Israel claims responsibility for airstrikes near Damascus

Country says it foiled ‘large-scale attack'

By Andrew Carey, CNN
Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

(CNN) - The Israeli military Saturday said it foiled an imminent large-scale attack by Iranian forces and Shiite milita on targets in northern Israel, with a series of airstrikes carried out near the Syrian capital Damascus.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) claimed responsibility for the airstrikes, saying it was necessary to thwart multiple attacks by what it called killer, or kamikaze, drones, of a kind not previously used by Iranian forces against Israel.

Unlike more standard attack drones, which fire missiles towards their targets, the killer drone acts as its own missile by flying into the target itself.

When asked by CNN how immediate the IDF assessed the threat to be, IDF foreign press spokesman Jonathan Conricus described it as "imminent, as in real-time."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in acknowledging Israel's responsibility for the attacks, said on Twitter, "I repeat: Iran has no immunity anywhere. Our forces operate in every direction against Iranian aggression."

"He who rises to kill you, kill him first," Netanyahu said in his tweet, quoting Hebrew scripture.

The IDF issued its statement shortly after Syrian state-run news agency SANA said Syria's military intercepted "hostile targets" in the skies above Damascus.

The sounds of explosions were heard all around the Syrian capital, SANA said.

Residents in Damascus, who asked not to be identified for security reasons, told CNN the sounds of the blasts seemed to come from near the Damascus airport.

Syrian state news channel al Ikhbaria broadcast a breaking news banner stating: "The aggression is ongoing and anti-air defenses are countering and neutralizing hostile targets in the southern area."

Saturday's developments came after Netanyahu appeared to hint that Israel was responsible for a series of unexplained attacks on militia targets in Iraq in recent weeks.

During an interview on Israel's Channel 9 television Thursday, Netanyahu, who also acts as the country's defense minister, was asked whether Israeli forces "were acting in the whole region, including Iraq ... against the Iranian threat."

"We act in many arenas against a country which seeks to destroy us. Of course, I have given the security forces a free hand and the instruction to do what is needed to thwart these plans of Iran," Netanyahu said.

That apparent nod by Netanyahu appears to be backed up by the United States.

Two US officials told CNN the US government believes Israel was likely involved in a strike north of Baghad in July, and likely targeted milita groups that have a close relationship with Iran.

The US officials also said the United States was looking at several possible scenarios that could involve Iran or its proxies carrying out an attack in retaliation.

CNN's Hamdi Alkhshali, Eyad Kourdi and Oren Liebermann contributed to this report.

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