TEL AVIV – Twelve of the 21 pro-regime fighters killed in Israeli airstrikes in Syria early on Monday were soldiers from Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, UK-based war monitor the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Tuesday.
Among the 21 killed were six Assad regime soldiers and 15 foreign nationals — of which 12 were Iranian soldiers, the report said.
Israel conducted three waves of strikes in the predawn hours of Monday against Iranian weapons warehouses, intelligence sites and a training camp near Damascus Airport.
The raids, which in a rare move were confirmed by the IDF on Monday, came in response to what the army claimed was a “premeditated” missile attack on Israel on Sunday that was meant as a warning from Tehran against further strikes.
The Israel Air Force also targeted Syrian air defense systems that shot at Israeli fighter jets, including a Russian-made Pansir S-1 battery, the army stated.
“We have started striking Iranian Quds targets in Syrian territory,” a military statement said. “We warn the Syrian Armed Forces against attempting to harm Israeli forces or territory.”
“During the attack, dozens of Syrian surface-to-air missiles were fired, despite the clear warnings expressed [by Israel] to refrain from attacking. As a result, a number of Syrian air defense batteries were also attacked,” the statement added.
Sunday’s overnight raid destroyed one of Iran’s largest weapons storehouses — “the main storage hub for Quds Force” — near Damascus International Airport, IDF spokesperson Jonathan Conricus said.
The IDF rarely issues official confirmation of strikes carried out in Syria.
Four Syrian soldiers were killed in the strikes, according to Russia. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least seven other fighters, likely from Iranian militias, were also killed.
The medium-range missile that was intercepted by the Iron Dome defense system over the Hermon Ski Resort on Sunday was Iranian-made, the army stated. The missile was launched “by Iranian troops, not by proxies, not by Shiite militias, not by Syrian troops, but Iranian troops with an Iranian missile,” Conricus said.
According to the Yedioth Aharonoth newspaper, it carried a warhead weighing nearly half a ton.
The Iranian missile attack occurred on the heels of another round of Israeli airstrikes.
“We understand that the Iranians are trying to change the context and deter us from our policy and our strategy of fighting Iranian troops in Syria,” Conricus said. “They thought they could change the rules of engagement. Our response was a rather clear one, with a message to Iran and Syria that our policies have not changed.”
Conricus also said the missile was fired from a location near Damascus in “an area that we have been promised that the Iranians would not be in” — a promise presumably made by Russia although Conricus refused to confirm this.
Later on Monday, IDF Spokesman Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis said the missile had been fired by “an Iranian force from the Damascus area, from inside territory that [the Syrian government] promised would not host an Iranian presence.”
“The Iranian [rocket] launch took place after very lengthy preparations and a decision-making process that concluded months ago,” Manelis said in a statement.
“Syria is paying a heavy price for its approval of the [rocket] operation, and the fire yesterday toward the northern Golan,” Manelis added. “The Syrians had prepared for the operation, which was planned beforehand. The attack was an Iranian attempt to strike at Israel.”
Israel holds Syria responsible for any attacks emanating from its territory.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who currently is on a visit to Chad, responded to the Israeli raids in a statement: “We have a defined policy: to harm Iranian entrenchment in Syria and to harm anyone who tries to harm us.”
Earlier this month, Netanyahu confirmed that Israel was behind another bombardment on Iranian targets in Syria.
Last week, the prime minister warned Iran to “get out of Syria” unless it wanted to continue being attacked by Israel. “I’m telling you, get out of there fast. We won’t stop attacking,” he said.
Iran’s air force commander on Monday warned that his country ready to fight a war that would end in “Israel’s disappearance.”
“We’re ready for the decisive war that will bring about Israel’s disappearance. Our armed forces are prepared for the day when Israel will be destroyed,” Brig. Gen. Aziz Nasirzadeh said, according to Iranian media reports.
On Tuesday, the Iranian state-affiliated Mehr news agency quoted a senior Iranian official, Ali Shamkhani, as saying that Iranian forces will remain in Syria as long as the Assad regime requires it.