ISRAELI warplanes hit targets in southern Syria last night, claiming Iran was about to launch a large-scale killer drone attack.
The airstrike, which triggered Syrian anti-aircraft fire, marks one of the most intense attacks by Israeli forces against Iran in several years.
Lebanese security stand near the site where an Israeli drone was said to have crashed in a Hezbollah stronghold[/caption]
Hours later, an Israeli ‘suicide’ drone fell over Beirut, the Lebanese capital, and another exploded mid-air, amid tensions between Israel and Iran.
The second drone caused some damage in the Hezbollah-dominated southern suburbs, where the Iran-backed group’s media centre is based.
Israel deems the heavily armed Shi’ite Hezbollah movement, supported by Iran, as the biggest threat across its border.
They fought a month-long war in 2006 that killed nearly 1,200 people in Lebanon, mostly civilians, and 158 people in Israel, mostly soldiers.
The two drones crashed hours after the Israeli military said its aircraft struck Iranian forces and Shi’ite militias near Syria’s capital Damascus.
Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, a military spokesman, said Iran’s Revolutionary Guards’ Al Quds force, working with allied Shiite militias, had been planning a major attack.
He claimed Iran was going to send a number of explosives-laden attack drones into Israel.
Conricus said Israel had monitored the plot for several months and on Thursday prevented Iran from making an “advanced attempt” to execute the same plan.
Then, Iran tried again late Saturday to carry out the same attack, he said.
“We were able to thwart this attack with fighter jets,” he said, saying the Iranian attack was believed to be “very imminent.”
He said Israel’s chief of staff was meeting with senior officers and forces were on high alert near the Syrian frontier.
On Twitter, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the attack by Israeli warplanes a “major operational effort.”
“Iran has no immunity anywhere,” he said. “If someone rises up to kill you, kill him first.”
Israel has acknowledged carrying out hundreds of airstrikes in Syria in recent years, most of them aimed at arms shipments believed to be headed from Iran to its Shiite proxy Hezbollah.
Direct clashes between Israel and Iranian forces have been rare.
“This was a significant plan with significant capabilities that had been planned for a few months,” Conricus said.
“It was not something done on a low level, but rather top down from the Quds Force.”
Syrian state TV announced late Saturday that the country’s air defenses had responded to “hostile” targets over Damascus and shot down incoming missiles before they reached their targets.
State TV did not give further details about the Israeli attack.
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Israel considers Iran to be its greatest enemy and has repeatedly vowed that it will not allow Iran to establish a permanent military presence in Syria.
Iranian troops have been fighting in Syria in support of President Bashar Assad during the country’s eight-year civil war.
In recent days, US officials have said that Israeli strikes have also hit Iranian targets in Iraq.
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