Early Monday, Jan 21, the IDF struck Iranian Al Qods forces, command centers and ammo dumps in Syria for 50 minutes in volleys of guided missiles from the air and the ground. Syrian and Russian sources reported that Syrian air defenses intercepted at least 29 Israeli missiles, coming from three directions – Lebanon and two northern Israeli regions of Galilee and the Kineret (Sea of Galilee). The IDF called this its most extensive operation ever against Iranian Al Qods chief Qassem Soleimani’s forces in Syria and issued a statement warning the Syrian army not to retaliate against Israeli territory, citizens or military forces. The Mt Hermon area and ski sites were placed off-limits to civilians as of Monday. Before midnight, a series of explosions were heard across Damascus.
DEBKAfile’s military sources add: The earlier attack by four Israeli Air Force fighter jets on a target south of Damascus international airport during the day on Sunday was clearly the signal for a broader Israeli clash with Russia and Syria over the continued IDF offensive for evicting the Iranian military presence from Syria.
The Israeli military had five incentives to go forward:
- This first IAF air raid failed to connect to target.
- Syrian aid defense responses to the Israeli raid were closely synchronized with the Russian Khmeimim Airbase in Latakia and the Russian national air defense coordination center at Air Force HQ n Moscow.
- Israel’s Prime Minister and Defense Minister and newly-appointed IDF Chief of Staff were faced with a tough decision over whether to climb down on its campaign against Iran after being warned off by Russia against attacking Damascus or its airport.
- The IDF decided it could afford to let Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi’s first operation as IDF chief of staff be a flop.
- The Syrian ground missile fired into Israel and intercepted by its Iron Dome defense battery over northern Golan could not go unanswered, especially when it was not the first. A Syrian missile flew over central Israel on Dec. 26. The assumption at the time was that an Israeli posture of non-response would result in expanding Syrian ground missile volleys with Russian backing for every Israeli air strike over Syria.
Therefore, Sunday night, Israel took up the challenge, threw the gauntlet down for Moscow, Tehran and Damascus, and turned its back on Moscow’s warning to stay out of Damascus’ skies. Urgent conferences are no doubt taking place in and between the three capitals on their next steps.