Israel and Iran on brink of full-scale war after unprecedented Syria bombardment in response to alleged Golan Heights attack

Bethan McKernan.

Posted on the Independent 10 May 2018.

Israel has launched its most intensive attack on Iranian positions in neighbouring Syria since the civil war began in 2011, bringing two of the region’s major powers closer to the brink of full-scale armed conflict than ever before.

The early morning bombardment killed 23 people, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said. It was issued in response to what the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) said was the first ever direct Iranian rocket attack on their troops, in the Golan Heights.

:: Latest updates amid calls for de-escalation as Israel and Iran lurch towards armed conflict 

The confrontation on Thursday marks the most significant military confrontation between the two enemies to date amid a backdrop of escalating regional tensions.

UK Prime Minister Theresa May and French President Emmanuel Macron have both called for “calm on all sides”. Mr Macron is due to discuss the issue with German Chancellor Angela Merkel later in the day.Israel attack Iran targets in Syria: overnight airstrike in picture

During the overnight incident civilians in both the Golan Heights and the Damascus countryside were kept awake by the sound of low-flying military jets and explosions.

Israel has been on heightened alert in recent days in anticipation of an Iranian attack: Tehran has vowed retaliation for two other recent Israeli strikes in Syria which targeted and killed at least 13 Iranian nationals.

The IDF said 20 Fajr or Grad missiles were fired by the Iranian Quds Force at its positions in the Golan Heights border area, several of which were intercepted by Israel’s missile defence systems. No Israelis were injured.

The blistering Israeli response targeted what officials said was almost all of Iran’s military infrastructure inside Syria, including dozens of weapons storage sites and intelligence centres used by elite Iranian forces, as well as Syrian air defence systems. The Syrian systems did not damage any Israeli planes.

“They need to remember the saying that if it rains on us, it’ll storm on them,” Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman told media on Thursday. “I hope we finished this chapter and everyone got the message,”

Sana, Syria’s state news agency, quoted a Syrian military official as saying Israeli missiles hit air defence positions, radar stations and a weapons warehouse, but claimed most incoming rockets were intercepted. It said the hostilities were triggered by Israeli fire over the border – something which has not happened in several years. SOHR also said it believed the incident began with a volley of fire on the Qunietra town of Baath.

Iranian officials offered no immediate comment on Israel’s claim about the missile fire. According to Syrian army command three people died and two were injured in the attack. It was not immediately clear whether the casualties were Iranian or Syrian.

Israel has largely managed to stay out of the complex seven-year-old conflict next door, although the Golan Heights is restive and authorities have retaliated to occasional stray rockets with reprisals.

Around 100 Israeli air strikes in Syrian territory in the last few years have aimed to prevent weapons smuggling to the Iran-allied Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, which also fights alongside Syrian President Bashar al Assad’s troops. Hezbollah, like Iran, is committed to the destruction of the Jewish state.

As Mr Assad has slowly regained control of the country, tensions between Iran and Israel have ratcheted up, with Israeli officials warning they will not accept a permanent Iranian military presence in Syria.

 

 

 

 

 

US President Donald Trump‘s announcement earlier this week that his country would unilaterally withdraw from the landmark 2015 nuclear deal agreed between Iran and world powers has also set the Middle East on edge.

While Iran has said Israeli aggression against its troops in Syria will not go unheeded, Tehran’s technical ability to hit back is limited.

Iranian officials are also wary of being drawn into a wider military escalation while they are trying to garner international support to save the nuclear agreement, which gave Iran sanctions relief in return for curbs on its nuclear programme.

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