Israel strikes Syria, killing three troops, after finding bombs

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli warplanes struck Iran-linked targets in Syria overnight after troops uncovered roadside bombs along the frontier in the Golan Heights, the Israeli military said yesterday. Syrian state media said the strikes killed three Syrian soldiers.

A Syrian war monitoring group said the strikes killed 10, including the three Syrian soldiers and at least five Iranians. The report could not be independently verified and there was no immediate comment from Iran.

Israel has launched hundreds of strikes against Iran-linked military targets in Syria over the years but rarely acknowledges or discusses such operations. This time, the military appeared keen to publicise the placement of the bombs and its retaliatory strikes.

That may partly reflect Israel’s concerns that President-elect Joe Biden will adopt a more conciliatory approach toward Iran. Biden has said he hopes to return the United States (US) to Iran’s 2015 nuclear agreement with world powers, to which Israel was staunchly opposed.

Israel’s shadow war against Iran and its allies has meanwhile escalated in recent months, with cyberattacks and occasional exchanges of fire with militants in Syria and Lebanon. Also, Israel and the US worked together to kill a senior al-Qaeda operative in Iran earlier this year.

The Israeli military said the anti-personnel mines had been placed near one of its positions in the Golan Heights by a “Syrian squad led by Iranian forces”. It said a similar incident happened in the same area in August, which also prompted retaliatory strikes on Syria. Israel said the latest strikes targetted sites belonging to Iran’s elite Quds Force and the Syrian military, including “storage facilities, headquarters and military compounds”, as well as Syrian anti-aircraft missile batteries.

“It is apparent that the message that we wanted to convey last time wasn’t clear enough, not to the Iranians and not to the Syrian regime,” Israeli military spokesman Lt Col Jonathan Conricus said. “We hope now that the message is clear.”

Conricus said the strikes targeted the Iranian military headquarters in Syria at the Damascus airport, a secret facility that hosts visiting Iranian military officers and the Syrian army’s 7th Division, which oversees the Syrian side of the Golan Heights.