the country had endured "intense attack through consecutive waves of guided missiles, but had destroyed most "hostile targets".
Israel's target was the Iranian Quds Force, a special unit in charge of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps overseas operations, the Israeli military said.
It followed a previous night of cross-border fire, which Israel said was prompted by a rocket fired at a packed ski resort in the Golan Heights, close to the frontier with Syria.
Israel did not say who it suspected of carrying out the rocket attack.
Syria said it was Israel that had attacked, and its own air defences that had repelled the assault.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is hoping to win a fifth term in an April 9 election, has been playing up military sorties into Syria that Israel had previously preferred to keep quiet.
"We have a permanent policy, to strike at the Iranian entrenchment in Syria and hurt whoever tries to hurt us," he said on Sunday.
Israel, which appointed a new military chief last week, also appeared keen to signal zero tolerance for Sunday's rocket launch, which it said had been foiled by its Iron Dome interceptor system.
The Israeli army said the Mount Hermon ski resort in the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights would be shut for the day. It added that otherwise things remained "routine" along the frontier with Syria.
Netanyahu last week acknowledged an Israeli attack on what he called an Iranian arms cache in Syria, where Tehran provides Damascus with vital support.
He told his cabinet Israel had carried out "hundreds" of attacks over the past years of Syria's war to curtail Iran and its ally Hezbollah.
With Reuters, The Associated Press