by Yoav Limor
As of late Tuesday night, Israel did not have any clear information about who was responsible for detonating the roadside bomb earlier in the day along the Syrian border. Different officials believed Hezbollah was the guilty party -- but without solid evidence Israel turned its response to the usual address for such matters: Syria.
Even without a clear objective, the nature of the bombing attack surely came as no surprise. Amid the backdrop of the civil war in Syria and the violence spilling to its borders, the Israel Defense Forces has been preparing for the past few years for a renewal of fighting on the Golan Heights.
As part of this preparation a new security fence was erected along the border in the past year, and in January the IDF formed a new regional division to prevent terrorist attacks from Syria.
Since May of last year there have been five such attacks -- three roadside bombings and two incidents in which rockets were fired toward the Hermon mountain range -- as well as three incidents along the Lebanese border (two rocket attacks and the roadside bomb which was detonated in the Har Dov area in early March). Despite appearances that these attacks were perpetrated by different actors, the IDF's Northern Command believes they are all part of a larger picture orchestrated primarily by Hezbollah, which seeks to avenge --"quietly" and "without fingerprints" -- the series of air strikes in Syria attributed to Israel, in which advanced weapons systems earmarked for Hezbollah were targeted. Arabic media outlets on Tuesday were quick to tie Hezbollah to the attack on the Israeli soldiers, reporting the bombing was part of a kidnapping attempt.
The IDF has completely rejected these claims, but it is clear this was a very professional operation. The explosive device was placed in a weak spot, in an area between the border and the security fences, and the paratroopers were forced to approach it in order to shoo away a shepherd used as bait. Only after the soldiers stepped outside of their armored jeep and crossed the security fence eastward was the bomb detonated. However, no other people were spotted in the vicinity, which in hindsight strengthens the hypothesis that the attack was not a kidnapping attempt.
The uptick in attacks along Israel's northern borders will occupy the senior political and security echelon in the coming days, who will seek a solution to the question of if (and how) it is possible to deter the terrorist actors operating with impunity inside Syrian and Lebanese territory. To this point, Israel has managed to stay out of the civil war in Syria, but it now seems we are being slowly and disconcertingly dragged into the quagmire.
In the meantime, the military and verbal responses have been aimed at Syrian President Bashar Assad, in the hope that he will act to secure the border region and prevent terrorist attacks. We must admit this seems to be a long shot, not only due to Assad's weakness but because of assessments that he himself is directly or indirectly involved, and because Israel isn't really interested in removing him out of concern that his replacement will be worse.
Therefore, because of the expectation that Israel will have to thwart additional weapons transfers -- and because of the fact that Hezbollah has decided to forgo its no-response policy -- it appears we are headed toward the most likely scenario, according to which our northern borders, sooner or later, will become hotbeds of terrorist activity.
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