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Israel Retaliates Against Syria for Border Bombing

Alex Finkelstein

Israel responded to a roadside bomb planted at the Syrian border in the Golan Heights with a series of strikes on Wednesday. According to IDF officials, the Israeli Air Force bombed a military command post, artillery batteries, and a training base for the Syrian army. Late Tuesday’s bombing wounded four Israeli soldiers and the retaliatory strikes wounded seven Syrian soldiers and killed one.

This latest confrontation represents the most dramatic escalation between Jerusalem and Damascus since the Syrian civil war began in 2011. In numerous other border skirmishes the IDF has responded to Syrian shells with Israeli artillery fire. Israel has also quietly employed airstrikes inside Syria to hit weapons convoys en route to Hezbollah fighters. While most incidents go unacknowledged by the Israeli government, the strikes on Wednesday brought strong Israeli condemnation.

Israeli soldiers stand atop tanks in the Golan Heights near Israel’s border with Syria on Wednesday. (Photo: Reuters)

Israeli intelligence has not yet pinpointed who planted the bomb, but government officials stated that they hold President Bashar al-Asad responsible for any attacks emanating from his territory. Jerusalem’s decision to hold Asad accountable, rather than other violent groups in the area such as Hezbollah or al-Nusra Front, aligns with Israel’s response to rockets fired from Gaza. The IDF retaliates against the Hamas controlled government, even if the rockets were fired by another militant group in the enclave. In contrast, Israel usually targets Hezbollah fighters in Lebanon directly, rather than officials in Beirut.

Neither Israeli officials, nor Syria’s ally Hezbollah, want Israeli forces to enter the conflict. Traditionally, Hezbollah fighters acclaim the need to destroy the Jewish state, as they did last month when they vowed retaliation for a preemptive Israeli airstrike on a shipment of missiles. But at present, the group does not wish to enter an armed conflict with Israel while simultaneously fighting the Syrian opposition and Sunni jihadists. Al-Qaeda and other Sunni extremists groups have the most to gain from an escalation in conflict and the ensuing upheaval of the Syrian government.

Israel is already concerned about the extremist presence near the Golan Heights. Al-Qaeda linked militants also hopes to provoke Lebanese Sunnis and the Lebanese army into joining the struggle against Asad and Hezbollah. Political will for a new military engagement based on  sectarian divisions is already low in Lebanon, even as Sunni extremist try stoke resentment against Hezbollah in Beirut.