Iran's Golan Heights attack a 'very serious' escalation - expert

In a dramatic escalation in Middle East tensions, Iranian forces have launched projectiles in their first-ever direct strike on Israeli forces in the occupied Golan Heights.

Waikato University international relations expert Alexander Gillespie warns this is "very serious", and Israel is likely to respond with vengeance.

On Thursday (NZ time) approximately 20 projectiles were fired at the Israeli targets. Mr Gillespie says this has major geopolitical implications.

"This is a direct action by Iran against the force of Israel," he told Newshub.

"The Middle East is already a tinder-box. This will make it much worse."

Tensions have been high since US President Donald Trump announced he was quitting the Iranian nuclear deal on Tuesday, prompting Israel to go on high alert.

The Israeli military claimed to have identified "irregular activity" by Iranian forces in Syria, and instructed civic authorities on the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights to ready bomb shelters. It also deployed new defences and mobilised some reservist forces.

On Tuesday Syrian state media had accused Israel of launching missiles at a target near Damascus, shortly after Mr Trump's announcement. Syrian air defences fired at two Israeli missiles, destroying both, Syrian state news agency SANA said.

Mr Gillespie says the attack is "probably a reply to Israel's actions in this area".

"This attack represents Iran showing its strength in Syria, and not being afraid of being identified as doing the attack," he told Newshub.

"Israel has been involved in the targeting of Iranian surrogates and/or weapon supply routes from Iran for some time."

And he warns it's likely to lead to further conflict as Israel retaliates "with a greater amount of force than has been expended against it".

"A direct war is not in Iran's interest - they do not have the military power to defeat Israel - but a series of indirect wars are in their interest," he says.

"Aside from an Israeli reply, as Iran shows its displeasure with the Trump decision, it is quite possible that disturbances will escalate in all of the other areas - the occupied territories, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen."

Newshub.