On Monday, Thomas Friedman wrote an opinion article in the New York Times in which he cited an unnamed Israeli source as claiming that the Israeli Air Force (IAF) conducted an airstrike in Syria one week ago that killed seven members of the Iranian military.
“It was the first time we attacked live Iranian targets — both facilities and people,” the unnamed senior military source was quoted as telling Friedman.
The attack came two days after an alleged chemical weapons attack by the Syrian regime in what was then, rebel-held Dhouma, killed dozens of civilians. The missile attack, allegedly launched from IAF warplanes in Lebanese airspace, hit the T4 base near Homs.
If it is true that the IAF attacked the base in Syria, this would be a significant upgrade in the tensions between Israel and Iran.
The unnamed source blamed Iran for intensifying the conflict with Israel, referring to an incident in February in which an Iranian drone entered Israel from Syria. The drone was shot down by an IAF Apache helicopter. After the attack, Israel retaliated with an airstrike targeting the T4 base which was where the drone took off from. Subsequently, Syria shot down an IAF F-16 in that operation.
Though Israel initially claimed it was unclear whether the drone was armed or not, the Israeli government announced on Friday that the drone was carrying explosives and on an attack mission.
“An analysis of the flight path and operational and intelligence research performed on parts of the Iranian UAV that entered our territory on February 10 shows it carried explosive material and its mission was to carry out a destructive operation,” the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement.
“The drone’s interception by attack helicopters thwarted the attack and the Iranian intention to carry out an operation on our territory”.
The intended target was not specified.
“[The drone attack was] the first time we saw Iran do something against Israel — not by proxy,” the official told Friedman. “This opened a new period.”
Friedman claimed that the seven Iranians who were killed in the strike last week were members of the Quds Force, a branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps that oversees operations abroad. One of the seven was a commander of a drone unit.
Ali Shirazi, liaison for Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to the elite Quds Force, threatened Israel in the wake of the attack.
“Iran is not Syria. If Israel wants to survive a few more days, it has to stop this childish game,” Shirazi was quoted as saying in Iran’s Fars news agency last Wednesday. “Iran has the capability to destroy Israel and given the excuse, Tel Aviv and Haifa will be razed to the ground.”
The Israeli government has neither confirmed nor denied its involvement in the attack though it generally refrains from commenting on military operations outside of Israel.