What happened: Israeli air strikes overnight struck an estimated 20 targets across Syria, including Iranian Quds Force bases, Shia militias, and Assad regime assets, in retaliation for Iranian missile fire the previous day at the Golan Heights.
- The strikes were clustered in, and to the southwest, of Damascus and according to the Israel Defence Forces (IDF), targeted approximately ten Iranian Quds Force and Shia militia bases, command structures, and weapons storage facilities. An additional ten Syrian military air defence batteries were also hit after firing at Israeli aircraft.
- According to Syrian opposition sources, 11 people were killed in the air strikes, including seven “foreigners” (likely Iranians). Syrian government sources said two civilians were killed when a missile hit their home, although video footage indicates that it may have been hit by a malfunctioning Syrian anti-aircraft missile.
- Newly appointed Israeli Defence Minister Naftali Bennet said this morning: “The rules have changed: Whoever fires at Israel during the day will not sleep at night… Our message to the leaders of Iran is simple: You are not immune anymore.”
Context: The overnight strikes, while a tough response, were not unprecedented. Similar Israeli strikes were launched inside Syria in May 2018, January 2019 and in September in response to Iranian-backed attacks on Israel emanating from Syria.
- Iranian-backed Shia militias are believed by the Israeli military to have been responsible for yesterday’s missile fire – itself believed to be a response to an Israeli attack against Iranian assets in recent weeks.
- Missile fire from Syria at northern Israel has so far failed to cause damage or casualties, with Israeli aerial defence systems intercepting most projectiles, as was the case yesterday morning.
- Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement that Israel has: “Made it clear that whoever hits us – we will hurt him….We will continue to vigorously maintain the security of Israel.”
Looking ahead: In the immediate term the concern is of an Iranian response to the overnight air raids – and the possibility of an escalatory cycle. While Israeli officials are touting a more forceful strategy vis-à-vis Iran’s entrenchment in Syria, the real shift may be in relation to the Assad regime. In a statement the IDF said Iranian military action in Syria threatens not only Israeli security and regional stability, but the Syrian regime. The IDF added that it “holds the Syrian regime responsible for actions taken in its territory and warns it from operating or allowing hostilities against Israel. Such actions will be followed by a severe response.”