The Israeli air force struck in Syria to prevent an Iranian force from launching an attack on the Jewish state with drones armed with explosives, the army said on Sunday.
Although Israel operates regularly in Syria, it rarely acknowledges its actions so swiftly, with its prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, warning arch-foe Iran it had no immunity from his state’s military.
In a statement issued just minutes after the Israeli army announced the strike, Netanyahu hailed the military’s “major operational effort”. “Iran has no immunity anywhere,” he said. “Our forces operate in every sector against the Iranian aggression.”
A Hezbollah official told Reuters that an Israeli drone had fallen in the southern suburbs of Beirut, which is dominated by the Iran-backed movement, and a second drone exploded near the ground before dawn on Sunday,
A military spokesman, Jonathan Conricus, said that late on Saturday the Israeli air force “was able to thwart an Iranian attempt led by the Quds force from Syria to conduct an attack on Israeli targets in northern Israel using killer drones”.
He said the Israeli attack took place in Aqraba, south-east of Damascus, and targeted “a number of terror targets and military facilities belonging to the Quds force as well as Shiite militias”.
He said the army had prevented an attempt on Thursday to launch the drone attack.
“The threat was significant and these killer drones were capable of striking targets with significant capacity,” he said.
A Syrian military source quoted by the official Sana news agency said: “At 23.30 anti-aircraft defences detected enemy targets from Golan heading towards the area around Damascus.
“The aggression was immediately confronted and so far the majority of the enemy Israeli missiles have been destroyed before reaching their targets.”
An AFP correspondent in Damascus heard several large explosions before Sana announced the defensive action.
“The aggression is still going on and the air defence is able to counter the targets, dropping most of them” in the south of the country, the Sana agency said early on Sunday.
Since the beginning of the war in Syria in 2011, Israel has conducted hundreds of strikes in Syria, most of them against what it says are Iranian and Hezbollah targets.
Hezbollah is a Lebanese Shia group that supports Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, who is also backed by Tehran.
Israel says it is determined to prevent Iran entrenching itself militarily in Syria, where Tehran backs Assad’s regime.
Conricus said Israel held both Iran and the Syrian regime responsible for the planned drone attack and forces in northern Israel were on “elevated readiness to respond to any development”.
He also said that although Iranian forces had launched rockets and missiles at Israel from Syria three times during 2018, the use of “kamikaze” drones set to explode on their targets was a new and “different tactic”.