Israel thwarts first possible intentional attack from Syria

Israeli IDF soldiers patrol the Israeli-Syrian border in the Golan Heights after a shooting incident in which ISIS shot over the border into Israel, on November 27, 2016. (Photo: Basel Awidat/Flash90)

Israeli forces responded with deadly force to an attack by an ISIS-affiliated group on Sunday morning on the Syrian border, east of the Sea of Galilee. No Israelis were injured, but the four militants were killed.

The militants targeted IDF Golani Brigade soldiers between Avnei Eitan and the Syrian village of Tasil with small arms and mortar fire from a large vehicle. The Israeli soldiers were carrying out an operation on the Syrian side of the border fence, but were still within Israeli territory, according to the army. The troops responded with small arms fire before the Israeli Air Force destroyed the armed vehicle with the combatants inside.

Since the Syrian civil war began a number of stray rockets have landed in Israeli territory, although none have been considered deliberate.

Israel categorizes the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), originally an al Qaeda splinter group, as a lesser threat than Iran and Hezbollah, but dangerous nevertheless. The IDF has identified these militants as members of the Khalid ibn al-Walid Army, previously the Yarmouk Martyrs’ Brigade.

The skirmish may have come from a misunderstanding of the arrangement whereby the border fence itself does not mark the absolute end of Israeli territory. The ISIS fighters may have interpreted the IDF action as a territorial violation, but Israel maintains there was no breach.

If this was an unprovoked attack, it begs the question of whether it was random and unauthorized or whether it is part of a wider strategy by the weakening ISIS to pull Israel into its conflict in Syria and Iraq. During the First Iraq War in 1990, Saddam Hussein fired 39 modified Scud ballistic missiles at Israel in what was perceived to be an attempt to provoke an Israeli response, with the intended result of uniting the Arab world against the common enemy Israel and thus diverting allied focus away from defeating Iraq. Under pressure from America and the George Bush administration, Israel did not respond.

ISIS could have been hoping to do the same: cause Israel to defend itself, an act that could result in a wider Arab response. For now, the Arab world is a “house divided” over the Syrian war, well into its sixth year, in addition to the general uprising of ISIS and the war waging in Yemen for two years. 

The opening in the Golan of a new front against Israel, whether backed by Iran via Hezbollah, or by ISIS, would add to existing tension with the Palestinians and recent implied threats from Lebanon’s new president, as reported by Kehila News. The participants in this unfolding saga resemble those in the war described in Psalm 83. The Psalmist’s prayer is for a swift and decisive victory for Israel and for the outcome that the surrounding nations “will seek your (the Lord’s) name… the most high over all the earth.” Psalm 83:16-18