The Israeli air force struck in Syria to prevent an Iranian force from launching an attack on the Jewish state with drones armed with explosives, the army said Sunday.
While Israel operates regularly in Syria, it rarely acknowledges its actions so swiftly, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warning arch-foe Iran it had no immunity from his state's military.
In a briefing to reporters, military spokesman Jonathan Conricus said that late Saturday the Israeli air force "was able to thwart an Iranian attempt led by the Quds force from Syria to conduct an attack on Israeli targets in northern Israel using killer drones."
According to Conricus, the Israeli attack took place in Aqraba, southeast of Damascus, and targeted "a number of terror targets and military facilities belonging to the Quds force as well as Shiite militias."
The army had on Thursday prevented an earlier attempt to launch the drone attack, Conricus said, without providing further details.
"The threat was significant and these killer drones were capable of striking targets with significant capacity," he said.
A Syrian military source quoted by official Sana news agency said that "At 2330 (2030 GMT) anti-aircraft defences detected enemy targets from Golan heading towards the area around Damascus".
"The aggression was immediately confronted and so far the majority of the enemy Israeli missiles have been destroyed before reaching their targets," the source added.
- 'Iran has no immunity anywhere' -
An AFP correspondent in Damascus heard several large explosions before Sana announced the defensive action.
"The aggression is still going on and the air defence is able to counter the targets, dropping most of them" in the south of the country, the Sana agency said early Sunday.
Since the beginning of the war in Syria in 2011, Israel has conducted hundreds of strikes in Syria, most of them against what it says are Iranian and Hezbollah targets.
Hezbollah is a Lebanese Shiite group that supports Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, who is also backed by Tehran.
Hours after the strike in Syria, a Hezbollah official said one drone had come down and another had exploded in one of the group's strongholds in the Lebanese capital Beirut.
The official could not confirm if the drones were Israeli or if they had been shot down by Hezbollah.
Israel says it is determined to prevent its arch-foe Iran from entrenching itself militarily in Syria, where Tehran backs Assad's regime.
In a statement issued just minutes after the Israeli army announced its attack, Netanyahu hailed the military's "major operational effort" in thwarting the attack planned by "the Iranian Quds force and Shiite militias."
"Iran has no immunity anywhere," Netanyahu said. "Our forces operate in every sector against the Iranian aggression."
Military spokesman Conricus said Israel held both Iran and the Syrian regime responsible for the planned drone attack, noting that forces in northern Israel were on "elevated readiness to respond to any development".
He also noted that while Iranian forces had launched rockets and missiles at Israel from Syria three times during 2018, the use of "kamikaze" drones set to explode on their targets was a new and "different tactic".
The Jewish state insists that it has the right to continue to target positions held by Iran and its ally Hezbollah out of self-defence.