The head of Iran’s air force has warned his country is ‘impatient’ to fight Israel and ‘eliminate it from the Earth’ – after deadly Israeli missile attacks on Tehran forces in Syria.
Brigadier General Aziz Nasirzadeh said young Iranian air force recruits are ‘fully ready… to confront the Zionist regime’.
The comments, on a state-linked website, came after Israel’s military said it had targeted Iranian installations near Damascus early today, hours after intercepting a rocket fired from Syrian territory.
At least 11 people were killed in the raids making them the deadliest Israeli strikes since last May, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights 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.
Dramatic footage has emerged of skiers watching rockets above the piste. Israel did not say who it suspected of carrying out that missile attack
The threat of open confrontation between arch-enemies Israel and Iran has long simmered in Syria. The Iranian military has established a presence there since early in Syria’s civil war in support of President Bashar al-Assad’s battle against rebels.
At least 11 have been killed after Israel launched several strikes on targets in Syria overnight. Pictured: Syrian air defenses intercept Israeli missiles targeting an area in Damascus overnight
Israel said a previous night of cross-border fire was prompted by a rocket fired at a packed ski resort in the Golan Heights. Israel Defence forces posted footage of people skiing (above) in the Golan Heights and claimed the clip showed a surface-to-surface rocket from Syria that had to be intercepted
Israel’s armed forces posted footage of the airstrikes (pictured). The raids were the deadliest Israeli strikes since last May, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said
Amid heightened tensions between the two countries, Iran’s Brigadier General Nasirzadeh said today: ‘The young people in the air force are fully ready and impatient to confront the Zionist regime and eliminate it from the Earth.’
The remarks appeared on the Young Journalist Club, a website supervised by state television.
Israeli military earlier said its jets struck Iranian military targets in Syria in a rare departure from Israel’s years-long policy of ambiguity regarding activities in neighboring Syria.
The military said the targets included munition storage facilities, an intelligence site and a military training camp.
The strikes were in response to a surface-to-surface rocket that Iranian forces fired toward Israel on Sunday that was intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system over a ski resort in the Golan Heights.
That launch followed a rare Israeli daylight air raid near the Damascus International Airport.
The Russian military claimed Syrian troops were among those killed in airstrikes that targeted three different locations and damaged unspecified infrastructure at Damascus airport. There were no further details on the casualties or their nationalities.
Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, an Israeli military spokesman, said the Iranian missile attack that prompted the Israeli response was ‘premeditated.’
Iranian forces in Syria fired the mid-range missile toward Israel from the Damascus area – a missile he said had been smuggled into Syria specifically for that purpose.
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.
Air strikes and ground-to-ground missiles hit several targets around the capital including near the Damascus airport, as well as near the Thaala military airport to the south of the capital. This was the scene in the skies above Damascus overnight
Targets included weapons depots belonging to Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah and Iranian fighters, it has been claimed. Pictured: Syrian air defences attempting to intercept Israeli strikes overnight
A satellite image released by the Israeli Defense Forces shows the location of Iranian targets attacked by its military overnight
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel ‘pounded’ the Iranian sites in response to the missile attack and would not hesitate to respond again. This image, released by Israel’s Defense Forces, shows the location of the overnight airstrikes
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel ‘pounded’ the Iranian sites in response to the missile attack and would not hesitate to respond again.
‘We don’t allow such acts of aggression to go unanswered as Iran attempts to establish itself militarily in Syria and in the face of Iran’s explicit statements that it intends to destroy Israel,’ he said.
‘Whoever tries to harm us, we will harm them. Whoever threatens to destroy us will bear the full responsibility.’
An official from the so-called ‘Axis of Resistance’ – led by Iran and made up of Syria, Iraqi Shiite militias, Lebanon’s Hezbollah and other groups – said no Hezbollah or Iranian fighters were killed or wounded in the Israeli attacks.
He said Israel tipped off Russia ahead of the strike and Russia had informed the Syrians.
‘We will be taking this Israeli response into consideration,’ said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media. ‘The conditions are getting closer to war every day and a war might break out on several fronts.’
Israel has only recently acknowledged carrying out hundreds of strikes against Iranian and Hezbollah targets in Syria in recent years. It previously refrained from commenting directly for fear of triggering a reaction and being drawn into Syria’s civil war.
Why does Israel attack targets in Syria?
Israel attacked what it said were Iranian targets in Syria early today in response to missile fire it blamed on Iran.
Here are a series of questions and answers on the situation:
What happened? Israel announced a series of air strikes against facilities it said belonged to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force in the early hours of Monday.
It said the strikes were in response to a medium-range, surface-to-surface missile the Quds Force fired from Syria at the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights on Sunday, which Israeli air defences intercepted.
Earlier that day, Damascus had accused Israel of carrying out raids in southern Syria.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor said at least 11 pro-regime fighters, including two Syrians, were killed in Monday’s strikes.
Why does Israel attack in Syria?The Israeli army has since 2013 claimed hundreds of attacks on what it says are Iranian military targets and advanced arms deliveries to Tehran-backed Hezbollah, with the goal of stopping its main enemy Iran from entrenching itself militarily in neighbouring Syria.
On Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Iran made ‘explicit statements’ on its intention ‘to destroy Israel’.
Which Iranian forces are in Syria? Among the thousands of Iranian forces stationed in Syria are members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps headed by Qassem Soleimani, the mastermind of Tehran’s military strategy in the region.
Iran also deployed regular army units to Syria and has sway over tens of thousands of militiamen belonging to Shiite groups, including Lebanon’s powerful Hezbollah.
According to the head of the IRGC, Iran has ‘military and revolutionary advisors’ in Syria.
Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari has also said that there is ‘equipment and weapons necessary for training and empowering the Islamic resistance fighters and for supporting the oppressed people of Syria’.
Jafari made those comments on January 16 when responding to Netanyahu’s demand that Iran remove its forces from Syria, saying that those elements would ‘be kept there’.
What about the US withdrawal from Syria? Some observers argue that a US troop pullout will create a vacuum allowing Iran to further expand its influence in Syria, including by consolidating a ‘land bridge’ to the Mediterranean and bringing Tehran’s military capabilities closer to Israel’s northern borders.
Israeli officials and analysts have stressed that the Jewish state has long managed that front alone and would continue to do so.
Russia is the other main backer of the government in Damascus but is sometimes described as Iran’s main rival in Syria and has done little to stop Israeli strikes against Iranian interests there.
Do Israel and Russia coordinate in Syria? The two countries have long had a hotline to avoid accidental clashes in Syria, but Israel has had to tread more carefully in recent months.
A friendly fire incident in September that led to a Russian plane being downed by Syrian air defences during an Israeli raid angered the Kremlin.
As part of its response, Russia delivered the advanced S-300 air defence system to Syria.
Israeli political and military leaders have been far more verbose of late, and Monday’s announcement went a step further, reporting the strikes in real time and detailing the targets.
Conricus would not confirm whether the measures marked an official abandonment of the policy of ambiguity.
He said Israel had warned 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 Syrian air defenses shot down over 30 Israeli cruise missiles.
The Israeli military said the Mount Hermon ski site has been closed.
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said the Iranian rocket attack provided ‘live testimony’ to Iran’s entrenchment in Syria, warning it could plunge the entire region into war.
Speculation has abounded in Israel on what is driving the newfound overtness of its actions, with many suggesting domestic politics could be a factor ahead of Apr. 9 elections.
Former Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said the military had no choice but to comment after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took credit publicly for the strikes. Yaalon said he supported the strikes but not the ‘chatter’ around them, and he accused Netanyahu of playing politics with the country’s security.
‘Unfortunately … everything is connected to his political survival,’ Yaalon told Israel’s Army Radio. ‘What does the publication give us? Can someone tell me what the benefit is, besides politics?’
However, Yaakov Amidror, a former Israeli national security adviser, said the public remarks were intended to escalate Israel’s response without widening its military operations.
‘If you want to … make clear to the other side that you are determined to prevent something, either you escalate the operation … or you say in public `I am doing it,’ meaning `I am ready to take the risk,” he said.
Amidror said the ball was now in Iran’s court to see how far the latest conflagration would escalate.