Smoke rises after an air strike in Syria. Picture: REUTERS
Smoke rises after an air strike in Syria. Picture: REUTERS

Beirut/Jerusalem — The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Wednesday an Israeli attack on Iranian military facilities south of Damascus had killed 15 people, including eight Iranians.

The reports of an Israeli attack in Kisweh late on Tuesday emerged after US President Donald Trump announced he was pulling out of the Iranian nuclear deal.

The UK-based Observatory said the missile strikes hit depots and rocket launchers, killing 15 individuals including eight Iranians.

A commander in the regional alliance fighting alongside Damascus said that Israel had hit a Syrian army base without causing casualties.

Trump’s hard tack against the nuclear deal has stirred fears of a regional flare-up.

Within hours of the White House announcement on Tuesday night, Syrian state media said its air defences had brought down two Israeli missiles.

Golan Heights

Israel’s military declined to comment on the reports, shortly after it said it had identified "irregular activity" by Iranian forces in Syria and went on to high alert. The military had instructed authorities in the Golan Heights bordering Syria to ready bomb shelters and mobilised reservist forces.

Iran and its ally, Lebanon’s Hezbollah, have helped Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s military with critical support in the seven-year-old war, beating back rebels and Islamic State.

Tehran’s growing clout in Syria alarms arch foe Israel, which has struck what it describes as Iranian deployments or arms transfers to Hezbollah scores of times.

In April, an air strike on the T-4 air base near Syria’s Homs city killed seven Iranians. Tehran blamed Israel and vowed to retaliate.

Israeli-Iranian confrontation would probably remain limited after Washington abandoned the nuclear deal, but conflict between the two regional powers would flare on in Syria, experts said on Wednesday.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu flew to Russia to press its leader, Vladimir Putin, to rein in the Iranians along the Syrian front.

Ghaleb Kandil, a Lebanese political analyst with close ties to Hezbollah and Damascus, said he expected the two enemies to exchange "limited, calculated attacks" in Syria’s war as deterrents. "It’s clear that everyone realises the risks of a big confrontation … Iran does not want [this] confrontation, and Israel knows its consequences," Kandil said.

Experts expect flare-ups to persist. "Israel has military dominance and free hand to carry out those kinds of attacks" on targets inside Syria, said Gary Samore, who served as a deputy national security adviser to former US president George W Bush.