Soldiers loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad forces in Damascus, Syria, on April 29, 2018. (Omar Sanadiki/Reuters)
BEIRUT — Suspected Israeli missile strikes hit two Iran-linked military bases in Syria, according to a monitoring group on Monday, sharpening regional tensions as rival forces wage shadow wars across the war-ravaged country.
Syrian state media reported major explosions through parts of Hama and Aleppo province late Sunday, but did not identify the targets. The blasts were strong enough to register on local seismic guages.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group, said Israel carried out the attacks, but gave no further details on its information. It said at least one of the attacks hit an arms depot for surface-to-surface missiles in northern Syria known as Brigade 47.
Israel does not usually comment publicly on its alleged strikes in Syria, but experts suggested that the reach of its attacks is extending.
Jonathan Spyer, a fellow with the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies, said that it appeared to be “common sense” that Israel was responsible for Sunday night’s strikes.
There was no clear details on casualties. But the Syrian monitoring group said at least 26 people had been killed, four of them Syrians. Other sources gave a sharply lower figures.
Hezbollah is among the key backers of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who also counts on support from Iran and Russia.
Seven years after Syria’s largely peaceful uprising morphed into a civil war, the country is now a staging ground for the proxy conflicts of global powers.
Israel has watched anxiously as Iran shored Assad’s rule with weapons and money, then committed troops of its own and built military infrastructure across the country.
Indications from President Trump that the United States may soon pull out of a landmark nuclear deal with Tehran are also reported to have intensified Israeli concerns.
The tensions have spilled over into a series of strikes on Iran-linked targets deep inside Syria, including one earlier this month that killed Iranian military personnel at an air base in the central province of Homs.
“It would appear that Israel is genuinely determined to prevent what Israel refers to as the consolidation and entrenchment of Iranian infrastructure in Syria,” said Spyer, “which means if Israel is genuinely determined to prevent this, that the chances for confrontation between Israel and Iran are quite significant because the Iranian determination to consolidate this infrastructure appears to be no less serious.”
Israeli media outlets reported Monday that an emergency meeting of the country’s security cabinet had been called. Ministers were told the discussion will focus on the Iran nuclear deal, the Haaretz newspaper reported.
Morris reported from Jerusalem. Suzan Haidamous in Beirut contributed to this report.