The death toll from Israel’s latest bombardment of military targets in Syria rose from 11 to 21, a war monitor said on Tuesday, adding that most of those killed were Iranian.
The strikes carried out late Sunday and early Monday hit several positions and assets held by Iran and its government allies in Syria, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
An initial toll of 11 has now risen to 21, Rami Abdel Rahman, the head of the British-based observatory, told AFP.
“There are 15 foreigners among the dead, including 12 from the Iranian forces,” he said. “Six Syrians from the regime were also killed.”
Israel rarely comments on its operations in Syria, but in a break from the norm it said in a statement on Monday that it was “currently striking” the Iranian Quds Force in Syria and warned Syria’s military against “attempting to harm Israeli territory or forces”.
The military framed the raids as a response to a rocket that Israel’s air defence system intercepted over the occupied Golan Heights on Sunday. Shortly before the Golan rocket incident was announced on Sunday, Syrian state media accused Israel of conducting air strikes in the country.
Israel has warned it would continue to target positions in Syria held by Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah.
Israel has pledged to stop its main enemy Iran from entrenching itself militarily in neighbouring Syria.
It has carried out hundreds of air strikes there against what it says are Iranian military targets and advanced arms deliveries to Hezbollah.
Usually silent about its attacks on Iranian targets near its frontier, Israel has lifted the veil this month, a sign of confidence in a campaign waged amid occasional tensions with Syria’s big-power backer Russia.
Netanyahu and other Israeli officials have been speaking more openly about the Syrian strikes in recent days, with some analysts saying the premier seems to want to further burnish his security credentials ahead of 9 April elections.
Meanwhile, Israel announced on Tuesday that it had successfully carried out a test of the Arrow 3 anti-missile system.
“The success of this test is a major step with regards to operational capacities of the state of Israel, and its ability to defend itself against existing and future regional threats,” the Israeli Defence Ministry said in a statement.
The system, developed and financed in collaboration with the United States, is intended to intercept missiles above the atmosphere as far as 2,400 kilometres away, as the Israeli government has repeatedly identified Iran as its biggest threat in the region.