Israel and Syria Exchange Warnings
Fears that Israel could be pulled into war in Syria
Tensions between Israel and Syria ratcheted up over the weekend after Syrian mortars landed in the Golan Heights, and Israel fired back on Syrian tanks. At least two Syrian soldiers were reported killed, prompting a Syrian warning to Israel.
The General Command of the Syrian Army warned Israel overnight Sunday against what it described as aggression for the IDF’s reprisal attacks meted out following the spillovers from the country, adding that it holds “the Israeli enemy responsible for the dangerous consequences of the recurrence of these operations.”
After the first mortars hit Israel, Israel also warned Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that Israel sees him as responsible for any “spillover” from the fighting between Syrian government troops and rebel groups. Israel has repeatedly said it wants to stay out of the war in Syria, but has treated about 3,000 wounded Syrians in Israeli hospitals. As most of these patients are members of rebel groups opposing Assad, he has accused Israel of supporting rebel groups.
Israel will not accept any fire into its territory even if it is accidental, said a senior Israeli counter-terrorism official said.
“We are not going to give up the great advantages of a very quiet border along the Golan Heights,” Brigadier General (res) Nitzan Nuriel told The Media Line. “We don’t want that border open to terror events or instability. The Israelis living there deserve a quiet summer and we won’t let anyone – Islamic State, Syrian forces, Jabha al-Nusra, Hizbullah or Iran to launch an attack on us whether purposely or by accident.”
Israel acquired most of the Golan Heights in 1967, and later annexed it, in a move that has not been recognized by the international community. Syria continues to control about 30 percent of it. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said fighting intensified in that area, and more than a dozen people were killed in the past two days – both government forces and opposition fighters.
The deaths came as the al-Qa’ida-linked Levant Liberation Committee [Hayat Tahrir al-Sham] and allied anti-government groups launched an offensive to take control of al-Baath city, one of the few towns in the province that has remained under control of Syrian government forces in recent years.
Brig. Gen. Nuriel said that the situation in Syria is similar to the way that Israel views the Islamist Hamas movement in the Gaza Strip. Although Hamas is not behind the occasional rocket fire directed at Israel, Israel still hold Hamas responsible.
“When you have an area where the central government is not strong you need to find an address — someone to take responsibility,” he said. “In Gaza it is Hamas and in Syria, even though it is not really strong enough it is the Syrian regime. The message is simple. You have the responsibility and you need to take action to make sure the border will stay quiet.”
It comes as Assad, backed by Russia and Hizbullah, is regaining ground in Syria. What once seemed unthinkable – that Assad would remain in power even after the end of the conflict is now becoming more likely.
“it’s looking more and more like the US and Russia have decided to keep Assad in power,” Renad Mansour, a Syria expert at Chatham House, a think tank in London, told The Media Line. “Many Syrians are asking themselves what was the point of six years of fighting and so many dead.”
The border between Israel and Syria has been Israel’s quietest border, despite the past six years of war inside Syria. Israel’s Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Israel does not want to start a conflict with Syria.
“If you read the newspapers it seems that we have many prophets predicting a hot summer,” the defense minister told the Knesset. “Let me be clear once again: We have no intention of initiating a military operation, neither in the north nor in the south.”
But he also said that Israel will not tolerate any provocations.
“We won’t hold back if necessary and when needed we will respond with all our might,” he said, adding that Israel will not allow Syria to become a base for attacks against Israel.
“Anyone that wants to turn Syria into an Iranian base against Israel should think again. We will not allow Syria to become another front against Israel,” he said.