The Israeli military on Thursday released video of a tank strike carried out last November on an Islamic State-affiliated cell in Syria, followed by an airstrike that killed its four members.
The November 27 incident came after IDF soldiers from the Golani Brigade’s reconnaissance unit crossed the security fence with Syria in the Golan Heights that morning to conduct an “ambush operation,” while remaining inside Israeli territory, and came under attack from small arms fire.
The soldiers returned fire but soon came under mortar attack.
Nearby, soldiers from Battalion 74 of the 188th Armored Brigade who were conducting routine morning activities, heard the gunfire and responded by launching a tank shell at the terrorists’ position, appearing to fire at a white structure across the border said to be their facility.
An Israel Air Force jet then took out a truck carrying four men the IDF said 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 role of the 188th Armored Brigade was not widely reported at the time, prompting criticism by a former officer in the brigade who, in an interview with the Times of Israel in December about a band of conscripts who refused to join the Armored Corps, said that “no one’s speaking out for the tanks.”
Following the strikes, the military said that “the army will not tolerate any impairment to its sovereignty and will respond severely to any attempt to damage it.”
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.
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.