Assad regime says attacks by IDF on Syrian targets will be met with counter strikes on military bases, Haifa port
Illustrative: An IAF F-16 from the Red Dragon squadron during a drill, November 2013. (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit/Flash90)
The Syrian leadership has sent messages to Israel warning that any further strikes by the IDF on targets within Syria’s borders would be met with Scud rockets fired deep into the Jewish state, the Lebanese newspaper Al-Diyar reported Saturday.
The Assad regime conveyed the message to Israel via Russian mediators, the report said.
According to the report, Syria warned that Israeli strikes on Syrian military targets would be met with the firing of Scud missiles capable of carrying half a ton of explosives at IDF bases, while an attack on civilian targets would see Syria launching a counter strike on the Haifa port and the petrochemical plants in the area.
The report warned that Syria has over 800 Scud missiles and that Syria would not issue any warnings before the missile strikes because Israel does not warn before it hits.
On Wednesday, Israeli jets were reported to have carried out airstrikes near the Syrian capital of Damascus, hours after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to continue hitting weapons convoys and rebuffed claims Russia had ordered the strikes halted.
Syrian opposition news outlets reported that the airstrikes took place in the Mount Qasioun region near Damascus. The Israeli raids targeted Syrian army posts in the area, the reports said, in the fourth round of airstrikes attributed to Israel in Syria in less than a week.
There was no immediate confirmation from Jerusalem, nor any information on casualties or damage.
Tensions escalated between Israel and Syria recently, with Israel reportedly hitting various targets including strikes near the Lebanon-Syria border including a Hezbollah weapons convoy and Syrian military sites.
Also earlier in the week an Israeli drone strike reportedly killed a member of a Syrian pro-regime militia, an attack that came two days after Israeli jets, in an early morning operation, hit an arms transfer meant for Hezbollah near Palmyra, with Syrian air defenses firing missiles at the planes.
One missile was intercepted by Israel’s Arrow missile defense battery, military officials said, in the first reported use of the advanced system. It was the most serious incident between the two countries since the Syrian civil war began six years ago.
On Sunday evening, Syria’s ambassador to the UN Bashar al-Jaafari said Syria’s response to Friday’s strike was a “game-changer.” Speaking on Syrian state TV, Jaafari said the military’s response was “appropriate and in line with Israel’s terrorist operation,” and that Israel “will now think a million times [before striking again],” according to a translation cited by the Ynet news site.
“Syria’s forceful response to the Israeli attacks changed the rules of the game,” he said.
His comments came hours after Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman threatened to destroy Syrian air defense systems for targeting the Israeli aircraft during the bombing run Friday. “The next time the Syrians use their air defense systems against our planes we will destroy them without the slightest hesitation,” Liberman said on Israel Radio.
On Tuesday, Netanyahu denied reports that Moscow had told Israel to end airstrikes in the war-torn country and vowed to continue attacking weapons convoys.
Netanyahu said that he told Russian President Vladimir Putin during a March 9 meeting that Israel will continue to thwart attempts by Iran and its terrorist proxies, such as Hezbollah, to smuggle advanced weapons to Lebanon via Syria.
Israel has been largely unaffected by the Syrian civil war raging next door, suffering mostly sporadic incidents of spillover fire that Israel has generally dismissed as tactical errors by Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces. Israel has responded to the errant fire with limited reprisals on Syrian positions.
The skies over Syria are now crowded, with Russian and Syrian aircraft backing Assad’s forces and a US-led coalition striking Islamic State and al-Qaeda targets.
Raphael Ahren and agencies contributed to this report.