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Operation House of Cards
Syria - Israeli Intervention

Fearing that Iran and Hezbollah are setting up a Lebanese-Syrian front against it, Israel has occasionally struck at their forces. A fully-fledged war between Israel and Iran was no longer a question of if, but when.

Israel has long used the tactic of undeclared air raids in Syria in what was known as its "war between wars," a campaign it claims is waged to reduce the capacity of its rivals ahead of any future war. After pioneering the tactic in a 2007 strike on a suspected Syrian nuclear reactor, it expanded its use on a wide scale, delivering some 800 bombs against 200 targets across the country in 2017-2018, as Iran increased its presence in Syria through its Quds Force, Lebanese ally Hezbollah and other proxies.

The IDF Chief of Staff in August 2018 placed before the Prime Minister, the Minister of Defense, the members of the Cabinet and the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee a document entitled "IDF Competence and Preparedness for War and Emergency." The chief of staff wrote: "As the person responsible for the readiness of the army, I am determined that the IDF is prepared and prepared for any task it will need, the army has intelligence and air superiority, ground capability and rich operational experience that is tested daily in every arena of war. There are gaps and they exist alongside risk management and priorities."

Behind heavy secrecy, that was lifted 04 September 2018, the IDF has been working to eradicate Iranian presence in Syria even at the cost of an incident that could trigger a war on the northern border. This agenda is led by Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot who was the commander of the northern border in years when Hezbollah was growing stronger. According to the IDF, the Iranian plan to establish its presence in Syria was discovered two years ago by intelligence officials. Back then, the Russian blitz on the rebels was strengthening Assad, and in Tehran leaders were already looking forward to what is to come after the war.

Israel began carrying out military strikes in Syria in 2013. Damascus and Tehran have repeatedly rejected Israeli claims that Iran has military bases in Syria. Iran has provided military support in Syria at the request of the Damascus government, enabling its army to speed up its gains on various fronts against terror outfits. Syria has been gripped by foreign-backed militancy since March 2011. The Syrian government says the Israeli regime and its Western and regional allies are aiding Takfiri terrorist groups wreaking havoc in the country.

At the beginning of 2017, the IDF identified, on the basis of high-quality intelligence, the Iranian desire to establish itself in Syria, with the aim of bringing about 100,000 ground warriors to Syria and establishing air bases, naval bases and intelligence capabilities in the country to establish a force similar to that in Lebanon. The Islamic Revolutionary Guards concocted a multi-year plan to establish military naval and air bases in Syria. These bases were supposed to include, according the IDF, thousands of soldiers and local Shiite militias serving as an army to fight against the "Zionist enemy."

In addition, the IDF revealed that beyond the campaign against Iran in Syria, the IDF is acting against global terrorism throughout the Middle East. For the first time, the army confirms that in the last three years in the global campaign against Da'ash, the IDF has contributed to the defeat of the organization.

In the middle of 2017, the army presented to the cabinet a plan for four or five systems that would work in parallel to stop the Iranian armament in Syria. The confrontation with Iran reached its peak on the night of 10 May 2018, when the Iranians wanted to fire more than 60 rockets into northern Israel and to retaliate for the actions in Syria. In the end, 32 of them shot, 28 fell in Syrian territory, and four were intercepted by Iron Dome.

The confrontation had already begun with Israeli aircraft bombing Syrian targets. Israel won’t allow Iran to entrench itself militarily in Syria, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed December 03, 2017. His remarks, in a taped message to a forum in Washington, came just a day after Israeli aircraft attacked a suspected Iranian base outside Damascus and could suggest the Middle East is entering a new volatile phase in a confrontation between Israel and Iran.

“Let me reiterate Israel’s policy,” Netanyahu said. “We will not allow a regime hell bent on the annihilation of the Jewish state to acquire nuclear weapons. We will not allow that regime to entrench itself militarily in Syria, as it seeks to do, for the express purpose of eradicating our state,” he told the Saban Forum.

There had been early two rounds in this direct confrontation. The first took place on February 10, when Iran sent a drone over Israeli-controlled airspace and was downed. The second was when Israeli aircraft raided the T-4 base in Syria on April 9. Iran blamed it for the air strike that killed seven of its military personnel in Syria, and vowed revenge.

Many observers expected Iran to retaliate against Israel, as its silence about killing Iranians in Syria could be perceived as weakness and therefore encourage Tel Aviv to carry out more strikes against it, and perhaps encourage other parties to do the same.

Syria and Russia said two Israeli war planes operating in Lebanese air space carried out an attack on an air base in central Syria 09 April 2018. Israel's military did not comment on the strikes against the T4 base in Homs province. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the killed a number of Iranian military personnel, an act of defiance against Tehran.

In February 2018, Israel accused Iranian forces of using the same site to send a drone to Israeli territory. It responded by attacking Syrian air defense and Iranian military targets within Syria, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged to "continue to harm anyone who tries to harm us."

The U.S. Defense Department said 10 April 2018 that Israel was entitled to protect itself against acts of aggression. The statement was made after Israel attacked a dozen Iranian and Syrian targets in Syria earlier in the day. "Israel is our closest security partner in the region and we fully support Israel's inherent right to defend itself against threats to its territory and its people," said Pentagon spokesman Adrian Rankine-Galloway, adding that the U.S. was not involved in the attack.

Anti-aircraft fire downed an Israeli F-16 fighter jet in Israel that was returning from the raid on Iranian-backed positions in Syria. The two pilots ejected; Israel said one pilot was severely injured and the other was slightly injured. Feras Shehabi, a Syrian lawmaker, said Syria's response to Israel's assault signaled a "major shift in the balance of power in favor of Syria and the axis of resistance." He said "Israelis must realize they no longer have superiority in the skies or on the ground."

Israeli military analysts revealed that shipments of heavy Iranian weapons that were meant to be sent to Hezbollah in Lebanon are no longer crossing the Lebanese border and are remaining in Syria. This generated Israel’s belief that they are being used to strengthen Iran’s military presence in Syria and that Tehran’s response to Tel Aviv will be on Syrian territory.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said April 11, 2018 Israel will never let Iran establish a military presence inside Syria. "Events of recent days teach that standing up to evil and aggression is a mission imposed on every generation," Netanyahu said at Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial. "We saw the swastika the rioters waved on the Gaza fence. We saw the Syrian children slaughtered by chemical weapons. Our hearts were torn from the horrific images." Netanyahu also said Iran should not test Israel's "resolve" as he let the Iranian people know that Israel is not their enemy, but the "regime of tyrants" in Tehran is.

In a speech on 02 May 2018, Hezbollah's Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah said that "the war in Syria with proxies is coming to an end, and the second war with the genuine enemies may soon begin," alluding to a confrontation with Israel and wanted to say that the war and the United States after he would end a war with their agents, armed Syrian opposition groups.

Expectations of a regional flare-up were stoked by US President Donald Trump’s announcement on 08 May 2018 that he was withdrawing from the Iranian nuclear deal. Hours later, an Israeli air strike in Syria killed 15 people, including 8 Iranians, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. Israel neither confirmed or denied responsibility.

Iranian military intervention in Syria may cost Syrian President Bashar al-Assad his life after an Israeli minister hinted at a possible assassination attempt. Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz on Monday demanded that Syria should turn into an Iranian military base to wage attacks against Israel. “If Assad allows Iran to turn Syria into a military vanguard against us, to attack us from Syrian territory, he should know that would be the end of him, the end of his regime,” Steinitz told the Ynet news site.

Israeli Strikes Against IranThe Israeli military said Iranian forces on the Syrian-held side of the Golan Heights shelled Israeli army outposts on the strategic plateau on 10 May 2018 but caused no casualties. Israel retaliated for the attack, military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Jonathan Conricus said, without elaborating. The late-night incident followed a surge in tensions between Israel and Syria, where Iranian and Lebanese Hezbollah forces helped Damascus beat back a 7-year-old rebellion.

Collectively, the army’s efforts in the past week to prepare for and prevent an Iranian attack was name “Operation Chess”. Israel’s strikes on Syria saw 28 planes take part in raids with a total of around 70 missiles fired, Russia’s defence ministry said. The attack, which the air named "Operation House of Cards," lasted an hour. “28 Israeli F-15 and F-16 aircraft were used in the attack, which released around 60 air-to-ground missiles over various parts of Syria. Israel also fired more than 10 tactical ground-to-ground missiles,” the ministry said in a statement quoted by Interfax news agency. Russia said Syria’s air defense systems shot down more than half of the missiles, while the extent of the damage was still being assessed.

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Israel launched a fierce assault on more than 50 Iranian targets in Syria. The mission — the largest air campaign carried out by Israel in Syria in over 40 years — was “very successful,” a senior air force officer said. The military said the Air Force hit weapons depots, logistics sites and intelligence centers used by elite Iranian forces, many of them near Damascus. The IDF also targeted multiple Syrian air defense systems. Syria’s state-run SANA news agency reported Israeli airstrikes hitting air defense positions, radar stations and an ammunition depot while saying anti-aircraft systems were able to shoot down dozens of Israeli missiles.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Iran had crossed a "red line" by firing rockets at Israeli forces from Syria, leading to major Israeli air strikes. "Iran has crossed a red line. Our reaction was a consequence," the Israeli leader said in a video. "The Israeli army carried out an extensive attack against Iranian targets in Syria."

"We are in a prolonged campaign and our policy is clear: We will not allow Iran to establish itself militarily in Syria," Netanyahu said. Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman told a security conference Israel struck “almost all the Iranian infrastructure in Syria.” He added, “I hope that we ended this chapter and that everyone understood.”

By May 2018 Israeli raids against Iranian targets inside Syria had raised fears of a major confrontation in the Middle East. Amid international calls for restraint and calm, Israeli officials said the attacks were not aimed at opening a new front in Syria's war, but analysts say much will depend on Iran's response.

The Israeli military has said that its warplanes targeted intelligence, logistics, storage and vehicles in response to rocket fire targeting its forces in the occupied Golan Heights, which it blames on Iran.

Avigdor Lieberman, Israel's defence minister, said 11 May 2018 the Israeli assault struck "almost all of the Iranian infrastructure in Syria", and added that Israel will desist from launching any further attacks. "I hope we finished this chapter and everyone got the message," he said, but warned that "if it rains on us [Israel], it will pour on them [Iran]."

Syrian state media reported attacks on a military base in Kisweh, south of Damascus, and accused Israel of carrying out the raid. The strikes on Kisweh came shortly after President Donald Trump announced US withdrawal from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, and resulted in the deaths of 15 people, eight of whom were Iranians, according to the war monitor.

Iranian forces based in Syria reportedly retaliated the next day, launching 20 rockets in the direction of the Israeli-occupied Syrian territory of Golan Heights. The Israeli military accused Iran's Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) and its Quds Force, headed by General Qassem Suleimani, of being behind the attack. Analysts said the Israeli retaliation was meant to signal Tel Aviv's resolve, without allowing the conflict spiral out of control.

"I don't think Israel is interested in continuing a prolonged war with Iran because this might spill over to other theatres, including in Lebanon with Hezbollah, effectively making it a proxy war," Yossi Mekelberg, a professor of international relations at Regent's University, London, told Al Jazeera. "Israel runs the risk, by doing what it did, that Iran will feel almost obliged and forced to retaliate again.

Ghanbar Naderi, an Iranian political analyst, said it was unlikely that Iran will pull back and relinquish all the gains it has made in Syria in recent years. In Naderi's view, the attacks on Iranian outposts are a last-ditch attempt by Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's prime minister, to save face as he struggles to accept the Syrian government and its Iranian backers' successive victories.

"At the end of the day, this is a limited campaign in order to send the message that they have not lost the war. I think they have lost the war and should call it quits and allow Syria to reconstruct itself from scratch," Naderi said.

Naderi, however, is unequivocal about Iran's willingness and ability to retaliate in the event of future Israeli aggression. "This is not the first time that Israel attacks Syria from the Golan Heights and certainly won't be the last one ... We are expecting more attacks in the coming weeks and months. But the simple fact is that Iran is going to stay in Syria. If Israel hits Syrian or Iranian forces, there will be retaliation. This is no longer the Syria of five or six years ago."

Israel has launched more than 200 air attacks against Iranian targets in Syria over the past year and a half, a senior Israel official revealed 05 September 2018. The officer in the Israeli army said on the air raids included the dropping of about 800 bombs and missiles on mostly arms shipments as well as military bases and infrastructure.

Israeli Intelligence Minister Israel Katz confirmed the report, calling Iran's military presence in Syria a "red line". Katz said "Only just now it was published - in the name of military sources, so I can quote it too - that in the last two years Israel has taken military action more than 200 times within Syria itself. "Understanding the significance of this matter in terms of preserving the red line, preventing things that Iran has done, is doing and trying to do against Israel from Syria."

In August 2017, the outgoing chief of Israel's air force told Haaretz newspaper that his corps had carried out "nearly 100 strikes" in Syria. That left another 100 in the time since, according to the official Israeli accounts issued on Tuesday - roughly two attacks per week.

Israel, which monitors neighboring Syria intensively, has long alleged that Iran came to assist the Damascus government, in part, to set up a permanent garrison there, effectively forming an extended anti-Israel front with Hezbollah in Lebanon. Iran, Israel's arch foe, has been a core supporter of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad throughout the seven-year-old war, sending military advisers as well as material and regional Shia armed groups that it backs.

Israel's strikes on Syria have been largely ignored by Russia, Syria's big power backer. Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman signalled that the country could also attack suspected Iranian military targets in Iraq, where Reuters has reported the deployment of ballistic missiles by Tehran.

Briefing reporters on 04 September 2018, a senior Israeli military officer who requested anonymity said that Israel believed Iran was using Iraqi territory as a conduit for missile transfers to Syria.

Israel halted its operations in Syria for nearly three months after an incident involving the accidental destruction of a Russian reconnaissance plane with 15 servicemen on board prompted Moscow to deploy S-300 air defence batteries in Syria. Tel Aviv resumed its attacks on December 25, with the Russian military and Lebanese officials accusing the Israeli military of brazenly threatening passenger planes during strikes by launching attacks from Lebanese airspace, shielding IAF planes from an effective Syrian response.

Israeli warplanes carried out two days of precision strikes against targets at the Damascus International Airport starting 20-January 2019, with the Russian military reporting that Syria's air defences brought down several dozen missiles before they could hit their targets. Israel struck what it claimed were Iranian weapons storage facilities at the Damascus airport.

The bulk of the projectiles launched against Syrian targets during last week's raids consisted of Delilah-type cruise missiles and Spice 1000 guided aerial bombs, Russian military observer Yuri Lyamin believed. "Delilah seems to have been used against the Syrian anti-aircraft systems, including the Pantsir-S1 air defence missile system. The same missile, it's worth noting, was likely also involved in the destruction of a Syrian Pantsir during the Israeli attack in May 2018," Lyamin said, speaking to the Rossiyaskaya Gazeta newspaper.

"In general, it must be said that the use of cruise missiles and guided bombs allows the Israeli Air Force to strike the area in and around Damascus from outside the range of most modern Syrian air defense systems, including the Pantsir S1, the Buk M2E and the Pechora 2M systems."

Israel claimed to have carried out over 200 attacks against targets in Syria over the past few years, justifying the actions by claiming that it was targeting Iranian forces seeking to wage a proxy war against Israel from Syrian territory. Tehran has vocally denied the Israeli claims, insisting that its forces were limited to military advisors, provided at Damascus's request to help the country in its fight against terrorism.

After the Israeli military (IDF) killed an Islamic Jihad commander in Gaza and targeted another in a strike unconfirmed by Israel in Damascus, a series of four rockets were launched 19 November 2019 at the Israeli controlled Golan Heights by an "Iranian force," according to the IDF, all of which were intercepted.

In a rare confirmation of their operations in Syria, the Israeli army said it had carried out dozens of strikes against the Iranian elite Quds Force and the Syrian military, in response to four rockets fired at Israel a day before. Israel carried out "wide-scale strikes" on what it said were Iranian and Syrian forces on 20 November 2019, hitting more than 20 targets and killing at least 14 Iranians and Syrians, 3 of them civilians.

"Warplanes raided dozens of military targets belonging to the Iranian Quds Force and the Syrian Army inside Syrian territory, including surface-to-air missiles, headquarters, weapons depots and military bases, in response to yesterday's rocket fire from Syria towards Israel," Israeli military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Avichay Adraee said. Syria's state news agency SANA said Syrian anti-aircraft defences responded to a "heavy attack" by Israeli warplanes over the capital. The Israeli army confirmed missiles were fired towards its jets but denied any were hit. "Whoever hurts us, we will hurt him," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement. "This is what we did overnight vis-a-vis military targets of the Iranian Quds Force and Syrian military targets in Syria after a barrage of rockets was launched at Israel."

The Israeli army said it had targeted about a dozen military sites, including warehouses and military command centres. The most important target was a control facility at the main international airport in Damascus, Israeli military spokesman Jonathan Conricus told AFP. "It is the main building that serves the (Iranian) Revolutionary Guards... for coordinating the logistic facilities of transport of military hardware from Iran to Syria and from Syria onwards," he said. Israel has carried out frequent air and missile strikes against Iranian targets inside Syria since the country descended into civil war in 2011, but rarely comments on them.

The strike by the Israeli Air Force on Syrian territory is contrary to the principles of international law and leads to an unnecessary escalation of tensions. The Russian Foreign Ministry considers these steps to be incorrect, Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said. “We are, of course, in contact with all our partners, finding out the circumstances. Striking the territory of a sovereign state is completely contrary to the principles of international law and leads to an escalation of tensions, which no one needs,” Bogdanov said.

Israeli strikes on Iranian targets 20 Nov 2019 Israeli strikes on Iranian targets 20 Nov 2019
Israeli strikes on Iranian targets 20 Nov 2019 Israeli strikes on Iranian targets 20 Nov 2019

The Israeli military said on 17 November 2020 that it had launched air strikes on targets in Syria belonging to the Iranian Quds force and the Syrian military. Avichay Adraee, a spokesman of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), said that the airstrikes targeted military targets, warehouses, headquarters and military complexes. The IDF said it made the decision to carry out air strikes after finding "improvised" explosive devices along the frontier in Israel-controlled Golan Heights. Israeli forces claimed the explosives were placed on the Israeli side of the Alpha line by a "Syrian squad led by Iranian forces." Israel has launched numerous strikes on Iran-linked military targets in Syria over the years, but an acknowledgement of such operations is rare by Israel.

Syrian air defenses said 25 December 2020 they intercepted missiles fired by Israel on the western province Hama, according to state news agency SANA. The Syrian Ministry of Defense posted a statement saying Israel "launched an aggression by directing a barrage of rockets" from the Lebanese city of Tripoli towards the Masyaf area. The ministry continued by stating their air defenses "confronted the enemy missiles and intercepted most of them." The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also reported strikes on Masyaf, saying neighboring Israel was "likely responsible." The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Israel had carried out more than 30 airstrikes against targets in Syria so far in 2020.

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Page last modified: 30-06-2021 11:38:51 ZULU