by Shlomo Cesana and Daniel Siryoti
"In less than two hours, dozens of Iranian targets in Syria were struck, some inside the most dense air defenses in the world," says senior IAF officer
Sites targeted by Israeli jets in a series of airstrikes in Syria this weekPhoto: IDF Spokesperson's Unit
The Israeli military released on Friday aerial images of Iranian sites in Syria targeted by the Israeli air force in response to Iranian rocket fire on Wednesday.
Israel said it attacked nearly all of Iran's military infrastructure in Syria on Thursday after Iranian forces fired rockets at Israel for the first time.
It was the heaviest Israeli barrage in Syria since 2011, when the ongoing Syrian war began, in which Iranians, allied Shiite Muslim militias and Russian troops have deployed in support of Syrian President Bashar Assad against Syrian rebels.
The aerial photos, featuring the targeted sites in Syria before the Israeli airstrikes, included images of intelligence installations at Tel Gharba, Tel Kleb, Nabi Yusha and Tel Maqdad, the IDF Spokesperson's Unit said, dubbing the operation "House of Cards."
Additional images showed a military compound belonging to the Iranian Quds Force in Kisweh and another large logistical site near Damascus, both reportedly targeted in Thursday's strikes.
The Syrian Army Command said Israel's attack killed three people and injured two others. A Britain-based war monitor, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said the strikes killed at least 23 military personnel, including Syrians and non-Syrians.
The operation was a collaborative effort by the IDF Intelligence Corps, Israeli Air Force and Northern Command.
Characterizing the Iranian rocket fire that prompted the strikes as "clumsy and amateur," the IDF said that "out of a salvo of 20 [rockets], not one managed to hit Israel. Sixteen landed in Syrian territory and four were intercepted by Israeli air defenses."
But however hapless the Iranian attack may have been, Israel was determined to mount a response. The IDF notified the Russian air force in Syria that extensive Israeli strikes were imminent, and warned the Russians to refrain from engaging with Israeli aircraft.
The Russian Defense Ministry reported that 28 Israeli F-15 and F-16 jets fired some 60 missiles during the operation.
According to a senior IAF official, "in less than two hours, dozens of Iranian targets in Syria were struck, some inside the most dense air defenses in the world. We also attacked near Damascus International Airport, and to its south and north.
"As part of the strikes, dozens of anti-aircraft missiles of various kinds were shot [at Israeli planes], and any battery that fired was destroyed. There were no operational Iranian anti-aircraft defenses, but the Iranians are motivated to bring anti-aircraft defenses into Syria. We'll take care of those, too. We are assuming they have missiles with a range longer than 40 km [25 miles]," the official said.
"Our message to the Syrians is simple: We can reach any target. Now we are preparing for any scenario in the north [of Israel] and waiting to see Iran's next move in Syria, Hezbollah's in Lebanon, and Hamas' in Gaza," the IAF official said.
IDF Spokesman Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis confirmed that the IAF had struck over 50 targets, including storehouses containing missiles and rockets.
Highest level of alert
The assessment within the IDF is that even though the revenge attack was commanded by the Iranians and the order came directly from Quds Force commander Gen. Ghasem Soleimani, the Iranians, in an attempt to distance themselves from the event, used foreign Shiite militia fighters (under Hezbollah consultation) – who were evidently not proficient in operating the rocket system.
"It is insolence on the part of the Quds Force and Ghasem Soleimani," Manelis said. "The IDF is maintaining its vigilance and readiness."
In addition to the air force, the IDF also attacked from the ground with the Tamuz precision electro-optic missile. Tanks from the Armored Corps' 7th Brigade fired at targets belonging to the Syrian army's 90th Brigade.
Brig. Gen. Amit Fisher, the head of the IDF's 210th Bashan Division, which is responsible for defending the Golan Heights, said: "Over the past month, the division's forces have been working tirelessly to protect the civilians along the border with Syria. The division's second task came overnight Wednesday, and involved identifying and neutralizing those elements shooting at us and taking part in activities against us."
The IDF and air force will remain on the highest alert level over the weekend, out of concerns that the Iranians will try shooting at Israel again.
In the wake of the attack, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened the Diplomatic-Security Cabinet to update ministers on the IDF's operation in Syria and on his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. According to one source, the cabinet was divided over whether to continue attacking Iranian positions in Syria or to cease hostilities and cease further escalation.
Netanyahu said after the meeting that "Iran crossed a red line, and the response was appropriate. We will not let Iran establish a military foothold in Syria. I sent a clear message to the Assad regime: Our actions are aimed against Iranian targets, but if the Syrian army acts against us we will act against it – and that's exactly what happened. Whoever hurts us, we will hurt them seven-fold, and whoever prepares to hurt us – we will act to hurt him first."
Shlomo Cesana and Daniel Siryoti
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