Mount Hermon is seen in the background as Israeli soldiers travel on mobile artillery units after an exercise in the Golan Heights, February 2013.
(photo credit: BAZ RATNER/REUTERS)
The situation along the northern border escalated Monday as Israeli and Iranian leaders exchanged threats following the most violent flare-up in Syria in over half a year.
The commander of Iran’s air force said the country was prepared for a decisive war to eradicate Israel, after widespread Israeli strikes on Iranian targets in Syria early Monday.
“The young people in the air force are fully ready and impatient to confront the Zionist regime and eliminate it from the Earth,” Brig.-Gen. Aziz Nasirzadeh was quoted as saying by the Young Journalist Club, a website supervised by state television.
Responding to Nasirzadeh, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the Israeli Air Force had “delivered powerful blows” to Iran and would not allow Iran to entrench itself in Syria and continue to threaten Israel.
“We are operating both against Iran and against the Syrian forces that are abetting the Iranian aggression,” Netanyahu said at the inauguration of Eilat’s Ramon Airport. “We will strike at anyone who tries to harm us. Whoever threatens to eliminate us bears full responsibility.”
IDF fighter jets struck Iranian and Syrian military targets, air defense batteries and Quds Forces positions throughout Syria in the predawn hours of Monday. The military targets belonging to the Quds Force included weapons storage sites, a site at Damascus Airport, an Iranian intelligence site and an Iranian military training camp.
According to IDF spokesman Brig.-Gen. Ronen Manelis, the airstrikes were carried out in three waves in response to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps firing a surface-to-surface missile a day earlier toward the Golan Heights, which was intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system.
Several Syrian air defense batteries were also struck after dozens of anti-aircraft missiles were fired toward the Israeli jets.
“During the attack, dozens of Syrian surface-to-air missiles were fired, despite the clear warnings expressed [by Israel] to refrain from attacking,” the IDF said. “As a result, a number of Syrian air-defense batteries were also attacked.”
Syria’s SANA news agency quoted a military source saying regime forces destroyed most of the missiles before they struck their targets.
“Our air defenses dealt with the situation and intercepted the hostile missiles, downing most of them before reaching their targets as they continue their heroic response to the aggression,” the report said, adding, “Israeli aggression was carried out from above Lebanese territory, the Galilee and Lake Kinneret, using various types of weapons.”
Russia’s Interfax news agency quoted Russia’s National Defense Control Center as saying Syria’s air defenses destroyed more than 30 cruise missiles and guided bombs fired by Israel, and that four Syrian servicemen were killed in the strikes.
According to Manelis, the Iranian missile fired at Israel was an Iranian-made surface-to-surface missile whose launch had been prepared months in advance.
“This is not the sort of missile that is fired spontaneously. It takes time, as they required special permits and deployment of weapons,” he said. “They took advantage of the opportunity yesterday to launch it toward the northern Golan Heights where there are both civilian and military targets.”
Manelis stressed that the missile launch on Sunday and the Iranian target struck early on Monday showed just how deep Iran’s entrenchment in Syria is.
“This is the third time Iran has tried to attack Israel in the past year, he said. “Iran is exploiting Syria, and Syria is paying a heavy price for facilitating Iranian actions.”
The military also said the attack “is yet another clear proof of the intention behind the attempts to establish Iran in Syria and the danger they pose to the State of Israel and regional stability.”
Following the attack, the IDF announced that the Mount Hermon skiing site would be closed to visitors on Monday. The resort later announced that it would reopen on Tuesday if the army gives its permission.