DAMASCUS — In a marked upsurge in both rhetoric and purported action, the Syrian military said it destroyed an Israeli vehicle that crossed the ceasefire line in the Golan Heights.
A statement issued by the Syrian Armed Forces on Tuesday said its troops destroyed the vehicle “with those in it.” It did not elaborate, but said any attempt to infiltrate Syria’s territory will face “immediate and firm retaliation.” The statement marked a newly aggressive Syrian tone following two reported Israeli airstrikes on targets in Damascus earlier this month. After numerous incidents of cross-border fire in the past two years, this marked the first instance in which Syria acknowledged shooting across the border into Israel.
Israel did not directly respond to the Syrian claim, but earlier Tuesday the IDF Spokesperson’s Office said that an Israeli jeep on patrol was hit by light weapons fire, causing slight damage to the vehicle, and that the army responded by shooting a long-range Tamuz rocket at the source of the attack and reported a “direct hit.”
It was the third day in a row in which shots were fired at Israeli forces at the same location and at roughly the same time.
The IDF further stated that it regarded the recent incidents along the northern border with Syria with concern, and had lodged a complaint with UNDOF, the peacekeeping force monitoring the ceasefire line between Israel and Syria.
During a visit to the Atlit naval base Tuesday, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said that Israel’s policy on Syria is clear, “We do not interfere in the civil war, but we will not allow it to enter our territory.”
In the past three months there have been 12 cross-border shootings toward the Golan Heights. Tuesday’s incident, however, marked the first time that the Syrian army acknowledged firing at Israeli troops across the frontier, and appeared to be an attempt by President Bashar Assad’s regime to project toughness following three Israeli airstrikes near Damascus this year.
The strikes, which targeted alleged Iranian arms shipments bound for the Lebanese Hezbollah terror group via Syria, marked a sharp escalation of Israel’s involvement in the Syrian civil war. They also raised fears that a conflict that has repeatedly spilled over Syria’s borders could turn into a full-fledged regional war.
Syria vowed to retaliate and Assad said Syria is “capable of facing Israel” and would not accept violations of its sovereignty. Firing at an Israeli target seems to be in line with the tougher rhetoric that followed the airstrikes.