For the first time since the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the Israel Defense Forces on Sunday fired an artillery missile toward Syria in response to a Syrian mortar shell that exploded near an Israel Defense Forces post at Tel Hazeka in the eastern Golan Heights.
The missile, of the Tammuz type, was fired at the artillery battery of the Syrian army, which has been fighting rebel forces near the village of Bir al-Ajami in the northern Golan Heights. The missile exploded near the Syrian battery, and the IDF refused to say whether it was an intentional miss meant as a warning to the Syrians.
The IDF believes the Syrian mortar shell was launched in an exchange of fire between the Syrian army and rebels near the Israeli border. The shelling is the most recent in a series of incidents in recent weeks in which Syrian fire reached Israeli territory.
IDF Spokesman Brig. Gen. Yoav (Poly) Mordechai commented on the incident on Sunday, saying, “Amid the fighting between the Syrian army and rebels, a mortar shell was fired toward an IDF outpost. There were no casualties in the incident. In response, IDF forces fired warning shots into Syrian territory and a message was sent to the United Nations to warn Syrian forces to prevent additional fire from entering Israeli territory. The shooting at us is not coming from the rebels, rather from the Syrian army, so our message is directed at the Syrian army. We do not know what effect this message will have but we will follow it and see. This was a warning to the Syrians – more fire will be met with a real and determined response.”
Mordechai added, “The IDF is not interested in interfering in the fighting between the Syrian army and the rebels, rather it seeks to defend Israeli residents of the Golan Heights who may be affected by stray fire.”
Immediately after a stray mortar landed, but did not explode, in the northern town of Alonei Bashan last week, security officials from the Golan Regional Council asked the town’s residents to check if bomb shelters were serviceable and to leave them open in case the fire resumes. The council emphasized on Sunday that the preparations referred only to Alonei Bashan and not to other towns in the Golan Heights, and that the IDF was not involved in the instructions.
However, the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit on Monday released a statement announcing a military exercise would take place in the northern areas of Katzrin, Amiad, Gamla, Safed and Meron. During the drill, the statement said, there will be an increased presence of security forces in the area, and sirens and explosion sounds will be heard.
According to the IDF, the exercise was planned in advance and is part of yearly training.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday, “We are closely monitoring what is happening on our border with Syria and there we are also ready for any development.”
Defense Minister Ehud Barak said, “After a number of shelling incidents into Israeli territory during recent weeks, I instructed the IDF to respond in-kind should the situation recur. Today, another mortar shell was fired from Syria, landing on an IDF outpost. The Chief of Staff [Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz] ordered the IDF to return fire on the mortar outpost [from which the mortar was fired]. This was a sign to Syria that we will not tolerate shelling into our territory.”
Nineteen months of fighting and the mounting chaos engulfing the Assad regime have already shaken the region, spilling into Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan. In new violence Sunday, Syrian army forces backed by helicopter gunships and artillery attacked a border area with Turkey after rebels captured a crossing point, activists said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based activist group, said the Ras al-Ayn border area in Syria’s northeast was “under siege” as dozens of rebels tried to hold onto the border crossing.
The entry of Israel into the fighting would take the violence to a new level. Although Israel has a more powerful military, both countries have air forces and significant arsenals of tanks, missiles and other weapons. Israel is especially concerned about Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons.
Read more at ISRAEL HAYOM.