Israel-Iran showdown in Syria continues, Tehran vows no retreat

“Iran’s presence in Syria is advisory and naturally if anyone disrupts this advisory presence, our response will be a crushing one,” said Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman.
Monday 23/11/2020
An Israeli F15 fighter jet takes part in a multinational air defence exercise at the Ovda air force base, north of the Israeli city of Eilat, on November 11, 2019. (AFP)
An Israeli F15 fighter jet takes part in a multinational air defence exercise at the Ovda air force base, north of the Israeli city of Eilat, on November 11, 2019. (AFP)

BEIRUT - A few weeks before US President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration, the showdown over Iranian presence in Syria is intensifying, with Israel acknowledging its air strikes and Tehran vowing not to retreat.

Iran on Sunday said it will defeat any Israeli attempt to harm its role in Syria, saying the era of “hit and run” attacks by Israel there was over, a day after the Israeli airforce is believed to have carried out strikes on Syrian army and Iranian paramilitary targets in the country.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that airstrikes “by aircraft believed to be Israeli” targeted “positions of pro-Iranian militias” in al-Bukamal area east of Deir ez-Zor.

It said “14 pro-Iranian militiamen of Afghan and Iraqi nationalities” were killed in the strikes.

Israel, which views Tehran as its biggest security threat, has repeatedly attacked Iranian targets and those of allied militia in Syria, where Tehran has backed President Bashar Assad and his forces against rebels and militants since 2012.

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On Wednesday, an Israeli military spokesman said eight targets were attacked, including an Iranian headquarters at Damascus International Airport and a “secret military site” that served as a “hosting facility for senior Iranian delegations when they come to Syria to operate.”

Tehran has reiterated its intent not to put an end to its intervention in Syria under pressure from Israel. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khateebzadeh told a virtual weekly news conference: “The Zionist regime (Israel) is well aware that the era of hit and run is over and therefore they are very cautious.”

Iran denies having regular military forces in Syria but says it has sent commandos to the country as “military advisers.” Tehran says it will provide military “advisers” to Syria for as long as necessary.

“Iran’s presence in Syria is advisory and naturally if anyone disrupts this advisory presence, our response will be a crushing one,” Khatibzadeh said.

Proxy Shia militias from Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries are  also reported to fight on behest of Iran in Syria.

The Syrian Observatory said five Iranians from the Quds Force, the foreign intervention branch of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) responsible for operations outside of Iran’s own borders, were killed during the recent Israeli attacks.  But Tehran denied.

“I do not confirm the martyrdom of Iranian forces in Syria,” “Khatibzadeh said.