World Iran fires rockets into Golan Heights from Syria, Israelis say

JERUSALEM — Iranian forces in Syria fired about 20 rockets into the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights early Thursday, targeting forward positions of the Israeli military, according to a military spokesman.

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Iran fires rockets into Golan Heights from Syria, Israelis say

(CBC)
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The spokesman, Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, said Israel had responded to the attack but did not provide details. If confirmed, this would be the first rocket attack carried out directly by Iran, rather than by one of its proxies, against Israel.

Conricus said several of the rockets had been intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system. He said he was not aware of any casualties and that damage to Israeli facilities was low.

The Israeli military said in a statement that it “views this event with great severity and remains prepared for a wide variety of scenarios.” The Syrian state news agency reported that the country’s air defenses responded to at least two waves of Israeli missile attacks after the strike against the Israeli positions.

Israel and Iran have been conducting a shadow war in Syria under the cover of that country’s civil war. As Iran has tried to build up its military capabilities inside Syria, Israel has carried out scores of strikes against what it says are advanced weapons and convoys destined for its enemies in the region.

The rocket attack early Thursday appeared to come in response to Israeli strikes on positions in southern Syria on Wednesday.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that explosions rang out in Al Baath, a village in the Syrian Golan Heights, late Wednesday after it was hit by missiles from Israel. The observatory, which is based in Britain but tracks the conflict in Syria through contacts on the ground, said it did not have any information on whether anyone was killed in the strike.

Israel had been bracing for a retaliatory attack from Syrian territory after a number of deadly strikes against Iranian targets there. But analysts said the Iranians had been restrained from striking back while awaiting President Donald Trump’s decision on whether to withdraw the United States from the nuclear agreement with Iran.

Trump pulled out of the agreement Tuesday, and that day Israel put its troops on “high alert,” called up reservists, set up Iron Dome anti-missile batteries and warned the authorities in the Golan Heights to prepare bomb shelters after detecting what it said was irregular activity by Iranian forces.

Hours before Thursday’s attack against Israeli positions, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel met in Moscow with President Vladimir Putin of Russia.

“I presented Israel’s obligation and right to defend itself against Iranian aggression, from Syrian territory,” Netanyahu said in a statement. “The Iranians declare their intention to attack us. They are trying to transfer forces and deadly weapons there with the explicit goal of attacking the state of Israel as part of their strategy to destroy the state of Israel.”

A missile strike, apparently by Israel, south of the Syrian capital, Damascus, on Tuesday, an hour after Trump’s announcement about the nuclear deal, killed 15 people, at least eight of them Iranians, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Wednesday.

That strike, on the area of Al Kiswa, targeted facilities for the Syrian military and their Iranian allies. Israeli news media said that one of the targets was a convoy of missiles taken out of storage and heading to a launching site, and that the strike was pre-emptive.

Until Thursday, the biggest clashes between Israel and Iran were a series of heated exchanges in February, when Israel said it intercepted what it called an armed Iranian drone that had penetrated its airspace from Syria.

The Israeli military retaliated by sending fighter jets into Syria, one of which crashed in northern Israel after coming under heavy anti-aircraft fire. It was believed to be the first Israeli plane lost under enemy fire in decades.

Iran has taken advantage of the chaos in Syria to build a substantial military infrastructure there to counter Israel. It has built and trained large militias with thousands of fighters, sent advisers from the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps to Syrian military bases, and operated drones that Israel says are armed.

In remarks broadcast earlier this week, Netanyahu said the Revolutionary Guards had moved advanced weapons to Syria, including “ground-to-ground missiles and Iranian anti-aircraft batteries that would threaten air force jets.”

Analysts say that any new conflict between Israel and Iran could mobilize Iran’s network of proxies from Syria and Lebanon, where the Iranian-backed Hezbollah militant movement is based, for a multiple-front attack on northern Israel. Iran is building what Israeli and American officials refer to as a corridor from Iran through Iraq and Syria to Lebanon.

Iran refers to the alignment as “the axis of resistance,” and its defenders say it needs the ability to strike Israel to deter what Iran sees as an Israeli threat. Netanyahu has previously advocated military strikes on Iran to destroy its nuclear program.

Israel has long accused Iran of carrying out attacks on Israeli targets outside of Israel. The most notorious was the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, which killed at least 85 people and wounded hundreds, regarded as the worst terrorist attack in Argentina.

The Israelis also have accused Iran’s leaders of complicity in attacks targeting Israeli diplomats in India and Georgia in 2012. And they have accused Iran of involvement, through the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, of attacking a bus full of Israeli vacationers in Bulgaria in 2013.

Iran, which considers Israel an illegitimate country, has called Israel’s accusations specious and has blamed Israeli operatives for attacks inside Iran, notably the assassinations of five nuclear scientists, mostly by car bombs.

In interviews on Israeli television on Wednesday night, Israel’s defense minister, Avigdor Lieberman, tried to dispel fears of all-out war.

The Israeli security establishment, he said, was operating “responsibly and no one is looking for an escalation or war.” But, he said, “whatever needs to be done in order to defend the citizens of Israel, we will do.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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