Israel says it strikes Iranian targets in Syria, Hizbollah says drones also target Beirut

Sara Elizabeth Williams
An exterior view of the building that houses the media office of Hizbollah after an alleged attack carried by two Israeli drones - REX

The prospect of an Israel-Hizbollah war loomed closer Sunday after Israel bombed Iranian forces in Syria and was accused of carrying out a botched drone strike in Lebanon. 

One Iranian and two fighters from Hizbollah, the Shiite Lebanese militia backed by Iran, were killed in the airstrike in Aqraba, south-east of Damascus late on Saturday night. 

An Israeli army spokesman said the strike targeted a “killer drone facility,” run by Iran's Quds force, which it believed was preparing to launch a drone strike on Israel. 

Hours later, residents in the southern suburbs of Beirut awoke to a loud blast as a drone exploded above a Hizbollah media centre in the Moawwad neighbourhood, just a few miles from Beirut's international airport.

In the aftermath of the explosion, bystanders said the sound of reconnaissance aircraft, presumed to be Israeli, could be heard overhead.

Hizbollah spokesman Mohamed Afif later said two drones came out of the sky in the early hours of Sunday morning.  

"The first drone fell without causing damage while the second one was laden with explosives and exploded causing huge damage to the media centre," he said. He said Hizbollah had recovered the unexploded drone and that the pieces were "undergoing analysis". 

No casualties were reported. 

Lebanese military intelligence officers inspect the site of the alleged Israeli drone attack in Beirut Credit: REX/NABIL MOUNZER

Saad Harirri, Lebanon’s prime minister called the incident a “clear violation” of Lebanese sovereignty and the UN resolution that ended the last Israel-Hizbollah war in 2006. 

"This new aggression... forms a threat to regional stability and an attempt to push the situation towards more tension," Saad Hariri, said in a statement. 

In Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed the Syria strike as a "major operational effort". 

"I reiterate: Iran has no immunity anywhere. Our forces operate in every sector against the Iranian aggression. 'If someone rises up to kill you, kill him first'," he tweeted, quoting the Talmud.

Israel's military has carried out multiple strikes against Iranian and Hizbollah linked targets in Syria, but has rarely officially admitted doing so in the past. 

It has neither confirmed nor denied any action in Lebanon.

The twin attacks in Damascus and Beirut take the two belligerents closer to what analysts and leaders in each camp have warned would be a devastating war.

Israel fears Hizbollah has become a more formidable opponent since it entered the Syrian conflict on the side of President Bashar al-Assad in 2012, which allowed its fighters to gain battlefield experience and build up a physical presence just east of the Golan. Israeli officials also claim Hezbollah has amassed a vast arsenal of rockets.

Hasan Nasrallah, the secretary-general of Hizbollah, is expected to respond in a televised speech Sunday evening marking two years since the Lebanese army expelled Islamic State fighters from the country.