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28 Jun, 2017 19:36

IDF targets Syrian positions in response to projectile hitting Golan Heights

The Israel Defense Forces says it has responded to a “projectile launched from Syria towards Israel” by firing at Syrian army positions.

Moments ago, a projectile fired from Syria hit an open area in the northern Golan Heights. No injuries reported,” the IDF’s Twitter account posted on Wednesday. Half an hour later, the IDF reported it had “targeted the Syrian military position that fired the mortar.”

The IDF fired back at the village of Samadanieh al Sharqiyah in Quneitra province, near where Syrian government forces have been engaging rebels over the last week, according to Beirut-based broadcaster Al-Mayadeen TV.

The mortar was reported by the IDF while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was visiting a nearby village in the Golan Heights.

“While I was speaking, I said here that we will not tolerate errant shooting and we will respond to all firing. During my speech, there was errant fire from the Syrian side that landed in our territory and the army has already attacked,” Reuters quoted the PM as saying.

“Whoever attacks us, we attack them. This is our policy and we will continue to implement it.”

According to Martin Jay, a broadcaster and Middle East affairs analyst based in Beirut, even though the stray round from Syria was unintentional and didn't cause any damage, Israel felt it had to assert itself in an increasingly volatile geopolitical situation.

“It’s very, very important that Netanyahu makes the very firm point that they’re ready for anything that comes over,” Jay told RT. “Just a few weeks ago there was an incident of an Israeli jet hitting a Hezbollah target in Syria and Assad made a very firm statement that he would strike back. He did try to strike back with some sort of missile – it was questionable about what type it was – which was intercepted on the Israeli side.”

“So, there’s a great deal of tension there. The great worry is that these skirmishes or these exchanges actually evolve into a full-on conflict because so far, technically speaking, Israel is not actually involved in the Syrian war.”

On Saturday, Israeli warplanes fired on two Syrian tanks in response to “over 10 projectiles” landing in the Golan Heights. But according to the Syrian government, the IDF instead hit a parking lot and a residential building, causing civilian casualties.

And on Sunday, the IDF struck two artillery launchers and an ammunition truck on the Syrian side of the border after “several Syrian projectiles” landed in Israeli territory without causing any casualties. A similar incident occurred in the same Golan Heights region on Saturday.

In March, Syrian air defense forces fired missiles at Israeli jets returning from an airstrike on a target near Palmyra. One of the Syrian missiles was shot down by an Israeli SAM missile over Israeli territory, prompting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to declare that Tel Aviv will continue to attack targets in Syria as it sees fit.

Ammar Waqqaf, director of Gnosos, a UK-based think-tank, told RT he considers the response by Israel to the incident “unjustified” and suggested that projectiles might as well have been fired by the rebels allied with Israeli forces to grant them a “pretext” to attack Syria.

“[The IDF] describe fire coming from the Golan Heights as errant. It’s not errant. In the previous cases It could have easily been rebel commanders loyal to Israel, because they are supporting them, probably sending some shells into the Golan Heights,” Waqqaf said.

The analyst alleged that the projectile had been launched “in order to give Israel a pretext to come and strike at the Syrian army.” 

Referring to the Wednesday incident in particular, Waqqaf noted that it coincided with Netanyahu's visit to the Golan Heights, during which he stated that Israel would never give up on its claims to the disputed territory.

Taking the timing of Netanyahu’s trip into account, the projectiles crossing into the Israeli-controlled side of the Golan Heights this time “could have easily also been a message by the Syrian army to the Israelis that this thing is live and kicking," Waqqaf said.

He added, however, that it is unlikely the Syrian state is interested in a full-fledged military confrontation, as it will require an opening of “a new… front against a well-prepared foe.”

At the same time, Waqqaf acknowledged that with the situation in the region being “highly fluid” and such incidents becoming increasingly common, “we can end up with a serious accident very easily.”