Israel hits Iranian targets in Syria

Shadow war bursts into open

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JERUSALEM — The tense shadow war between Iran and Israel burst into the open early Thursday as Israeli warplanes struck dozens of Iranian military targets inside Syria.

It was a furious response to what Israel called an Iranian rocket attack launched from Syrian territory just hours earlier.

The cross-border exchanges — the most serious assaults from each side in their face-off over Iran's presence in Syria — took place a little more than a day after the United States withdrew from the Iran nuclear agreement.

Israel's defense minister said that Israeli warplanes had destroyed "nearly all" of Iran's military infrastructure in Syria after Iran launched 20 rockets at Israeli-held territory, none reaching their targets.

Iran struck shortly after President Donald Trump pulled out of the nuclear agreement, raising speculation that it no longer felt constrained by the possibility that the Americans might scrap the deal if Iran attacked Israel.

Israel appeared newly emboldened as well, partly because of what seemed like extraordinary latitude from Russia, Syria's most important ally, allowing the Israelis to act against Iran's military assets in Syria.

Moscow did not condemn Israel's strikes, as it had in the past, instead calling on Israel and Iran to resolve their differences diplomatically.

And Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, who spent 10 hours with President Vladimir Putin of Russia on Wednesday, told his Cabinet on Thursday that he had persuaded the Russians to delay the sale of advanced weapons to Syria.

Russia and Iran have been allies in the Syrian war, defending President Bashar Assad.

But as the war appears to be winding down, some analysts say the aims of Russia and Iran are diverging: Moscow prefers a strong secular central government in Syria, while Tehran prefers a weaker government that would allow Iran-backed militias free rein.

Israel has conducted scores of strikes on Iran and its allies inside Syria, rarely acknowledging them publicly. But before Thursday, Iran had not retaliated, seemingly handcuffed while it awaited Trump's decision on the nuclear accord.

Even so, the Iranians have plenty to lose if the conflict continues to grow. They still seem determined to preserve the nuclear accord despite renewed U.S.

sanctions.

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