by Anna Ahronheim, Idan Zonshine
Defense Minister Naftali Bennett to Iran: You are no longer immune. Wherever you stretch your tentacles-we will hack them off.
IAF attacks Syrian and Iranian targets in Syria, November 20, 2019
(photo credit: YEDIOT M'HASHETACH (TELEGRAM))
Israeli Defense Minister Naftali Bennett said following the strikes that "the rules have changed: Anyone who shoots at the State of Israel during the day will not sleep at night. Like last week and now this week. Our message to Iran's leaders is simple: You are no longer immune. Wherever you stretch your tentacles-we will hack them off. The IDF will continue to protect Israeli citizens "
“We have not yet threatened the head of the octopus - Tehran. But it is possible to start approaching the head of the Iranian octopus,” he warned.
IDF Spokesperson Brig.Gen. Hidai Zilberman told reporters on Wednesday the tens of targets struck in Damascus, west of Damascus and the Syrian Golan Heights overnight belonging both to the regime of Bashar al-Assad and Quds Force were carried out within minutes and were all located within 80 kilometers of Israel’s border.
While the launchers which fired the rockets on Tuesday morning were not struck, some 20 other targets struck included advanced air defense systems (not the Russian-made S-300 missile defense batteries), surface-to-air missiles, reconnaissance sites and warehouses, the National Defense Building at the Damascus International Airport which houses the Quds Force headquarters and other military positions.
According to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), 11 people, including seven non-Syrians who are most likely Iranians, were killed in the Israeli airstrikes. The senior Israel defense official acknowledged that there were injuries and a number of Iranian fatalities.
Numerous others were injured, including a young woman who was wounded by shrapnel that hit the suburb of Qudsaya, west of Damascus. “We express the wish for a speedy recovery for them,” the Assad government said in a statement carried by state news agency SANA.
According to the senior Israeli defense official, the strikes were one of the largest which struck Iranian targets in Syria and was finalized Tuesday night by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, Defense Minister Naftali Bennett and IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi at the Kirya Military Headquarters in Tel Aviv.
“Iran struck Israel, we can’t forget that. Iran attacked Israel and that’s not acceptable,” he continued, saying that Israel will strike harshly without giving any warning if attacked in the future.
“We are changing the rules. Even when it comes to almost negligible attacks, whose impact is small, we are changing the equation and our retaliatory attack will be widespread. When I looked at the South when a small number of rockets are fired and we respond with a small retaliatory strike, then that sort of situation gets to be acceptable. We have to strike harshly to all attacks,” the official said, noting the link of the assassination of Palestinian Islamic Jihad leader Bahaa abu al-Ata in Gaza and the rockets of yesterday.
According to the senior officer in the defense establishment, the National Defense Building, which used to be a hotel, was a center for the Quds force.
“We will not let Iran entrench in Syria,” Zilberman said, adding that the IDF “is prepared to respond harshly to further attacks if necessary. We will not accept an Iranian force near our borders and will continue to work against it.”
Local Syrian media reported that two residential buildings were also struck from shrapnel from a Syrian air defense missile fired towards Israeli jets, sending one family including two children to hospital. Syria responded quickly to the airstrikes, publishing numerous photos and According to SANA, Damascus promised to provide assistance to those who suffered the “brutal Israeli aggression” by repairing the homes of those affected.
It said that help would arrive immediately to those areas struck, with rescue teams sent to clear rubble in the village of Beit Saber in the Sasa district south of Damascus where a house was destroyed. According to SOHR, a man along with his wife and son were pulled from the rubble of the home Ambulances and fire engines were sent to other areas.
"During the attack, Syrian air missiles were fired, despite a clear warning that was ignored. As a result, several Syrian aerial defense batteries were destroyed," the IDF said.
While the main goal were Iranian targets, the official said, the secondary goal were six air-to-ground missile batteries belonging to the Syrian regime “to maintain freedom of action and protect our pilots.
"While the IDF Spokesperson stressed that no special instructions for the North have been given, the military was prepared for three possible scenarios: no response, a minor response, and a more significant response.
"The IDF is highly prepared for a variety of scenarios and will continue to operate as required for the security of the citizens of the State of Israel. The Home Front Command instructions should be obeyed if required.
"The strike which began around 1AM on Wednesday morning was carried out in response to four rockets which the IDF said were launched by an Iranian force from Syrian territory towards northern Israeli territory in the early hours of Tuesday morning.
All rockets were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system, causing no damage or injuries.
"The Iranian attack against Israeli territory yesterday is further proof of the current Iranian purpose in Syria. Their presence in the region is a danger to Israel's security, regional stability and to the Syrian regime,” the military said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a statement following the attack, saying in it that "I made it clear that whoever harms us - we will harm them."
"That is what we did tonight in Syria against Iranian Quds Force targets and Syrian military targets, after rockets were fired from its territory towards Israel. We will continue to aggressively guard the security of Israel."
Syrian news agency Sana reported that Syrian regime air defense systems were able to intercept some of the 11 of the 18 missiles fired by a total of 6 jets before they were able to reach their targets.
According to SANA, regime defenses came under “a heavy attack” by Israeli fighter jets that targeted the Damascus area from the Israeli Golan Heights and Lebanese airspace near the town of Marjayoun.
Israel has been carrying out a war-between-wars campaign since 2013 in an attempt to prevent Iran and its proxies like Hezbollah from obtaining advanced weapons to use against the Jewish state and from entrenching itself in Syria.
Thousands of strikes have been carried out over the years in Syria and according to foreign reports has seen strikes in neighboring Iraq.
IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have warned in recent weeks of the increased threat posed by the Islamic Republic which they say is getting bolder and more willing to respond to Israeli attacks on Iranian and Iranian-backed militias and infrastructure.
Seth Frantzman contributed to this report.
Anna Ahronheim, Idan Zonshine
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