(CNSNews.com) – Israel has been bracing for an Iranian military response to recent attacks on Iranian positions in Syria, and early Thursday a barrage of around 20 rockets fired from Syrian territory targeted military bases in northern Israel.
The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) said several of the rockets heading for Israeli positions on the Golan Heights were intercepted, and that no injuries were reported.
Significantly, it accused the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Qods Force of firing the projectiles. Iran has traditionally attacked its primary foe via proxies such as Hezbollah and Hamas or, in more recent times, the Assad regime or Shi’ite militias fighting in Syria on Assad’s behalf.
“About an hour ago, IDF defense systems identified approximately 20 rockets that the Iranian Quds forces launched at IDF forward posts on the Golan Heights,” the IDF Spokesperson’s office said.
“A number of rockets were intercepted by the IDF’s Iron Dome aerial defense system. No injuries were reported. The IDF views this event with great severity and remains prepared for a wide variety of scenarios.”
Later, the IDF confirmed Israel had hit back, striking “dozens of military targets belonging to the Iranian Quds forces in Syrian territory.”
“This Iranian aggression is another proof of the intentions behind the establishment of the Iranian regime in Syria and the threat it poses to Israel and regional stability,” IDF Spokesperson’s office said.
“The IDF will not allow the Iranian threat to establish itself in Syria. The Syrian regime will be held accountable for everything happening in its territory.”
Syria’s SANA news agency said Syrian forces shot down “scores” of Israeli missiles, “preventing most of them from reaching their targets.” It said others had succeeded in hitting air defense battalions, radar facilities, and an ammunition depot.
On Wednesday, the IDF had instructed local authorities on the Golan to open bomb shelters for the first time, citing “abnormal” activities by Iranian forces in Syria. After the late-night rocket barrage, it advised residents of the area to remain in protected spaces.
If confirmed, the IRGC Qods Force retaliation comes after several reported Israeli attacks on Iranian interests in Syria. They include an airstrike against an Iranian airbase in Homs province known as T4 on April 9; a missile attack on an Iranian base and arms depot near Hama on April 28; and an airstrike on Tuesday on a suspected IRGC weapons depot south of Damascus.
Monitoring groups say several dozen mostly Iranian personnel were killed in those attacks, although reports in Iranian and Syrian state media have given lower fatality numbers.
The Qods Force is the external operations division of the IRGC, and is responsible for the regime’s terror operations abroad. It is heavily involved in the Syrian civil war, fighting alongside Hezbollah to keep Assad in power.
The Qods Force, led by Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, is also deeply active in Iraq, where its proxy militias played an important role in the fight against the Sunni jihadists of ISIS in recent years.
U.S. military commanders blame the Qods Force and Soleimani for the deaths of some 500 U.S. military personnel at the hands of those same proxy Shi’ite militias during the Iraq war.
There have long been calls in Congress for the administration to designate the Qods Force as a foreign terrorist organization.
It has been designated since 2007 under a post-9/11 executive order that is designed to disrupt funding to terrorists, and Soleimani himself has been designated three times under a U.S. executive orders – in 2007 for supporting terrorism and nuclear activities; in 2011 for supporting the Assad regime’s repression; and again in 2011 for his roles in an alleged plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador at a Washington restaurant.