Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman on Israel's northern border, November 2017.
(photo credit: ARIEL HERMONI / DEFENSE MINISTRY)
In an address delivered during a visit to the Golan Heights on Friday morning, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman had a message for Syrian President Bashar Assad: boot Iran out of the country.
"Throw the Iranians, Qassem Soleimani and the Quds forces out of your country! They are not acting in your interest, they are only hurting you. Their whole presence only brings problems and destruction," Liberman said in the northern city of Katzrin.
Warning against being too exuberant over Thursday morning's successful mission
, Liberman said "there is nothing like the sin of vanity and there is no room for arrogance. [...] The tensions have not ended yet and we need to see everything in its right proportions."
Two years ago, the IDF understood there was a strategic change occurring in Syria because of Islamic State Group's decline and the reconsolidation of power by Assad and his troops.
This change was also noticed by the Iranians and the IRGC’s Quds Force commander Maj.-Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who began to change his approach to Syria, turning it into a strategic platform for the Islamic Republic.
With the war in Syria entering a new chapter of the conflict, Israeli officials have repeatedly voiced concerns over the growing Iranian presence on its borders and the smuggling of sophisticated weaponry to Hezbollah from Tehran to Lebanon via Syria, stressing that both are red lines for the Jewish State.
"This is a permanent policy: if someone is going to carry out an attack against the State of Israel, to launch missiles against the State of Israel, we will always try to strike it first,"Liberman said Friday.
In the past year, the IDF noticed that Iranian efforts in Syria have been increasing, with Soleimani sending from Iran advanced air defense systems with a range of up to 110 kilometers that could threaten Israel’s freedom of action in Syria.
The IDF understood that the Iranians wanted such system in order to ensure continued arms transfers to Syria and Hezbollah which Israel had been targeting with airstrikes over the years. Once the systems began to be operational, and when the IDF began carrying out operations against these air defense systems, Iranians were also killed.
One strike against the system, in mid-April on the T4 airbase in Homs province killed seven IRGC soldiers, including Col. Mehdi Dehghan who led the drone unit operating out of the base. Reports had later surfaced that advanced Iranian Air defenses had been the target of the strike.
Israel understood that the Iranians wanted to avenge these deaths with a massive retaliatory strike against Israeli military personnel in the Golan Heights, and attacked Iranian rocket launchers in three different areas in Syria.
One strike targeted warehouses of the Syrian 47th Brigade in Hama. The explosions following the strike registered as a 2.6 magnitude earthquake by the European Mediterranean Seismological Center.
Al Akhbar reported the targets of the strike were Syrian army bases being used by Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps and Shiite militias with troops from Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
While initial opposition reports were initially cited by Sky News Arabia as saying over 40 people were killed and another 60 were wounded, Iran denied that any “military advisors” had been killed in the strike.
Following that strike Iran then smuggled some of the air defense systems to other places in Syria, leading Israeli jets to strike the area of Damascus and the next day targeting another Iranian cell that planned to carry out the Israeli strike on T4.
Due to these strikes Soleimani had much less military hardware than he had planned to carry out the retaliatory strike against Israel and used what he had left before Israeli carried out airstrikes against the remaining weapons.
It has been assessed by the army that Iran’s sense of comfort in the Middle East is cracking due to several internal issues and Soleimani is trying to understand how Israeli intelligence was able to disrupt his attack. As such, it is believed that the Iranians will refrain from responding further and will work instead to replenish their military hardware that they lost in Israeli airstrikes in Syria.
Nevertheless the army does not rule out the possibility that Iran will launch another strike and has kept troops in the Golan Heights on high alert.