In response to Tuesday’s attack against an army patrol in the Golan Heights, Israel Air Force targets Syrian military positions

Israeli soldiers target SyriaIsraeli soldiers target Syria

BY YOSSI LEMPKOWICZ

The Israeli army (IDF) confirmed Wednesday that its Air Force targeted several Syrian army positions “that aided and abetted the attack against IDF soldiers Tuesday.”

According to the IDF, the targets included a Syrian army training facility, military headquarters, and artillery batteries.

Four Israeli soldiers were injured Tuesday when an explosive device detonated under their patrol jeep on the Israeli side of the border with Syria on the Golan Heights, close to Majdal Shams. The soldiers were outside their vehicle when the blast occurred, and three, including the deputy battalion commander, sustained light to moderate wounds, with the fourth sustaining serious injuries.

Shortly following the incident, the IDF retaliated with artillery fire towards Syrian military positions.

“The attack against IDF troops yesterday is an unacceptable escalation of violence from Syria,” the IDF Spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner, said.

“We will not tolerate this threat against Israeli civilians or troops, and we will fulfill our mission: to prevent, protect and defend against hostilities from Syria.”

Tuesday’s explosion was the latest in a series of similar even tsthal have occurred on Israel’s northern border.

This is the fourth attack across the border in the last month. Another roadside bomb targeted an IDF patrol in the Mount Dov region on Friday, whilst the Israeli army thwarted a previous attempt to plant explosives near the border fence two weeks ago. In addition, two rockets fired from Syria hit Israel’s Mount Hermon at the beginning

Israel’s Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said, “We hold the Assad regime responsible for what happens in its territory and if it continues to collaborate with terrorists striving to hurt Israel then we will keep on exacting a heavy price from it and make it regret its actions.”

Hezbollah, which fights alongside Assad’s troops, is suspected of having been responsible for Tuesday’s attack and the attempted explosion several weeks ago.

If so, it would mark the first time that Hezbollah has used Syria as a staging ground for attacking Israel. Last month, Hezbollah threatened that it would “choose the time and place” to hit Israel, in retaliation for a reported Israeli air strike against one of its positions, which is thought to have prevented the transfer of sophisticated weaponry from Syria.

However, it has also been suggested that Islamist forces fighting against Assad might have carried out Tuesday’s attack against the Israeli patrol.

What’s Israel’s position on the internal conflict in Syria?

Since the start of the conflict in Syria, Israel has repeatedly stated that it intends to stay out of it. Defense Ministry official said recently that Israel has very limited capacity to influence the outcome of fighting inside Syria and has set a policy of only intervening when its national security interests are immediately threatened.

Wounded Syrians have been treated in Israeli hospitals but Israeli authorities have kept a low profile. “We are not in a position to influence what’s happening there and we have no preference,” the official said.

Of primary concern to Israel is the fate of Syrian President Assad’s arsenal of strategic weapons that under the control of jihadists in Syria or Hezbollah in Lebanon could be deployed against Israel, in addition to the possible supply of advanced anti-aircraft missiles from Russia, and the stability of the Golan Heights. “We will not tolerate attempts to deliver sophisticated arms systems to terrorist organizations,” the Defense official said.

Israel has a limited set of policy options to affect the outcome of the Syrian internal conflict which is seen in Jerusalem as a “big mess” with an opposition to Assad very fragmented and not strong enough to defeat the Syrian President.

Widespread anti-Israel sentiment in the region has made the shrewdest step for Israel to keep as low as possible a public profile, so as to avoid open hostility with Assad’s forces or adversely impacting the opposition’s standing.

Israel’s public silence, however, should not be mistaken for tacit support of the Assad regime, which is a key ally of both Hezbollah and Iran and until recently hosted Hamas external leadership.

At the same time, the prospect of Jihadist opposition groups establishing themselves in the Golan Heights, from where they could threaten Israel, is also of concern to Israel.

Israel has defined clear red lines including: the transfer of strategic weaponry to Hezbollah or other jihadist groups; the breaching of Israel’s border on the Golan; and the transfer of Russian made S-300 surface-to-air missiles to the Assad regime.

On the question of whether or not to arm the rebels, there is no formal Israeli position. Though some in Israeli policy circles favor Western efforts to arm more moderate elements of the opposition, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly urged caution in a recent meeting with British Prime Minister David Cameron, to avoid weapons falling into the wrong hands.

What are Israel’s concerns in Syria?

Whilst the international community is focused on Syria’s chemical weapon stockpile, Israel is no less focused on the regime’s arsenal of other strategic weapons – including sophisticated ground-to-ground, ground-to-air and ground-to-sea missiles, which under the control of jihadists in Syria or Hezbollah in Lebanon could be deployed against Israel.

Hezbollah, along with its patron Iran, is deeply invested in the survival of the Assad regime and is committing thousands of its troops to fight against the opposition. Increasingly dependent on Hezbollah’s support, Assad has been attempting to transfer increasingly advanced weaponry to its Shia Lebanese ally.

On two occasions Israel has reportedly conducted air strikes within Syria. One was to destroy a convoy carrying Russian-made SA-17 man portable anti-aircraft missiles to Hezbollah in Lebanon, and the other was targeting sites near Damascus believed to be storing Fateh-110 precision guided surface-to-surface missiles, again intended for Hezbollah.

Russia’s delivery of long-range surface-to-air missiles.

Israel has made clear its opposition to the delivery of sophisticated Russian made S-300 long-range surface-to-air missiles from Moscow to Damascus. These missiles have an operational range of nearly 200 km, and represent a ‘game-changing’ threat to Israel’s own air space.

In early May, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and urged him to cancel the S-300 arms deal, and Israeli security officials have made clear that Israel would intervene to prevent the missile systems becoming operational.

There is also concern that in the future Assad might transfer the systems to a safer location and a loyal set of hands, such as Hezbollah. From Israel’s point of view, such a development would be an unacceptable escalation.

The London-based British Israel Communications § Research Centre (BICOM) contributed to this report.