Israel has accused Iran of involvement in a rocket attack from Syria that set off a series of Israeli artillery and airstrikes in Syrian territory, including a strike Friday on a vehicle that killed those inside.
The allegations, which could not be independently verified, come amid an intense Israeli campaign against the recent deal reached between world powers and Iran to curb its nuclear program.
The Israeli military struck after it said four rockets were fired Thursday from Syrian territory, two landing in northern Israel and two others in the Israeli-held Golan Heights. The rockets caused no casualties or damage.
The army said the Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad fired the rockets, “under the supervision of Iran.” Islamic Jihad denied involvement, and a spokesman, Daoud Shihab, said the group operated only “inside occupied Palestine,” a reference to Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. There was no comment from Iran.
Israeli forces launched air and artillery strikes that targeted 14 Syrian army positions across the Golan Heights frontier on Thursday, the military said, adding that it held the Syrian government responsible for attacks from its territory.
The countries that are rushing to embrace Iran should know that it was an Iranian commander who directed and supported the cell that fired at Israel.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
On Friday, an Israeli warplane targeted a vehicle six to nine miles inside Syria, killing four or five people, the army said. An Israeli military official said the occupants were part of the cell that had fired the rockets, but Syrian state television said that five “unarmed civilians” were killed when a “civilian car” was targeted in the village of al Kom near the town of Quneitra.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group, said that the five were members of the National Defense Force, a pro-government militia, and that two Syrian soldiers had died in the earlier Israeli strikes.
Who died in Friday’s raid was uncertain. Israel said they were members of Islamic Jihad, Syria said they were civilians, and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights described them as members of a pro-Assad militia.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Iran of orchestrating Thursday’s rocket firing, the first from Syrian territory against Israel since the 1973 Middle East War.
“The countries that are rushing to embrace Iran should know that it was an Iranian commander who directed and supported the cell that fired at Israel,” Netanyahu said, referring to the six nations that reached the nuclear agreement with Iran.
In a diplomatic protest addressed to those powers, the Israeli Foreign Ministry said that it had “credible information” that the rocket attack was carried out by Islamic Jihad, “facilitated and directed by an Iranian operative, Saeed Izaadhi, who heads the Palestinian unit” in the Quds Force, the special forces unit of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.
“This is another clear and blatant demonstration of Iran’s continued and unabating support and involvement in terrorist attacks against Israel and in the region,” the Israeli statement said.
“The attack has also occurred before the ink on the . . . nuclear agreement has even dried and provided a clear indication of how Iran intends to continue to pursue its destabilizing actions and policies as the international sanctions regime is withdrawn in the near future,” the statement said.
Israel is lobbying hard in Congress against the agreement, arguing that it allows Iran to preserve its capacity to produce a nuclear bomb and continue to back militant groups in the region, while obtaining relief from crippling economic sanctions.
There was no backing for Israel’s claim, however, from the United States or the other countries that negotiated the agreement, which include France, Great Britain and Germany as well as Russia and China.
Meanwhile, President Barack Obama, who’s been pressing for Congress not to block the nuclear accord, received important backing from a New York congressman who’d earlier expressed concerns about the agreement in a letter to Obama.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., said in a statement that he was endorsing the agreement “as an American Jew who is both a Democrat and a strong supporter of Israel.”
Referring to the agreement by an acronym, Nadler wrote, “After carefully studying the agreement and the arguments and analyses from all sides, I have concluded that, of all the alternatives, approval of the JCPOA, for all its flaws, gives us the best chance of stopping Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.”
He said that he had become convinced that the agreement’s “inspections and verification provisions . . . are not based on trusting Iranian compliance.”
Nadler’s decision further bolsters the chances that there will be sufficient numbers of Democrats in the House of Representatives – and possibly the Senate – to block any effort by deal opponents to override President Barack Obama’s expected veto of a measure designed to kill the accord.
The so-called Resolution of Disapproval is expected to pass the Republican-controlled House and -Senate sometime next month following a 60-day congressional review. It would prohibit the United States from lifting nuclear-related sanctions imposed on Iran, thereby blocking U.S. fulfillment of a key commitment it made in the deal.
Nadler joined more than 150 other House Democrats who support the deal, more than the 146 votes that Obama needs to prevent his veto from being overridden by two-thirds of the lower chamber.
At least 26 Democratic senators have declared their support for the accord, with eight more needed to sustain Obama’s veto in the upper chamber. Two Democrats, Sens. Chuck Schumer of New York, and Robert Menendez of New Jersey, say they’ll oppose the deal.
Jonathan S. Landay in Washington contributed to this report.
Greenberg is a McClatchy special correspondent.