Syria: Israel and Iran have been urged to step back from the brink after their most serious direct confrontation, with Israeli missiles being fired over war-torn Syria in a “wide-scale” retaliatory attack many fear could drag the foes into a spiralling war.
Hostilities erupted after Donald Trump’s announcement on Tuesday that the US was pulling out of the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement, a move that infuriated Tehran and raised tensions across the Middle East.
Already roiling from civil wars in Syria and Yemen, in recent months the region has seen Israel and Iran increasingly warn of an impending conflict.
Both the UN secretary general Antonio Guterres and the EU’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini appealed for restraint.
“The Secretary-General urges for an immediate halt to all hostile acts and any provocative actions to avoid a new conflagration in the region already embroiled in terrible conflicts with immense suffering of civilians,” a spokesman for Guterres said.
In a phone call to Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Theresa May condemned the Iranian rocket attacks, but called for “calm on all sides.”
On Thursday, Israel claimed it hit nearly all key Iranian military targets in Syria during strikes launched in response to a rocket attack on its troops in the occupied Golan Heights it blamed on Iran.
The alleged Iranian barrage just after midnight, which Israel said failed to hit its targets, and the latter’s extensive response appeared to be the most significant encounter between the enemies.
It would be the first time, if confirmed, that Iran has fired rockets directly at Israeli forces in a conflict that for years has been fought through proxies, such as the Lebanese group Hezbollah.
Israel’s response was the biggest strike in Syria since the 1973 Yom Kippur war. The confrontation follows a months-long shadow war campaign during which Israel has been accused of repeated air assaults in Syria, the latest of which was reported on Tuesday night.
The Israeli military said it had hit the logistics headquarters of the Iranian Quds forces and military compounds south, north and east of Damascus, including a munition warehouse at the capital’s international airport.
Observation and military posts near the occupied Golan Heights were also hit, while Syrian air defence engaged its anti-air batteries to intercept Israeli missiles.
The Israeli defence minister, Avigdor Lieberman, told a security conference: “We hit nearly all the Iranian infrastructure in Syria … They need to remember the saying that if it rains on us, it’ll storm on them. I hope we’ve finished this episode and everyone understood.
“We don’t want an escalation, but won’t let anyone attack us or build an infrastructure to attack us in the future.” Hesaid Iran had also been attempting to bring anti-aircraft systems close to the Israeli border.
The occupied Golan Heights has been on high alert since Trump announced he would withdraw from the Iran deal.