The Israeli military deployed Iron Dome missile defense systems in central and southern Israel in recent days, amid escalating tensions both in Syria and in the Gaza Strip.
A battery was deployed in the Tel Aviv metropolitan area, and others were positioned in the south, the army said Thursday.
In addition, a small number of reservists from air defense units were called up to staff the batteries, as typically occurs amid periods of heightened tensions, according to the Israel Defense Forces.
The past week has seen an increase in violence as well as verbal threats from both Israel’s north and the south. The announcement of the deployment came a day before thousands of Gazans were expected to again amass along the security fence for riots and clashes with Israeli troops.
On Wednesday night, shots were fired by unknown assailants at Israeli soldiers stationed along the Syrian border, the Israel Defense Forces said Thursday. The troops returned fire. There were no Israeli casualties.
On Tuesday, Syria’s envoy to the United Nations threatened that Damascus could attack Ben Gurion International Airport outside Tel Aviv if the world body did not halt Israeli strikes on his country like those conducted on Monday.
An attack on Israel’s airport would have significant implications not only on the country’s security, but also on its economy and global standing.
Gaza getting hot again
Long-simmering tensions in the Gaza Strip came to the boil on Tuesday afternoon with two shooting attacks on Israeli troops along the border, one of which lightly injured an IDF officer. In response, the military destroyed two Hamas observation posts, killing one fighter and injuring two others. The air force then bombed a Hamas structure in northern Gaza later that night.
Israel also postponed the transfer of $15 million of Qatari funds to Hamas in light of the violence, a move that many in the country’s security services feared could inflame the situation and spark a larger conflict.
On Wednesday, the security cabinet reportedly decided to allow the money from Doha to be transferred to the Strip’s terrorist rulers in order to pay Gazan civil servants and other non-military expenses. There have been conflicting reports on whether final approval for the transfer has been given.
The $15 million installment had originally been scheduled for transfer Wednesday, but was blocked by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after the shooting attacks on Israeli soldiers along the Gaza border. Hamas warned that withholding the money could bring about an “explosion” of violence in Gaza.
Hebrew media reports said Israel’s entire security establishment was in favor of moving forward with the transfer, including the IDF, the Mossad intelligence service, the Shin Bet security service, and the National Security Council.
During the meeting, officials noted that it was the Islamic Jihad terror group, not Hamas, that had been behind the attacks on Israeli troops, and that while Israel’s shelling in response had killed a Hamas fighter, the terror group that rules Gaza has refrained from responding.
Israeli news outlets reported late Wednesday that the security cabinet voted to transfer the funds before the weekend, citing officials.
But other Israeli officials subsequently said no final decision had been made.
Syria also heating up
On Sunday, Israel reportedly conducted a rare daylight missile attack on Iranian targets in Syria. In response, Iran fired a surface-to-surface missile at the northern Golan Heights, which was intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system over the Mount Hermon ski resort, according to the Israel Defense Forces.
Hours later, in the predawn hours of Monday morning, the Israel Air Force launched retaliatory strikes on Iranian targets near Damascus and on the Syrian air defense batteries that fired upon the attacking Israeli fighter jets, the army said.
Twenty-one people were killed in the Israeli raids in Syria early on Monday, 12 of them Iranian fighters, a Britain-based Syrian war monitor said.
Speaking at the UN Security Council after the IAF airstrikes, Syrian envoy Bashar Jaafari said Israel was only able to act freely in Syria because it had the backing of the US, UK and France in the Security Council.
Syrian state media Sana quoted Jaafari as saying that if the UN Security Council didn’t adopt measures stop Israel, “Syria would practice its legitimate right of self-defense and respond to the Israeli aggression on Damascus International Airport in the same way on Tel Aviv airport.”
“Isn’t it time now for the UN Security Council to stop the Israeli repeated aggressions on the Syrian Arab republic territories?” Jaafari said.
While Israel has repeatedly hit targets inside Syria in recent years to try to stop the transfer of arms to Hezbollah and the entrenchment of Iranian forces, Syria has rarely responded beyond the firing of anti-aircraft missiles.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.