WASHINGTON/NEW YORK – Strikes by Iranian forces in Syria against Israeli military positions on the Golan Heights “bolster” President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the international nuclear accord with Tehran, a US official told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.
The Trump administration was rattled by the exchange of projectiles, in which Iranian forces fired 20 rockets at IDF assets, prompting an hours-long Israeli response – Operation House of Cards – that targeted 50 Iranian positions in Syria.
The Iranian attack was expected. Jerusalem had warned Israelis in the North to remain on high alert, opened bomb shelters on the Golan Heights and issued a limited call-up for IDF reservists after identifying “unusual movements” of Iranian forces in Syria over the previous 48 hours. But Trump administration officials nevertheless feared the situation might spiral out of control.
“The United States condemns the Iranian regime’s provocative rocket attacks from Syria against Israeli citizens, and we strongly support Israel’s right to act in self-defense,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said. “The Iranian regime’s deployment into Syria of offensive rocket and missile systems aimed at Israel is an unacceptable and highly dangerous development for the entire Middle East.”
“Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps bears full responsibility for the consequences of its reckless actions, and we call on the IRGC and its militant proxies, including Hezbollah, to take no further provocative steps,” she added. “The United States also calls on all nations to make clear that the Iranian regime’s actions pose a severe threat to international peace and stability.”
Israeli forces struck positions in Syria both before and after the Iranian attack, including radar and antiaircraft systems as well as airport facilities.
The US is calling on European and Arab partners to join in a “collective response” to Iran’s moves in the region, which began bearing fruit on Thursday as countries such as Germany and Bahrain issued statements defending Israel’s right to defend itself.
“As Secretary [of State] Pompeo said in Jerusalem last week, we stand with Israel in the fight against Iran’s malign activities and we strongly support Israel’s sovereign right to defend itself,” the US official said. “If true, this only bolsters our decision to terminate the JCPOA.”
The JCPOA is the acronym for the Iran nuclear deal, the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which Trump withdrew the US from on Tuesday.
“Iran will have showed the world its true intentions,” the official said. “Let there be no doubt.”
Sanders made a similar statement on Fox News on Thursday morning, saying the attack on the Golan Heights was “just further demonstration that the Iranian regime cannot be trusted.”
It was “another good reminder that the president made the right decision to get out of the Iran deal,” she said.
In a related matter, the US Treasury Department released new sanctions designations on Thursday, targeting individuals with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The listings are part of a Trump administration effort not only to reimpose all sanctions that had been lifted by the 2015 nuclear accord, but also to add new ones that apply maximum pressure on the Islamist government in Tehran.
Trump administration officials quoted by Agence France-Presse on Thursday said that, despite the US exit, Washington expects Tehran to maintain its commitments to the International Atomic Energy Agency and to continue allowing access for UN inspectors to its declared nuclear facilities.
Iran has said it will continue to abide by the nuclear deal if other parties to it – Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany – guarantee that the benefits that the Islamic Republic received from the deal will be fully upheld.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres issued a statement warning both sides to avoid any escalation.
ISRAELI AMBASSADOR to the UN Danny Danon responded with a fiery letter.
“Israel holds the government of Iran, together with the Syrian regime, directly responsible for this attack, and we will continue to defend our citizens vigorously against all acts of aggression,” he wrote. “Israel is not interested in escalation, but under no circumstances will we allow Iran to establish a military presence in Syria whose purpose is to attack Israel and to deteriorate an already fragile situation in the region.”
Israel and Iran have traded blows over Syria since February, when an attack drone equipped with explosives belonging to the Islamic Republic was shot down in Israel airspace.
On April 9, an air strike killed seven Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps members at a Syrian base just outside Homs. Tehran blamed Israel and vowed unspecified retaliation, drawing Israeli counterthreats to broaden attacks on Iranian military assets in Syria.
“This brazen attack on our sovereignty does not come in a vacuum,” Danon wrote. “We have cautioned repeatedly of Iran’s alarming entrenchment in Syria, and this act of aggression is regrettably a realization of these very warnings.”
“I call on the Security Council to immediately condemn this attack and demand that Iran remove its military presence from Syria that not only threatens Israel, but the stability of our entire region,” he wrote. “The international community must not stand idly by while a tyrannical regime attacks a sovereign nation and continues to threaten the very existence of a member-state of the United Nations.”