ANALYSIS: What's behind Iran's unprecedented strike on Syria

The attack showed that Israel has stopped Iran's ability to launch missiles and drones from Syria.

Yochanan Visser ,

military truck carrying a missile and a picture of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatoll
military truck carrying a missile and a picture of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatoll

After having accused Israel and the United States of orchestrating a terror attack on the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps and the Iranian army during a military parade in Ahvaz Iran on Monday made good on its promise of a “devastating response”.

The response, however, wasn’t directed at Israel or US forces in the Middle East but at the Islamic State terror group which earlier claimed responsibility for the attack.

Early Monday morning, the IRGC launched 6 ballistic missiles to attack one of Islamic State’s last strongholds in the Deir Ez-Zur province in eastern Syria, while it used 7 Saegheh ‘stealth’ drones in a follow-up attack at “terrorist positions and support infrastructure.”

The terror attack in Ahvaz, which occurred on Sept. 22, killed some 40 Iranian soldiers and IRGC members and wounded dozens of others, leading the IRGC to vow it would deliver a “crushing act of revenge” in the near future “both within the region and beyond it.”

At the same time, Iran accused Israel, the United States and the United Arab Emirates of backing the terrorists.

The unprecedented Iranian attack on the Islamic State hubs near the Syrian Iraqi border took place close to positions of US Special Forces in eastern Syria, but drew no response from the American military.

The Israeli air force apparently took into consideration that the 7 Saegheh drones could be used for an attack on the Jewish State and scrambled fighter jets which patrolled the skies in northern Israel shortly after the Iranian attack in Deir Ez-Zur.

On February 10th of this year, the IAF shot down the same type of drone in the area of the Galilee town of Beit Shean near the Jordanian Israeli border.

Iranian media later published photos of one of the Zolfaqar and Qiam missiles used in the attack - which have ranges of respectively 700-750 and 750-800 km – revealing that the IRGC had painted ‘death to Israel’, ‘death to America’ and ‘death to Saudi Arabia’ on the projectile.

Another slogan which appeared on the missile was “fight the followers of Satan” a quote taken from the Quran.

The missiles were reportedly launched from the Kermanshah base in Iran while the Saegheh attack drones most likely took off from and returned to the Shahid Karami base southeast of Kashan in the Islamic Republic.

The Saegheh drone is a smaller version of the Simorgh UAV which is a copy of the American RQ-170 Sentinel stealth surveillance UAV and has an estimated action-radius of 1,000 kilometers. In 2011, the Iranians managed to get their hands on a relatively undamaged RQ-170 Sentinel which crashed in the Islamic Republic while on a reconnaissance mission.

The drones had to fly approximately 980 km to reach their targets and managed to return to Iran.

The unprecedented Iranian attack on the Islamic State group teaches us two things about Iran's current military capabilities.

First, the Israeli air force has apparently eliminated Iran’s ability to carry out missile and drone strikes from Syrian territory, otherwise the Quds Force of the IRGC, which is tasked with exporting the Islamic Revolution and has a strong presence in Syria, would have carried out the missile and drone attacks.

Israel has carried out more than 200 airstrikes against Iranian targets in Syria over the past few years according to declassified information which was released by the IDF last month.

Secondly, the Iranian drones were able to fly over Iraq and to return to their bases safely, without being attacked by US warplanes.

This should worry the US military as the Iranians were very open about the message they wanted to deliver with the unusual strikes.

The attack “showed that we can target our enemies sitting far away from our geographical borders,” Mohammad Saleh Jokar, a deputy head of the IRGC was quoted a saying.

"The U.S., Israel and Saudi Arabia are the main sources of instability and chaos in Iraq and Syria,” Jokar continued, while adding that “the US seeks to prolong the life of the Zionist regime.”

Experts now say Iran is concerned that the United States will at some point decide to invade the Islamic Republic and is raising the costs of action for the US and its allies including Israel.

For this reason, Iran is working hard to improve its asymmetric warfare capabilities, such as modifying existing missiles and developing new attack drones and ballistic missiles.

To raise the cost of military action against the Quds Force in Syria, the Iranians are currently relocating some of their bases to areas where the Russian army has a strong presence or are inviting the Russians to share military facilities.

One of them is the so-called T-4 base which has been bombed by the Israeli air force several times.