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Israel answers Iranian rockets with airstrikes, raising escalation fears

Long-simmering hostility flared to life overnight as Israel blasted Iranian fighters in Syria with their largest air strikes since the 1973 war. The Israeli military said the overnight operation was a response to rockets that they claim Iranian forces fired first. Special correspondent Jane Ferguson reports from Jerusalem.

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  • John Yang:

    Israel and Iran are staring each other down tonight across the expanse of Syria. Long-simmering hostility flared to life last night, as the Israelis blasted Iranian fighters in Syria with their largest airstrikes since the 1973 war.

    Israel say the Iranians started it with a rocket barrage.

    Special correspondent Jane Ferguson reports from Jerusalem.

  • Jane Ferguson:

    The bright dots and streaks in the sky, as shown in Syrian night-vision and television video, tell the story of an overnight Mideast confrontation. The pictures purportedly show Israeli airstrikes against Iranian military targets.

    Damascus also claims they show Syrian air defenses intercepting those Israeli missiles. A spokesman for the Israeli Defense Forces said today they struck dozens of Iranian targets, not just around Damascus, but throughout the southern part of Syria.

    The Israeli military said the overnight operation was a response to rockets that they say Iranian forces fired first at Israeli military positions in the Golan Heights. The Israelis said most of the Iranian rockets either missed their mark or were intercepted.

    Israel's defense minister, Avigdor Lieberman, lauded his country's operation and put Iran on notice.

  • Avigdor Lieberman (through translator):

    We, of course, struck almost all the Iranian infrastructure in Syria, and they need to remember this arrogance of theirs. If we get rain, they will get a flood. I hope that we ended this chapter and that everyone understood.

  • Jane Ferguson:

    In Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Iran crossed a red line, and he warned Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as well.

  • Benjamin Netanyahu (through translator):

    We are in a continuous campaign, and our policy is clear. We will not allow Iran to establish itself militarily in Syria. Yesterday, I delivered a clear message to Assad. Our action is directed against Iranian targets in Syria.

    But if the Syrian army acts against us, we will act against it. Whoever attacks us, we will attack them seven-fold, and whoever prepares to attack us, we will act against them first.

  • Jane Ferguson:

    A Syrian military spokesman, however, disputed that Israel's offensive was a success.

  • Man (through translator):

    Syrian anti-aircraft defenses earlier this morning destroyed the largest part of a successive wave of Israeli rockets fired at its army bases.

  • Jane Ferguson:

    In Washington, a White House statement left no doubt where the Trump administration stands. It condemned the Iranian rocket attack on the Golan Heights as provocative, and supported the Israeli attack as self-defense.

    Iran had vowed to respond to earlier Israeli military strikes on Syria, but it hadn't said when it would do so.

    Of course, what happened overnight came less than two days after the U.S. announced it was pulling out of Iran's nuclear agreement with world powers, a step welcomed here in Israel, amid hardening battle lines in the region.

    Other world powers spent today trying to lower tensions. French President Emmanuel Macron-

  • Emmanuel Macron (through translator):

    There is a risk of escalation and growing tensions. We must be very vigilant to avoid that.

  • Jane Ferguson:

    That was also the line from Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

  • Sergei Lavrov (through translator):

    As for escalation between Israel and Iran, we think it is a rather disturbing trend. We believe that all the problems should solved through a dialogue.

    And many times, in contacts with the leadership of Iran and Israel, we emphasized the need to avoid any actions which would be mutually, so to say, provoking.

  • Jane Ferguson:

    And there was even firmer language from the United Nations, which called for the two sides to stop.

  • Stéphane Dujarric:

    The secretary-general urges for an immediate halt to all hostile acts and any provocative actions to avoid a new conflagration in the region, already embroiled in terrible conflicts, with immense suffering for civilians.

  • Jane Ferguson:

    In the Golan today, there was little sign of conflict, but tensions remain high.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Jane Ferguson in Jerusalem.

  • John Yang:

    And we will have a discussion of what the Israeli-Iranian clashes could mean after the news summary.

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