An Israeli airstrike killed four members of an Islamic State-affiliated terrorist group in southern Syria on Sunday morning, following a clash near the border, the army said.
No Israeli soldiers were injured in the exchange, the army added.
Soldiers from the Golani Brigade’s reconnaissance unit had crossed the security fence with Syria to conduct an “ambush operation,” while remaining inside Israeli territory, when they came under attack from small arms fire, an Israel Defense Forces spokesperson said.
They returned fire, but soon came under attack from mortar shells.
In response, the Israel Air Force targeted a truck “that had some sort of machine gun on top of it” and killed the four terrorists who were riding in it.
“It was a short exchange, but it was productive,” IDF spokesperson Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said.
The incident occurred at approximately 8:30 a.m., east of the Avnei Eitan community in the southern Golan Heights, the army said.
According to the IDF, the four men were members of the Khalid ibn al-Walid Army, formerly known as the Yarmouk Martyrs’ Brigade, a terrorist group in Syria that is connected with the Islamic State.
“The army will not tolerate any impairment to its sovereignty and will respond severely to any attempt to damage it,” the army said in a statement.
The army would not go into details about the Golani reconnaissance unit’s ambush, saying only that it was “planned by operational intelligence.”
The incident was the first major confrontation between Israeli forces and Islamic State affiliated terrorists in the Golan, though Israel has clashed with other fighters on the Syrian side of the border several times.
Speaking at a weekly government meeting shortly after the incident, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised that Israel “won’t allow Islamic State figures or other enemy actors, under the cover of the war in Syria, to set up next to our borders.”
Both the IS-affiliated Khalid ibn al-Walid Army and the Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, formerly the al-Nusra Front, which is linked to al-Qaeda, have been present on Israel’s borders for years, though they and the IDF had maintained a “live and let live” relationship until Sunday.
The Syrian Golan has been the site of intense fighting in recent years between Assad regime forces and the Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, though the front on the border with Israel has been relatively quiet in recent months after seeing intense bouts of violence.
Israeli officials fear Hezbollah and Iran’s al-Quds Force, which are allied with Syrian leader Bashar Assad, are aiming at using the area to open a new front against Israel in any future conflict.
Since March 2011, when the war broke out, dozens of mortars have landed in Israeli territory as a result of spillover fighting. The IDF often responds to fire that crosses into Israel by striking Syrian army posts.
Israel maintains a policy of holding Damascus responsible for all fire from Syria into Israel regardless of the source.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.