Threat follows reported Israeli airstrikes outside Damascus, and warning from Iran that it could raze Tel Aviv
The Islamic Republic will provide a “crushing response” to any Israeli aggression against its regional interests, a senior Iranian official said on Wednesday.
“The Islamic Republic of Iran will give a crushing response that will cause regret to any kind of aggression or stupid action from this regime against our country’s interests in Syria and the region,” Reuters quoted foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi as saying.
The statement was first published by the semiofficial Mehr news agency.
Last week, Syrian state media reported (and Defense Minister Naftali Bennett later confirmed) that Israel launched strikes against several targets near Damascus, triggering the country’s air defense systems.
Over the weekend, a former leader of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards warned that Iran is just looking for an excuse to attack Israel and “raze Tel Aviv to the ground,” blaming Israel for allegedly helping the US kill top commander Qassem Soleimani.
Israel has long maintained that it would not tolerate efforts by Iran — a major ally of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad — to establish a permanent military presence in Syria and would take steps to thwart such entrenchment.
Israel accuses Iran of seeking to set up a military presence in Syria that could be used as a launchpad for attacks against the Jewish state. Jerusalem has also vowed to retaliate to any attacks on Israel from Syria.
Israeli officials have acknowledged conducting hundreds to thousands of raids in the country since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011.
These have overwhelmingly been against Iran and its proxies, notably the Lebanese Hezbollah terror group, but the IDF has also carried out strikes on Syrian air defenses when those batteries have fired at Israeli jets. In recent months, the IDF has also confirmed conducting operations in Iraq against Iranian entrenchment efforts there as well.
Earlier this week, Bennett said that Jerusalem and Washington have divided up the fight against Iran, with Israel taking responsibility for countering the Islamic Republic in Syria and the United States in Iraq.
Russian Ambassador to Syria Alexander Yefimov on Monday condemned Israel for its alleged strikes in Syria, the latest of which was reported to have killed more than 20 Syrian and Iranian military officials.
“The Israeli raids are, of course, provocative and very dangerous for the situation in Syria,” Yefimov said in an interview with Sputnik Arabic, according to an English translation by Syrian news site Al-Masdar. “The [Israeli] missiles are falling not only in the areas bordering Israel, but also reaching areas deep in Syria, in the eastern part of the country and even in residential areas in Damascus. It is regrettable that civilians become victims of these raids.”
Israel and Russia have coordinated their military efforts in Syria in recent years, in order to avoid friction and accidental conflict. Israeli officials do not generally discuss the full extent of that coordination, but they stress that the Israeli military does not seek Russian permission before carrying out operations.
Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.