Two senior Israeli military leaders separately warned that tensions with Syria could continue to escalate and lead to wider conflict, reported local Israeli media sources this week. Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) Chief of Staff Benny Gantz and Air Force Commander Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel said the Jewish state must be ready to engage in swift military action, countering threats from weapons proliferation and surface to air missiles.
Increased tensions come after Syrian forces shot at an Israeli vehicle in the Golan Heights on Tuesday. No IDF soldiers were harmed, but the army did returned fire over the border, launching a Tamuz missile. The IDF released a video showing the fire fight. While there are frequently reports of cross border fire between the Syrian army and rebels, this week’s incident seems to mark the first time the Syrian government targeted Israel’s military. After the incident Gantz said Syrian President Bashar al-Asad would “bear the consequences” of any further escalations.
Israeli Military Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, with binoculars, and other officers observe Syria from the Golan Heights. (Photo: Tal Manor/IDF)
Although the Syrian civil war is in its second year, Israel’s first targeted airstrike against Syrian targets came in January. The IDF bombed a convoy to halt the transfer of SA-17 shoulder fired surface to air missiles. The government also has promised to stop chemical weapons from reaching terrorists organizations such as Hezbollah.
Israeli officials worry the delivery of a new Russian-made S-300 advance missile defence system to the Syrian government could challenge the IDF’s ability to execute airstrikes against targets inside their neighbor to the north. Eshel described the sale’s significance to the Israeli military this week saying, “Aerial superiority is a condition to win and win quickly, and is of great strategic importance. The other side understands that well, which is why Assad, with his low budget, has invested billions into purchasing antiaircraft missiles.” Such an advanced weapon system would constitute a game-changer for Israel’s air force, should it be called on to prevent the transfer of additional advanced weapon systems to Hezbollah.