Archive for February 14, 2020

Israel’s security challenges amid escalating tensions – Jerusalem Studio 488

February 14, 2020



The IDF’s new plan: From ‘Waze of War’ to a general charged with countering Iran

February 14, 2020

Source: The IDF’s new plan: From ‘Waze of War’ to a general charged with countering Iran | The Times of Israel

Multiyear Momentum Plan is designed to create a deadlier, more integrated military, though lack of government makes money an issue

Illustrative. Israeli soldiers from the Lotar counter-terrorism unit take part in a training session in the Adam military base near Modiin on July 22, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Illustrative. Israeli soldiers from the Lotar counter-terrorism unit take part in a training session in the Adam military base near Modiin on July 22, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Israel Defense Forces this week began in earnest the rollout of its sweeping Momentum Plan, a multifaceted and multiyear effort to restructure and refocus the military for the types of threats it believes it will face in the near future.

Parts of the plan have already been implemented, but the main thrust of it will begin in the coming months and continue for the next five years. Defense Minister Naftali Bennett last month approved the main aspects of the plan, leaving only official confirmation by the security cabinet as its final hurdle.

Over the course of this past week, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi presented the main aspects of the Momentum Plan to the military’s top officers.

“The threats are not waiting for us [to be ready for them],” Kohavi told them. “We are in a singular place in which if we don’t step on the gas hard now, and literally increase the momentum, a gap will develop — not in a month, not in a year, but in the next few years. This will decide how we win.”

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi presents his Momentum Plan to the army’s top brass in February 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)

The plan, which calls for large-scale acquisitions of new missiles, drones, armored vehicles, air defense batteries, helicopters, and ships alongside the upgrading of existing equipment, will not come cheap, requiring a significant budget increase — which is made yet more difficult by the lack of a fully functioning government.

In the meantime, the IDF will fund the Momentum Plan through its current monthly budget allocation — calculated by taking the 2019 budget and dividing it into 12 equal installments — and the $3.8 billion given to the military by the United States annually as part of a 10-year memorandum of understanding signed by former US president Barack Obama. A NIS 2 billion ($583 million) defense budget increase has also been approved in theory, but has not yet been given to the military.

Until a new government is formed, the gap between the IDF’s current budget and what it needs to fully carry out the Momentum Plan likely will likely not be fully bridged.

Winning quickly

The guiding principle of the Momentum Plan, known in Hebrew as Tenufa, is to take full advantage of the areas in which the IDF has superiority over its enemies — air power, intelligence and technology — in order to ensure the Israeli military maintains a constant and significant edge over its foes, notably Iran and Hezbollah.

The military plans to use this superiority to win any future war as quickly as possible, with the understanding that the longer a conflict drags on, the more the result will look like a loss regardless of who is victorious on the battlefield.

To do so, the IDF believes it must significantly improve its ability to identify enemy targets and strike a many as possible as quickly as possible. The military has therefore created intelligence working groups that bring together representatives from different fields — human intelligence, signal intelligence, analysis — to work together to rapidly find such targets.

“What’s the plan based on? On the highly increased ability to discover the enemy, on the highly increased ability to destroy the enemy, on integration that allows us to be very, very effective,” Kohavi said this week.

“Carrying out the multiyear Momentum Plan will allow the IDF to significantly increase its capabilities. The plan will increase the lethality of the IDF… [it] will create conditions to shorten the duration of a war,” he said.

His plan will therefore also involve improving the quality and quantity of equipment and weaponry and making those capabilities available to a larger number of troops through better communication and accessibility.

A fully integrated battlefield as envisioned by the Israeli military as part of its Momentum Plan in February 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)

In the case of technological systems, this will mean literally getting all parts of the IDF speaking the same language.

By bringing all the military’s systems into the same network, infantry troops will have access to drone footage of the areas they’re about to enter, warning them of potential threats, while fighter jets in the sky can be alerted by soldiers on the ground to new targets for them to strike — or at least so the theory goes.

This will be embodied in a computer program that the military refers to as the “Waze of War,” a play on the name of the popular navigation app, which will allow commanders to easily see targets on a map as well as the various methods they could use to strike them — artillery, ground troops, fighter jets, drones, etc.

The plan will also require reorganizing parts of the military to better focus on the threats facing Israel. For instance, Kohavi proposes creating a position on the IDF General Staff that will focus solely on the fight against Iran, bringing together all the various components of that effort under one roof.

The IDF insists that it will press on with the aspects of the plan that are not constrained by budget, regardless of how the funding issues are resolved.

“The multiyear plan is not just a matter of money, not just about projects. It is foremost a calibration for us of our outlook, of our priorities, our organizational orientation, which all of us need to align with this compass,” he said.

“The challenges around us do not allow us to wait — and therefore, despite the complexities, the multiyear plan is underway,” Kohavi said, in a reference to the political instability in the country.

The Momentum Plan is a more expensive successor to the streamlining, cost-cutting Gideon Plan, which guided the IDF over the past five years and drew significant criticism throughout for its treatment — or neglect, in the view of its harshest detractors — of the IDF’s ground forces.

Kohavi’s proposal puts the military’s “maneuvering units” — namely infantry and tanks — at the forefront, while also significantly boosting funding for the Israeli Air Force.

Out with the old, in with the new

The Momentum Plan will see some major structural reorganization within the military.

In addition to the creation of a General Staff position focused on Iran — the details of which have yet to be fully determined — the IDF will be closing one entire armored brigade that operates outdated vehicles and taking out of service a number of aging tanks. Two air squadrons operating older planes will also be replaced with new ones flying more advanced aircraft, though it is not yet clear if these will be F-35s or upgraded F-15s.

An IDF Yasur helicopter, April 19, 2018. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)

In the coming years, the Air Force will also replace its fleet of 51-year-old Sikorsky CH-53 heavy transport helicopters with either Boeing’s CH-47 Chinook or Lockheed Martin’s CH-53K King Stallion. A final decision on which aircraft will be chosen has yet to be made.

The IAF Air Defense Command will also be restructured as a nationwide air defense system is deployed, replacing the current method of having the military’s various batteries scattered across the country and moved to areas where the IDF expects to see rocket fire. With the acquisition of additional batteries and improved interceptor missiles, their deployment will be largely fixed — though some may still need to be moved occasionally to provide better coverage — and their operation will be centralized in one place.

The IDF is considering creating a new tier of its air defense array — currently made up of the short-range Iron Dome, mid-range David’s Sling, and long-range Arrow systems — to confront the shorter range rockets and mortars that the Iron Dome currently struggles to defend against. It is not yet clear on what technology this system would be based, though the Defense Ministry recently boasted of a breakthrough in the development of anti-rocket lasers.

Defense Ministry and Rafael defense contractor test an upgraded version of the Iron Dome missile defense system in January 2020. (Defense Ministry)

The military will also create a new combat division, Division 99, which will contain the Kfir Brigade. To start, this unit will be under the command of IDF Ground Forces, but once it is fully formed and operational it will be moved to either the Northern, Southern or Central Command.

As Kohavi announced last month, the Kfir Brigade will be turned into a full “superior” infantry unit in a process that is expected to take at least three years. Until now, the brigade has focused solely on countering Palestinian terrorism, mostly in the West Bank but also in the Gaza Strip. This process, which will begin later this year, will put the Kfir Brigade on par with the military’s other infantry brigades, which are trained to fight on all fronts.

Soldiers from the IDF’s Kfir Brigade open fire on targets during a training exercise in the Jordan Valley on November 28, 2017. (Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel)

It is expected to start this summer with exercises to prepare them for fighting on Israel’s northern front. In order to fully convert the unit into a “superior” infantry brigade, Kfir will also need to be outfitted with and trained to use anti-tank guided missiles, and it will also require hundreds more soldiers — an enlistment process that is expected to take at least two years.

Eventually, the brigade will need armored personnel carriers, and the military was considering what type and how quickly to acquire them.

Within the Ground Forces — which is responsible for developing combat techniques and training soldiers, not for commanding them in wartime — the IDF will create a new experimental unit known as the “Attack Brigade,” which will incorporate both ground troops and the air force in order to facilitate better-integrated fighting tactics that make use of both ground and aerial assets.

Under the plan, the Ground Forces will also make urban combat training a higher priority for soldiers, as the enemy forces the IDF now expects to fight are generally terror groups operating from within highly populated areas, rather than the standing national militaries of the past.

The Momentum Plan does not deal extensively with the Israeli Navy. One aspect of that branch that is affected, however, is the acquisition over the next three years of four new Sa’ar-6 missile ships, which will be tasked with defending the State of Israel’s nascent natural gas extraction platforms.


US Navy nabs Iranian missile shipment to Houthis in Arabian Sea 

February 14, 2020

Source: US Navy nabs Iranian missile shipment to Houthis in Arabian Sea | The Times of Israel

US military says 150 anti-tank guided missiles and three surface-to-air weapons found on small vessel headed to Yemen

The United States military said Thursday it had seized an Iranian weapons shipment on a small sailing vessel in the Arabian Sea that was bound for Houthi rebels in Yemen.

The weapons showed signs of Iranian “design and manufacture,” according to a Reuters report.

They included 150 anti-tank guided missiles as well as three surface-to-air missiles.

According to the US Navy, sailors from the USS Normandy, a missile cruiser, boarded a dhow bound for Yemen in the Arabian Sea and discovered “150 ‘Dehlavieh’ anti-tank guided missiles (ATGM), which are Iranian-manufactured copies of Russian Kornet ATGMs.

The US Navy guided-missile cruiser USS Normandy (CG-60) underway in the Atlantic Ocean on February 16, 2018 as part of the Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group (HSTCSG) while conducting its composite training unit exercise (COMPTUEX). (Wikipedia/US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Scott Swofford/public domain)

“Other weapons components seized aboard the dhow were of Iranian design and manufacture and included three Iranian surface-to-air missiles,” the statement said.

The weapons were “identical” to those seized in a similar operation last November by the USS Forrest Sherman.

The Houthi rebels in Yemen have maintained close ties to Iran, which has provided them with weapons, training and financial support.

The US has consistently accused Iran of illegally smuggling arms to the Houthis, and has seized numerous weapons shipments in transit in recent months.

Iranian weapons smuggling into Yemen violates two UN Security Council resolutions, one that prohibits Iran from shipping weapons outside its border, and another that prohibits supplying weapons to the Houthis amid Yemen’s prolonged and bloody civil war.


US Senate votes to restrain Trump’s military powers against Iran

February 14, 2020

Source: US Senate votes to restrain Trump’s military powers against Iran | The Times of Israel

Democratic sponsor of measure, which picks up support of 8 Republicans, says it is aimed at reasserting Congress’ authority to declare war; House can take up bill later this month

US President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno in the Oval Office of the White House, February 12, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

US President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno in the Oval Office of the White House, February 12, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate approved a bipartisan measure Thursday limiting US President Donald Trump’s authority to launch military operations against Iran.

The measure, authored by Democratic Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia, says Trump must win approval from Congress before engaging in further military action against Iran. Eight Republicans joined with Democrats to pass the resolution by a 55-45 vote.

Kaine and other supporters said the resolution was not about Trump or even the presidency, but instead was an important reassertion of congressional power to declare war.

While Trump and other presidents “must always have the ability to defend the United States from imminent attack, the executive power to initiate war stops there,” Kaine said. “An offensive war requires a congressional debate and vote.”

The Democratic-controlled House passed a separate, nonbinding war powers resolution last month. The House could take up the Senate resolution later this month, said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer.

Two-thirds votes in the House and GOP-run Senate would be needed to override an expected Trump veto.

Democratic Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia, joined at left by Republican Senator Mike Lee of Utah, meets with reporters just after the Senate advanced a resolution asserting that US President Donald Trump must seek approval from Congress before engaging in further military action against Iran, at the Capitol in Washington, February 12, 2020. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Answering a claim by some of Trump’s supporters and Trump himself that the measure would send a signal of weakness to Iran and other potential adversaries, Kaine said the opposite was true.

“When we stand up for the rule of law — in a world that hungers for more rule of law — and say ‘this decision is fundamental, and we have rules that we are going to follow so we can make a good decision,’ that’s a message of strength,” Kaine said.

Republican Senator Mike Lee of Utah agreed. Lee supports Trump’s foreign policy, including toward Iran, but said Congress cannot escape its constitutional responsibility to act on matters of war and peace.

“What the American people and the entire world will see from the debate we’re about to have in the Senate is that there is abundant support for the United States taking tough positions with regard to Iran,” Lee said Wednesday. “And as part of that we want to make sure that any military action that needs to be authorized is in fact properly authorized by Congress. That doesn’t show weakness. That shows strength.”

The principle of congressional approval is established for an important reason, Kaine said. “If we’re to order our young men and women… to risk their lives in war, it should be on the basis of careful deliberation by the people’s elected legislature and not on the say-so of any one person.”

Trump disputed that, arguing in two tweets Wednesday that a vote against Kaine’s proposal was important to national security and pointed to the January 3 drone strike that killed Iran’s top general, Qassem Soleimani.

“We are doing very well with Iran and this is not the time to show weakness. Americans overwhelmingly support our attack on terrorist Soleimani,” Trump said. “If my hands were tied, Iran would have a field day. Sends a very bad signal. The Democrats are only doing this as an attempt to embarrass the Republican Party. Don’t let it happen!”

Tehran responded to the US attack on Soleimani by launching missiles at two military bases in Iraq that house American troops. The attack caused traumatic brain injuries in at least 64 US soldiers, the Pentagon said.

US soldiers stand at a site of Iranian bombing at Ain al-Asad air base in Anbar, Iraq on January 13, 2020. (AP Photo/Qassim Abdul-Zahra)

Democrats and Republicans alike criticized a briefing by the Trump administration shortly after the drone strike, saying US officials offered vague information about a possible attack being planned by Iran but no substantial details.

Kaine has long pushed for action reasserting congressional power to declare war. At Republicans’ request, he removed initial language that targeted Trump in favor of a generalized statement declaring that Congress has the sole power to declare war. The resolution also directs Trump to terminate use of military force against Iran or any part of its government without approval from Congress.

Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine, a co-sponsor, called the resolution “much needed and long overdue.” She said that over the past decade, “Congress has too often abdicated its constitutional responsibility on authorizing the sustained use of military force.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and many other Republicans opposed the resolution, saying it would send the wrong message to US allies.


Iran Guards commander threatens to hit Israel, US if ‘slightest error’ made

February 14, 2020

Source: Iran Guards commander threatens to hit Israel, US if ‘slightest error’ made | The Times of Israel

Threat comes in response to Times of Israel report Defense Minister Bennett said US agreed to counter Iran in Iraq, while Israel fights it in Syria

Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander Maj. Gen. Hossein Salami speaks at Tehran's Islamic Revolution and Holy Defense museum, during the unveiling of an exhibition of what Iran says are US and other drones captured in its territory, on September 21, 2019. (Atta Kenare/AFP)

Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander Maj. Gen. Hossein Salami speaks at Tehran’s Islamic Revolution and Holy Defense museum, during the unveiling of an exhibition of what Iran says are US and other drones captured in its territory, on September 21, 2019. (Atta Kenare/AFP)

The commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps on Thursday threatened to target both Israel and the United States if they make an “error.”

Iranian Major General Hossein Salami, who made the comment in a speech broadcast live on state TV, was responding to a report by The Times of Israel on recent remarks by Defense Minister Naftali Bennett.

Bennett said at a campaign event at a synagogue on Saturday that Jerusalem and Washington have agreed Israel will be in charge of countering Iranian influence in Syria, while the US will do so in Iraq.

Salami said that in light of that remark, Iran will view both countries as responsible in case of military action against it.

“If you make the slightest error, we will hit both of you,” he said, according to Reuters.

He also warned Israel not to rely on the United States, Iran’s Press TV reported.

“You should [instead] definitely look to the sea because that is going to be your eventual residing place,” he was quoted as saying.

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett attends the campaign launch of his right-wing Yamina party on February 12, 2020 (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Salami was speaking at a ceremony to mark 40 days since the death of IRGC Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani, who was killed alongside Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis on January 3 by a US airstrike in Baghdad.

Earlier Thursday, a spokesman for the IRGC warned the US that the killing of Soleimani will lead to the “liberation” of Jerusalem.

“The cowardly and craven assassination of commander Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis by the Americans will lead to the liberation of Jerusalem by the grace of God,” Brig. Gen. Ramazan Sharif was quoted as saying by the Tasnim news agency.

Sharif said Soleimani’s mission was to support armed opposition to Israel.

“His martyrdom, too, was also a help to that cause,” Sharif said, according to the Mehr news agency.

Senior Revolutionary Guard commander Gen. Qassem Soleimani, center, attends a meeting with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (not seen) and Revolutionary Guard commanders in Tehran, Iran, September 18, 2016 photo. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

Iran has repeatedly threatened Israel over Soleimani’s killing in recent weeks.

Over the weekend, former IRGC head Mohsen Rezaei told Lebanon’s Hezbollah-affiliated al-Mayadeen TV station that Iran is just looking for an excuse to attack Israel and “raze Tel Aviv to the ground.”

“If they [the US] do something, we can use it as a pretext to attack Israel, because Israel played a role in the martyrdom of General Soleimani,” he said, blaming Israel for tipping off the Americans to Soleimani’s location.

Mohsen Rezaei (MEMRI screenshot)

Rezaei, the secretary of Iran’s powerful Expediency Council, is considered a top politician and an adviser to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

In January, he threatened that Iran would destroy Haifa and “Israeli military centers” in revenge for Soleimani’s killing.

Following an Iranian missile attack on a US base in Iraq and repeated Iranian threats, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Tehran against attacking Israel.

“We’re standing steadfast against those who seek our lives. We’re standing with determination and with force. Whoever tries to attack us will receive a crushing blow in return,” he declared last month at a conference in Jerusalem.


UAE reportedly held talks with Iran behind Washington’s back in September 

February 14, 2020

Source: UAE reportedly held talks with Iran behind Washington’s back in September | The Times of Israel

Secret meeting was part of Emirati effort to cool regional tensions amid escalating Middle East violence, alarmed American officials, according to NY Times report

Mourners attend a funeral ceremony for Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani and his comrades, who were killed in Iraq in a U.S. drone strike on Friday, at the Enqelab-e-Eslami (Islamic Revolution) square. in Tehran, Iran, Jan. 6, 2020. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

Emirati and Iranian officials held secret talks in the UAE capital of Abu Dhabi in September in an effort to cool Middle East tensions amid escalating violence between Tehran and Washington, according to a Thursday report.

The meeting in the UAE, a key US ally, was held behind Washington’s back, and alarmed the White House and American security officials when their intelligence agencies found out about it, The New York Times reported.

The US National Security Council convened a meeting following the revelation, worrying that Washington’s regional effort to oppose Iran could be falling apart.

The UAE is a firm ally to the US in the region, and had encouraged Washington to take an assertive stance against Tehran.

The secret meeting came amid the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign of financial measures aimed at curbing Iranian aggression and nuclear ambitions. Instead of bowing to the pressure, Iran launched attacks in several countries on oil installations, fuel tankers, and US forces.

Iran sought to use the attacks to harm international oil trade, and increase prices for the US, in response to the American sanctions.

Iran also wanted to punish supporters of the US policies, and believed that US President Donald Trump had no interest in furthering American military involvement in the Middle East.

Tehran also stepped up cyber attacks against the US and its Middle Eastern allies in response to the oil sanctions, the report said.

A picture obtained by AFP from Iranian News Agency ISNA on June 13, 2019, shows fire and smoke billowing from a tanker said to have been attacked in the waters of the Gulf of Oman, near the Strait of Hormuz. (ISNA/AFP)

The Iranian military response ran in tandem to a diplomatic offensive by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, and was headed by general Qassem Soleimani.

Zarif and Soleimani met weekly to coordinate their efforts, and met before and after Zarif visited foreign countries, Zarif said in a recent interview.

The meeting in Abu Dhabi appeared to be a setback for a vision of the region pushed by the Trump administration, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, of a unified front against Iran consisting of the US, Israel and some Sunni-majority countries.

Iranian officials, including Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri, in August weighed entering talks with the US in exchange for sanctions relief, although its military continued its campaign with strikes on oil facilities in Saudi Arabia in September, the report said.

Trump refrained from taking direct military action following the attack, instead sending US troops to Saudi Arabia.

In this photo taken on a trip organized by the Saudi information ministry, a man stands in front of the Khurais oil field in Khurais, Saudi Arabia, September 20, 2019, after it was hit in a September 14 missile and drone attack blamed on Iran. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

Washington’s inaction prompted doubt about its commitment in its Middle East allies, including the Emiratis, especially after Trump’s firing in September of National Security Adviser John Bolton, who long advocated for a tough stance against Iran.

The UAE concluded that it could step in to lessen tensions in the region with the talks. Saudi Arabia also weighed negotiating with Iran through intermediaries in Iraq or Pakistan, with Soleimani reportedly acting to facilitate talks with both countries.

On a trip to Israel in October, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held a briefing with Mossad chief Yossi Cohen, who told Pompeo that Iran was moving toward its goal of breaking apart the US-led front.

The gradual escalation, with both sides expecting the other to step back, led to the shocking US killing of Soleimani on January 3, and Iran’s direct attacks on bases housing US troops in Iraq, a measure Tehran had previously avoided.

The attack caused traumatic brain injuries in 109 US soldiers, the Pentagon said.

Both US and Israeli intelligence believe that Iran will remain on course rather than entering talks, despite the sanctions and killing of Soleimani, the report said.

On Thursday, Trump’s ability to hit Iran was curtailed by a bipartisan Senate measure that says Trump must win approval from Congress before engaging in further military action against Iran. Eight Republicans joined with Democrats to pass the resolution by a 55-45 vote.

The Democratic-controlled House passed a separate, nonbinding war powers resolution last month.


4 Iranians, 3 Syrians said killed in Damascus strikes; PM: Maybe Belgium did it

February 14, 2020

Source: 4 Iranians, 3 Syrians said killed in Damascus strikes; PM: Maybe Belgium did it | The Times of Israel

Late night attack reportedly hits weapons sent from Tehran, Syria accuses Israel of conducting raid; Netanyahu: ‘Perhaps it was the Belgian air force’

A Syrian anti-aircraft missiles shoots across the sky near Damascus during an attack on a target near the capital on February 13, 2020. (Screen capture: social media)

A Syrian anti-aircraft missiles shoots across the sky near Damascus during an attack on a target near the capital on February 13, 2020. (Screen capture: social media)

Four members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and three Syrian soldiers were killed in airstrikes around Damascus late Thursday night which Syria attributed to Israel, according to a Britain-based Syrian civil war monitor.

At approximately 11:45 p.m., incoming missiles struck five weapons depots near Damascus International Airport, including an attack on a military position south of the Syrian capital, the al-Arabiya news channel reported, citing unidentified sources.

The attack came hours after a shipment — reportedly of munitions — arrived at the airport from Tehran, according to flight data.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor reported that in total seven people were killed in the strikes, four of them from the IRGC and three from the Syrian military.

Gerjon | חריון@Gerjon_

After a quick stop (landing after 16:13, taking off before 17:39 UTC – Less than 1.5 hours!) Iranian IRGC-linked EP-FAB is already on the way back out, now .

Because night time, that’s when the air strikes happen.

View image on Twitter

Both Syria and the Observatory said Israel was behind the strike. The Israeli military did not comment on the matter, in accordance with its long-standing policy of neither confirming nor denying such operations abroad.

Asked about Israel’s alleged involvement in a Friday morning interview to Radio Haifa, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: “I don’t comment on one operation or another.

“I don’t know what happened at night. Maybe it was the Belgian air force,” he quipped.

Videos posted to social media by residents of the area showed explosions in mid-air lighting up the night, apparently as Syrian anti-aircraft missiles burst in the sky.

The Syrian state media outlet SANA said that the country’s air defenses intercepted many of the incoming missiles, an oft-heard Syrian claim that most defense analysts dismiss as false, empty boasts.

Earlier on Thursday, the commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps threatened to target both Israel and the United States if they “make the slightest error.”

The late night strikes came just over a week after a series of strikes on several targets near Damascus in the predawn hours of last Thursday morning, which reportedly killed 23 pro-Iranian fighters.

The Israel Defense Forces did not acknowledge carrying out the strikes, but Syrian state media blamed Israel, and over the weekend Defense Minister Naftali Bennett seemingly took credit for it, saying Israel had carried out an attack against Iran in the past week and noting: “Foreign media reported this week that 23 Syrians and Iranians were killed there. Those are large numbers and we will do more and more.”

Israel has long maintained that it will not tolerate efforts by Iran — a close 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.

An Israeli military position, right, is seen on the top of Mount Hermon in the Golan Heights, where the borders between Israel, Syria and Lebanon meet. April 9, 2019. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

Though Israeli officials generally refrain from taking responsibility for specific strikes in Syria, they 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 directed 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.