May 10, 2018 1:53 pm
Updated: May 10, 2018 8:53 pm

Iran, Israel conflict: Why the 2 nations are fighting in Syria’s backyard

WATCH ABOVE: Israel claims it has destroyed nearly all of Iran's military infrastructure in Syria. It's a response to what Israel says is Iran's first direct attack on Israeli army bases. As Jeff Semple reports, now fears of a war are looming in the Middle East.

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Israel has launched one of its heaviest barrages against Iranian targets in Syria since the 2011 civil war started. Thursday’s attack comes after Iranian forces in the country bombarded Israeli army bases with rockets.

READ MORE: Israel strikes ‘dozens’ of targets in Syria after Iranian rocket fire

As the conflict between the two countries escalates, Britain, France and Russia have called for de-escalation, fearing a potential war could break out in the Middle East.

Here’s what you need to know about the recent attacks.

WATCH: Iran targets Israel from Syria, Israel responds

What happened?

The attack on the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights in southwestern Syria marks the first time Iranian forces have hit Israel from Syria.

Iran fired 20 rockets at Israel Defense Forces positions in the Golan Heights on Wednesday night. Four of the rockets were intercepted by Israel’s military while the remaining rockets exploded on Syrian territory, the Israeli military said.

READ MORE: Iranian forces accused of firing 20 rockets out of Syria at Israeli front line military

In response to the attack, Isreal struck Iranian targets in Syria on Thursday.

Israel said the targets of the strikes included weapons storage, logistics sites and intelligence centres used by elite Iranian forces in Syria. It also said it destroyed several Syrian air-defence systems after coming under heavy fire and that none of its warplanes was hit.

WATCH: Tensions rise as Israel, Iran purportedly exchange rocket fire

Opposing sides have traded accusations over how the incident started.

Why are Iran and Israel fighting in Syria?

Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria during the 1967 Six-Day War and has occupied the territory that lies about 50 kilometres from the capital Damascus ever since. In 1981, Israel annexed the region in a move not recognized internationally.

In 1974, Israel and Syria reached a ceasefire and a disengagement deal that froze the conflict lines with the plateau in Israeli hands.

WATCH: Israel accuses Iranian forces of rocket attack

Why now?

Israel and Iran are bitter enemies. Iran has repeatedly called for an end to the existence of the Jewish state. And Israel considers Iran an existential threat and the biggest danger to the future of the country.

Since the start of the Syrian civil war, Iran has been expanding its military presence in the country by backing President Bashar al-Assad.

READ MORE: Syrian state media says Israel attacked just after U.S. quit Iran deal

Iran has sent thousands of troops to help Assad, and Israel fears that as the fighting nears an end, Iran and tens of thousands of Shiite militiamen will turn their focus to Israel.

Israel has acknowledged carrying out over 100 airstrikes in neighbouring Syria since the civil war erupted in 2011, most believed to be aimed at suspected Iranian weapons shipments bound for the Hezbollah militant group.

WATCH: Netanyahu ‘fully convinced’ U.S. would support Israel should Iran try to get involved in Syria

But in the past few weeks, Israel has shifted to a more direct and public confrontation with Iran, striking at Iranian bases, weapons depots and rocket launchers across Syria, and killing Iranian troops. Israel accuses Tehran of seeking to establish a foothold on its doorstep. Iran has vowed to retaliate.

As Tehran becomes stronger in Syria, Israel has intensified its strikes on Iranian targets there.

What will happen next?

Thursday’s attacks came after months of warnings from Israel that it would react strongly to Tehran entrenching itself militarily in neighbouring Syria.

They followed U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from a key 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. The strikes also come a day after alleged Israeli strikes on Syria that Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Right said killed 15 foreign pro-regime fighters, including eight Iranians.

WATCH: Israel’s Netanyahu says ‘Iran is threatening the entire world’

All eyes are on the volatile border area to see whether Iran will retaliate, either directly or through Hezbollah, its powerful Lebanese ally that is also fighting in Syria.

There were no notable military movements on Thursday along the border, but troops, Iranian forces and Hezbollah fighters in Syria were all on high alert, the Observatory said.

There has been no official comment from Iran, but Israel’s army has said it is not looking to escalate the incident any further.

WATCH: Trump withdraws U.S. from Iran nuclear deal

— With files from the Associated Press and AFP

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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