Iran and Israel Exchange Missile Fire

Last night the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) took the highly unusual step of announcing that they were engaged in a large-scale attack on Iranian targets in Syria. In previous years Israel has kept silent about such attacks, but that policy has clearly changed.

The IDF later explained that they launched the attack in retaliation for a surface-to-surface missile that was fired towards the northern Golan Heights. That incoming missile was shot down by Israel’s Iron Dome defence system.

IDF map of targets in air strikesIDF map of the targets in their air strikes

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said that the Israeli strikes were the most significant in Syria since May 2018.

The Syrian state news agency quoted a military source who claimed that Syrian air defences “prevented Israeli air strikes from achieving their objectives in the south.” A typical claim in such circumstances.

And that claim was supported by Russia’s defence control centre, which claimed that Syrian military air defences destroyed more than 30 cruise missiles and guided bombs during the Israeli air strikes. Presumably this was of interest to the Russians because they supplied those air defence systems.

However, according to the UK-based SOHR, 11 people were killed in Syria during the air strikes, which hit targets around the Syrian capital, Damascus, including some at its airport. That report seems much in line with statements from the IDF.

Israeli Minister, Israel Katz, said:

“The IDF attacks tonight against Iranian Quds Force targets are a clear message
to Qassem Souleimani and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.”

The IDF say that their retaliatory strikes hit weapons warehouses, an intelligence facility and a training camp, all belonging to Iran’s Quds Force, the expeditionary arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. They stated that:

“The Iranian attack on Israeli territory yesterday was more clear proof
of the purpose of Iran’s efforts to entrench itself in Syria,
and the danger this poses to the state of Israel and regional stability.”

The IDF also said that the Iranian’s decision to launch their missile was made some time ago and that it was launched from an area near Damascus “where we’d been promised the Iranians would not operate from—just dozens of kilometres from Israeli border.”

The IDF also struck a number of Syrian air defence targets, which had fired at the Israeli jets despite a warning from the IDF not to do so. The Israelis often seem to give the Syrians the option of avoiding damage.

Although there was no direct comment from the Iranians, the Young Journalists’ Club website – an Iranian news agency linked to the government – quoted the head of its air force, Brigadier General Aziz Nasirzadeh, as saying that they are:

“Fully ready and impatient to confront the Zionist regime and eliminate it from the earth.”

So now the world waits to see just how impatient they are to attempt that.

UPDATE 22nd January: 

On Tuesday the SOHR reported that the death toll from Israel’s air strikes had risen from 11 to 21, including at least 12 members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. Six of the casualties were confirmed members of the Syrian regime and pro-Syrian armed forces, while the other 15 were deemed to be foreign nationals.