Monday, June 3, 2019

Who fired the missile toward Mount Hermon? - Lilach Shoval

by Lilach Shoval

Israel carried out airstrikes against Syrian targets, but has limited its accusations to the Syrian regime, which it sees as responsible for any attacks launched from its sovereign territory.

Who fired the missile toward Mount Hermon?
A Syrian army observation post in northern Quneitra, one of the targets Israeli Air Force jets struck Saturday in response to a missile fired at Mount Hermon | Photo: IDF Spokesperson's Unit

The rocket fired at the Hermon on Saturday is considered an aberration, and is particularly serious because unlike previous incidents, there were no reports in the past few days about any Israeli strike or provocation in Syria. The incident comes after another one last Monday, when a Syrian anti-aircraft missile was fired at an Israeli Air Force combat jet that was on routine maneuvers in Israeli airspace.

As it always does, the IDF responded to the missile with a series of strikes inside Syria. The targets included two Syrian artillery batteries, a number of intelligence sites, and an outlook post, as well as a Syrian air defense battery. Syrian state news outlets reported that three Syrian soldiers were killed and seven wounded in the strikes. While the airstrikes were taking place, Syria activated its anti-aircraft defenses against the Israeli planes. The IDF even reported that its own air defenses were utilized against the Syrian missile.

The Israeli defense establishment has yet to announce who was responsible for the missile fired on Saturday. In January, a surface-to-surface missile was fired at the Hermon while the site was packed with visitors enjoying the snow. At the time, Israel pointed the finger at Iran. Then, in contrast to the incident Saturday night, the missile was fired after foreign media reported that Israel had carried out airstrikes near Damascus. After the missile was launched, Israel struck targets in Syria belonging to Iran’s Quds Force, because Iran was behind the attack, as well as Syrian military targets, because the missile had been fired from inside sovereign Syrian territory.

The Israeli attack this Saturday night was strictly limited to Syrian military targets. The IDF statement did not name the party responsible for firing the missile, and instead put the blame on the Syrian regime as the entity “responsible for any action against Israel from Syrian territory.”

Two months ago, the IDF launched a media blitz in which is exposed plans Hezbollah was carrying out on the Syrian side of the Israeli-Syrian border on the Golan Heights. A veteran Hezbollah operative, Ali Daqduq, was enlisted to organize the group’s efforts there. The IDF explained that Syrian President Bassar Assad’s return to the Golan Heights in the summer of 2018, a move Israeli accepted tacitly, had laid the groundwork for Hezbollah to return to the Golan and execute its plans, which are known as the “Golan File.”

The IDF explained at the time that the operatives working for Hezbollah, most of them Syrian citizens, were mainly employed collecting intelligence about the IDF in the area. The IDF estimated that the infrastructure was slated to be used to execute terrorist attacks against Israel as well as serve Hezbollah in opening up a second front against Israel during some future conflict with the group in Lebanon.

Nor can we forget Russia’s involvement in the region. When the Assad regime resumed a presence on the Golan Heights, Russia promised to keep Iranian forces and other Shiite militias at a distance of 80 km. (50 miles) from the Israeli border, a pledge that appears not to have been kept.

On Sunday morning, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is still acting defense minister, announced that he had instructed the IDF to carry out the strike on Saturday night because “We will not tolerate firing at our territory and will respond with great force to any aggression against us.” The events of Saturday night are proof that Israel’s internal problems and the new election that has been forced on the citizens of Israel will not overshadow the defense and security challenges facing the country.

To Netanyahu’s credit, political considerations have not guided his decision making on matters of defense. We can only hope that during the new election campaign, things will stay that way, despite the challenges that the northern arena will doubtless supply, as well as the southern front with Gaza, which has shown its volatility so many times this past year.

Lilach Shoval


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