Israel: “The continuance of such events will be met with a more fierce Israeli response”
Responding again to cross-border fire and to an Iranian visit to Damascus, Israel has stepped up its warning to Syria’s Assad regime.
On Saturday, the Israel Defense Forces struck three artillery targets in their latest response in southwest Syria near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. Hours earlier, five projectiles landed in open ground in the northern Heights, the IDF said.
The Israeli military warned in its statement:
Even if this is just spillover, this is an exceptional incident and the continuance of such events will be met with a more fierce Israeli response. The IDF will not tolerate any attempt to harm the sovereignty of the State of Israel and the security of its residents, and considers the Syrian regime responsible for what is happening in its territory.
The retaliatory strike was the third by Israeli forces within days. Early last week, Israeli jets bombed an anti-aircraft battery near Damascus after an anti-aircraft missile was fired at an Israeli warplane. On Thursday evening, Israeli tanks fired on a mortar position that reportedly fired a shell across the border, hitting an open field in the Heights.
Israel has periodically carried out bombing and missile strikes during Syria’s 79-month conflict. It has tried to prevent weapons transfers to Lebanon’s Hezbollah, an essential ally of the Assad regime, with attacks on convoys, warehouses, and one of the main regime defense “research” centers. Strikes have also tried to deter Hezbollah and Iran from establishing positions in Quneitra Province near the Golan Heights, including the killing of Hezbollah troops and an Iranian general in January 2015.
Israel is stepping up its response now despite the declaration of a “de-escalation zone” by Russia and the US in early July. While there is no evidence of Hezbollah and Iranian-led foreign militias moving into the zone, the Israelis have shown concern over last week’s high-profile visit by the head of the Iranian military, Maj. Gen. Mohammad Baqeri, to Damascus.
Baqeri saw Syrian counterparts, met Bashar al-Assad, and staged a photo opportunity near frontlines with the Syrian opposition and rebels in the northwest of the country. He challenged the Israelis:
It’s not acceptable for the Zionist regime to violate the land and airspace of Syria anytime it wants. We are in Damascus to assert and cooperate to confront our common enemies, the Zionists, and terrorists.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said last Tuesday, after a meeting with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, “Iran has to understand that Israel will not allow this [movement of forces into southwest Syria].”
Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman and IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot are in the US this week for talks.
Assad Regime: Israeli “Collusion” With Terrorists
The Assad regime issued its own statements on Saturday, trying to frame the latest incident as a conspiracy between Israel and Syrian rebels.
The regime’s military said “the Israeli aggression came after terrorists had launched mortar shells, upon the instructions of the Israeli entity”.
The Foreign Ministry later wrote letters to the UN claiming that the Israeli strike was “a new cycle of outright collusion between the Israeli occupation and armed terrorist groups”. It expressed surprise at the “UN Security Council’s inability to stop and condemn the Israeli attacks”.
Russia Worries About Raqqa Beyond Assad Control
Russia has expressed its control about the city of Raqqa, fully captured by a Kurdish-led force from the Islamic State, remaining beyond Bashar al-Assad’s control.
Russian State media put out the message through the statement of a leading member of the Senate, Frants Klintsevich, as he complained about the allocation of “millions of dollars and euros” for reconstruction:
Here the thing is not only in the attempts to hide the evidence of the barbarian bombing….First of all, these are the attempts to make Raqqa a center of another Syria — a Syria which is not controlled by Bashar Assad. This is the purpose of the money, and claimed restoration of peaceful life in the city is only a seeming excuse.
The Russian Defense Ministry is supporting the challenge with lurid depictions of US operations in support of the four-month offensive by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces inside the city in northern Syria. Spokesman Igor Konashenkov said on Sunday, “Raqqa has repeated the fate of [Germany’s] Dresden of 1945, which was erased in the British-American bombarding.”
Konashenkov criticized the US and European countries for offering reconstruction assistance to Raqqa while not extending it to Assad-controlled areas of Syria.