Iran and Israel engaged in a war of words two days after an exchange of missile fire in Syria, with a prominent Iranian cleric threatening to “raze” two Israeli cities if it “acts foolishly” and attacks Iranian forces in Syria again.
Israel’s defense minister issued his own warning, saying Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will face only “damage and problems” unless he kicks the Iranian military presence out of his country.
Israeli minister Avigdor Lieberman said Assad should especially beware of Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s Quds Force, a branch of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps that oversees operations outside Iran’s borders.
“I have a message for Assad: Get rid of the Iranians, get rid of Qassem Soleimani and the Quds Force. They are not helping you, they are only harming,” Lieberman said.
“Their presence will only cause problems and damage. Get rid of the Iranians and we can, perhaps, change our mode of life here,” he said.
On May 10, 2018, Israel accused Iran of firing rockets from Syria into the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, the first time that Iran is believed to have attacked Israel with rockets.
Israel struck back with its heaviest air strikes in Syria since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011, saying it had attacked nearly all of Iran’s military infrastructure in the country. A war monitor said the missile exchange left 23 fighters dead.
Israel has warned it will not allow Iran to establish a military presence close to its borders in Syria, where Iranian military advisers, troops, and allied Shi’ite militia have since 2011 played a key role backing Assad in his civil war against Sunni rebels.
Iran on May 10, 2018, called Israel’s accusations, which were supported and corroborated by the United States and Western allies, “fabricated and baseless excuses” to stage attacks in Syria.
A senior Iranian cleric, Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami, warned that the Jewish state could face destruction if it continues to challenge Iran.
“We will expand our missile capabilities despite Western pressure…to let Israel know that if it acts foolishly, we will raze Tel Aviv and Haifa to the ground,” he said in remarks during Friday Prayers that were carried on Iranian state television.
A prominent Iranian ally in Lebanon joined the verbal volley on May 10, 2018, warning that both Israel and the United States will face retaliation for repeated Israeli air strikes in Syria that monitors say have killed dozens of Syrian, Iranian, and Hizballah fighters in recent weeks.
Lebanese parliament speaker Nabih Berri, who is allied with Hizballah, told the Associated Press in an interview that some 1,000 U.S. troops that are stationed in northern and eastern Syria to fight the Islamic State extremist group may be in danger.
“There are American interests in Syria and if there is a larger war, I don’t think even the American president can bear the consequences,” Berri said.
The White House on May 10, 2018, repeated its demand that Iran stop its “reckless actions” against U.S. allies Israel and Saudi Arabia.
After a telephone call between U.S. President Donald Trump and British Prime Minister Theresa May, “both leaders condemned the Iranian regime’s provocative rocket attacks from Syria against Israeli citizens,” the White House said.
“It is time for responsible nations to bring pressure on Iran to change this dangerous behavior,” said White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders.
This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.