Israel returns fire on Syria as violence spills across the border
An exchange of fire between Israeli and Syrian troops on the Golan Heights plateau occurred on Tuesday after an Israeli Defence Force (IDF) jeep deliberately came under fire from Syrian government forces during an overnight patrol.
According to Israeli sources the jeep was on the Israeli side of the border and suffered only minor damage with no casualties inside. The IDF also added that Israeli forces returned a precise hit at the source of the gunfire and have lodged a complaint with the UN Disengagement Force responsible for patrolling the area.
On the other hand, a statement from the Syrian Armed Forces claimed that its troops destroyed the vehicle along with those inside it and said that any infraction on the borders established after the 1967 war will face “immediate and firm retaliation”.
Even though stray munitions landing in surrounding countries have become a common symptom of the increasing instability of Syria’s two-year-old civil war, this is the first time the Syrian army has publicly acknowledged that Syrian Forces have fired intentionally on Israeli troops.
Tensions have been rising since Israeli airstrikes carried out inside Syria’s borders were found to be targeting Syrian arms shipments allegedly bound for Hezbollah.
Israel has become increasingly worried that Syria’s deadly arsenal of weapons that include heavy mortars and chemical weapons could be transferred to Iranian backed Hezbollah militants or other rebel groups set against the state of Israel.
Furthermore, some voices argue that Syrian president al-Assad is trying to draw Israel into the bloody civil war in an attempt to unite the country against an external enemy or divert attention away from the complete collapse of order in some parts of the country.
Israeli chief of the general staff for the IDF, Benny Gantz, has accused the Syrian leader of directing operations against Israel by allowing firing on IDF troops from “a clearly marked Syrian position”.
Addressing a conference at the University of Haifa, Gantz added: “We will not allow the Golan Heights to become a comfortable space for Assad to operate from…If he escalates (the situation on) the Golan Heights, he will have to bear the consequences.”
Shortly after the exchange Gantz visited the area and told soldiers stationed their “to stay alert during these challenging times”.
Even though the IDF is capable of toppling Assad’s government, it is not considered to be in the interests of either party to become committed to a wider regional conflict.