In what is now being described as the “most direct confrontation between Israel and Iran in decades,” Israel exchanged fire with Syrian and Iranian forces during a late-night showdown that ended early Thursday morning.
The exchange came days after Israel called up reserve troops to the Golan Heights, the disputed border region.
It also followed by less than two days President Trump’s decision to pull the US out of the Iran deal. Trump said Tuesday that the US would swiftly reimpose economic sanctions on Iran that had been lifted following the 2015 agreement.
According to Syrian media, some 28 Israeli aircraft fired around 60 air-to-surface missiles at Syria during the exchange. Iranian lawmakers have denied the IDF’s claims that Iranian forces in Syria provoked Israel by firing on their positions in the Golan Heights border area.
Israel also launched roughly 10 surface-to-surface missiles, which struck military targets near Damascus and in Southern Syria, according to the Russian military.
Meanwhile, the IDF says Israel’s Iron Dome defense system intercepted 20 rockets launched at Israeli targets by Syrian and Iranian forces based in Syria.
While Israeli has pointed the finger squarely at Iran, the country’s bitter rival has denied any involvement.
Mohammad Javad Jamali Nobandegani, a member of Iranian parliament’s national security and foreign policy committee, said Israel’s claim was “a lie,” adding that Israel’s history of carrying out unprovoked attacks in Syria has been well-documented.
“Iran does not have military base in Syria,” Nobandegani added.
The Israeli officials said the strikes damaged Iranian infrastructure in Syria, according to CNN.
“Israel has hit almost all of Iran’s infrastructure in Syria,” Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said Thursday morning. “If it will rain in Israel, there will be a biblical flood on the other side.”
Now that the dust has settled, the timeline of events is becoming more clear: On Wednesday night, Syria’s state-run SANA television station reported that Israel fired several missiles at the city of Baath in Quneitra. No casualties were reported.
A short time later, Syrian state-run media reported that while dozens of “hostile” Israeli missiles had been intercepted in Syrian airspace, at least two others had hit an ammunition depot and destroyed a radar site.
Israel and Iran have been waging what the New York Times called a “shadow war” in Syria for months, as Israel has launched dozens of airstrikes, with sometimes deadly results for Syrian and Iranian soldiers.
The damage inflicted on Syrian military and civilian infrastructure is still being evaluated.
The exchange marked the first time that Syrian Army forces have fired directly on Israeli troops, according to Israeli claims. Meanwhile, RT described the Israeli air raid as one of the country’s “most extensive attacks in years.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov urged Israel and the US to avoid acts that could lead to a spiraling conflict.
While Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov denounced the exchange as dangerous, saying it would get in the way of a political settlement to end the Syrian conflict.
“The current aggravation between Israel and Iran, their exchange of strikes, is dangerous, as it distracts from the fight against ISIS, against terrorists, hampers the political settlement of the situation in Syria,” said Russian deputy foreign minister Mikhail Bogdanov, the state-run RIA Novosti news agency reported.
Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin – who met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Moscow yesterday – urged restraint on the part of Israel. Israel notified Russia ahead of the attack.
“The situation, unfortunately, is very acute. I want to hope that we will be able not only to discuss with you, but also to look for solutions that would soften the situation,” said Putin.
While observers, including United Nations General Secretary Antonio Guterres, have warned that tensions between Israel and Iran could spark the next world war, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad played down this claims during an interview with a Greek newspaper published Thursday.
In an interview with the Greek newspaper Kathimerini published Thursday, Assad said fears of a third world war erupting in Syria were misplaced, despite escalating tensions.
Assad told the paper that “wise Russian leadership” would prevent such an event, describing the current conflict as “something more than a cold war, less than a full-blown war.” He also took aim at the US, saying the Russians “know that the agenda of the deep state in the United States is to create a conflict.”
As of now, it’s unclear whether Israel and Iran will escalate the conflict, or whether the tit-for-tat strikes have come to an end. SANA reported that the strikes mark “the start of a new phase of Israeli aggression against Syria,” according to Sputnik.
The Golan Heights is widely seen as Israeli-occupied territory after it was taken from Syria during the 1967 Six-Day War.