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Israel Says It Launched A Massive Response To Iranian Rockets

People stand in front of flames rising after an attack on an area known to have numerous Syrian army military bases, in Kisweh, south of Damascus, May 9, 2018

Israel's military says it targeted "dozens" of Iranian military sites in Syria with missile strikes after the Golan Heights were struck with about 20 rockets in an attack it said was ordered by the head of Iran's revolutionary guards.

Israeli military spokesman Lieutenant-General Jonathan Conricus told reporters in Jerusalem early on May 10 that Israel's army targeted sites used by Iranian intelligence, logistics, storage, and vehicles, as well as the suspected site where the missiles aimed at Israel were launched.

Conricus claimed that the commander of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, Qassem Soleimani, ordered the missile attacks on the Golan Heights, which he said caused no serious damages or casualties in Israel.

"It was ordered and commanded by Qassem Soleimani, and it has not achieved its purpose," he said.

"The Israeli army takes very seriously this Iranian attack against Israel," Conricus said. "We have retaliated" by striking "dozens of Iranian military targets in Syria," he said.

He said it was one of the largest Israeli military operations in recent years and the biggest ever against Iranian targets. He said, however, that Israel is not seeking an escalation of tensions with Iran.

Haaretz quoted a military official as saying that the Israeli attack on Syria was the biggest since the May 1974 disengagement agreement between the two countries.

Iran has not responded to the Israeli claims. But the Syrian army and media have said the Israeli strikes have been met with a fierce response and many of the missiles have been shot down.

Syria's state news agency reported early on May 10 that Israel launched dozens of rockets into Damascus and other areas of Syria, destroying a radar installation and hitting an ammunition dump.

Two of Iran’s IRGC-linked news agencies Fars and Tasnim reported Thursday morning that Syrian forces attacked several Israeli military establishments overnight following an earlier Israeli attack on Quneitra.

Both agencies listed ten Israeli military establishments as the targets of Syrian attacks, citing Iran-linked Al-Mayadin TV, which operates from Lebanon. The two agencies also quoted “an Israeli military source” as having said that, “more than 20 Iranian rockets were fired from Syria, some of which have been intercepted.”

“Damascus responded to Israeli aggression last night, hitting several Israeli bases,” Tasnim reported.

But the attack from Syria seems to have been limited in nature, both by the use of short-range rockets and also the fact that targets were in Israeli Golan as opposed to larger cities in Israel proper.

The scale of Israeli fire appeared to be far higher than in previous incidents. Damascus residents said a series of explosions shook the city just before dawn.

An Israeli army spokesman said on Twitter that Israel was "acting against Iranian targets in Syria." Iran did not immediately comment on the Israeli claims.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor, said that Israeli planes and missiles were also seen targeting military sites in the Queintra region on the Syrian side of the border.

Activists in Queintra said it was artillery fire from Israeli positions in the Golan Heights. There were no reports of casualties.

The exchange of fire comes one day after Syria accused Israel of launching missile strikes targeting an Iranian military outpost in Kisweh, south of Damascus.

According to the observatory, 15 people were killed by the strikes on May 9, among them eight Iranian fighters.

Last month, an attack on Syria's T4 air base in Homs province killed seven Iranian military personnel, and Israel was accused of striking government outposts in northern Syria, killing more than a dozen pro-government fighters, many of them Iranians.

Israel has neither confirmed nor denied most of the air strikes. But for months, it has repeatedly said it will not accept a permanent Iranian military presence in Syria.

Iran has vowed to take revenge for the strikes attributed to Israel, which have killed not only many Iranian troops but members of Lebanon's Hezbollah militia stationed in Syria to support President Bashar al-Assad in his seven-year civil war against Sunni rebels.

Israel has been on heightened alert in recent days, putting its forces along the northern border on high combat alert, activating air defenses, and ordering the unsealing of bomb shelters in anticipation of possible Iranian retaliation against the strikes.

The Israeli military said the measures were needed because of what it described as "unusual movements" of Iranian forces in Syria.

With the combined forces of Hezbollah, Iran, Russia, and Syria making significant gains in the fighting this year, Israeli officials have said they fear that Iran and tens of thousands of allied Shi'ite militiamen will start carrying out attacks against Israel.

"They want to build a second Hezbollah-stan" in Syria, Amos Gilead, a retired senior Israeli defense official, told a security conference in the coastal town of Herzliya recently. "They are determined to do it and we are determined to prevent it. It means we are on a collision course."

While periodically staging raids on Syrian and Iranian positions, Israel's military has maintained close communications with the Russian military stationed in Syria to back Assad, and has avoided striking any Russian installations.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu traveled to Moscow on May 9 to meet with President Vladimir Putin and discuss military coordination in Syria.

After visiting with Putin for 10 hours, Netanyahu said he conveyed what he described as Israel's obligation to defend itself against Iranian aggression in Syria. The Israeli military said Russia was informed of Israel's strikes against Iranian targets ahead of time.

"I think that matters were presented in a direct and forthright manner, and this is important. These matters are very important to Israel's security at all times and especially at this time," he said.

"[Iranians] are trying to transfer forces and deadly weapons [to Syria] with the explicit goal of attacking the state of Israel as part of their strategy to destroy the state of Israel," he said.

Netanyahu said his meetings with Putin "are always important and this one is especially so... In light of what is currently happening in Syria, it is necessary to ensure the continued coordination" between the two militaries.

With reporting by dpa, Reuters, AP, AFP, Haaretz and TASS