Israel has warned that Iran’s Revolutionary Guard may be planning an air attack in retaliation for a suspected Israeli strike which killed seven Iranians at an airbase in Syria earlier this month.
Tensions between the two Middle East powers are running high as Israel struggles to stop Iran from gaining a permanent military foothold in Syria and using Syrian territory to pass sophisticated weaponry to the Lebanese militant group Hizbollah.
Days before Western airstrikes against the Syrian regime last week, Israel is believed to have carried out its own attack on the regime’s T4 airbase in central Syria on April 9.
Both Russia and the Syrian regime accused Israel of being behind the strike but the Israeli military has refused to confirm or deny its involvement, as is its practice with nearly all operations in Syria.
Iranian forces operate out of the T4 base and seven Iranian military advisors were killed in the attack. It is believed to be the largest ever loss of life by Iran’s military in an Israeli attack in Syria.
Senior Iranian officials have promised revenge for the T4 strike. Ali Akbar Velayati, a top advisor to Iran’s supreme leader, said the attack “will not remain without a response”.
Israel is on high alert for potential Iranian retaliation and on Tuesday officials said they believed it was most likely that the Revolutionary Guard’s air wing would try to launch an attack from Syria.
“Israel’s defence establishment understands that the Revolutionary Guard is most likely to be the designated unit that will try to wage an attack against Israel,” an official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
In an apparent warning to the Iranians, Israel released reconnaissance photographs showing what it said were two Iranian drone bases inside Syria. Another photograph showed what Israeli officials said was a wing of the Mehrabad International Airport in Tehran, allegedly dedicated to a fleet of Revolutionary Guard aircraft.
Israel’s security services are particularly concerned that an Iranian attack try to disrupt the 70th anniversary of Israel’s founding, which is being celebrated this week.
Hundreds of thousands of Israelis are expected to visit military cemeteries for Memorial Day on Wednesday before heading to public parks for barbecues on Thursday.
Israeli officials say they have noticed a recent change in Iranian behaviour. Whereas once Iran relied on proxy groups like Hizbollah to carry out actions against Israel, officials say Iran appears to be taking matters directly into its own hands from Syria.
“Rather than using proxies the Iranian seem to have decided to take the mission upon themselves directly,” said former brigadier general Yossi Kuperwasser, who was the director general of the ministry of strategic affairs until 2014.
They point to a February 14 incident where an alleged Iranian drone flew into Israeli airspace from Syria before being shot down by an Israeli helicopter. The Israeli military said this week that the drone was armed and intended to carry out an attack inside Israel.
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Iran has denied ownership of the drone, saying it belonged to the Syrian regime.