IDF chief says Iran was behind Sunday’s thwarted attack on Syrian border

Aviv Kohavi says 4-man cell taken out by Israel after it planted bomb along security fence operated under orders from Tehran, did not represent Hezbollah counter-attack effort

IDF footage showing a group of four people whom the IDF says crossed into Israeli territory and tried to plant a bomb in an unmanned outpost on August 2, 2020. (Screen capture/Israel Defense Forces)
IDF footage showing a group of four people whom the IDF says crossed into Israeli territory and tried to plant a bomb in an unmanned outpost on August 2, 2020. (Screen capture/Israel Defense Forces)

A terror cell that planted several explosives along Israel’s border with Syria earlier this week had been operating under orders from Iran, arny Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi said Friday.

The remarks made by the army chief during a meeting with soldiers from the Maglan reconnaissance unit that thwarted the Sunday attack represented the first time Israel has fingered Tehran as having been behind the attack. It appeared to put to bed initial speculation that the incident represented an attempt by the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah to stage a counter-attack against Israel for the reported killing of one of its officers last month.

“You thwarted a squad sent by Iran, which was part of the process of establishing a radical axis in Syria,” Kohavi told the soldiers Friday, lauding them for their efforts, which led to the neutralizing of the four fighters who planted the explosives.

The Israel Defense Forces went on to conduct a series of airstrikes on Syrian military targets late Monday night in response to the Golan Heights attempted attack.

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi speaks at a ceremony in the military’s Kirya headquarters in Tel Aviv on June 18, 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)

The IDF said it bombed Syrian observation posts, intelligence-gathering equipment, anti-aircraft cannons and command-and-control infrastructure.

“The IDF sees the Syrian regime as responsible for all activities that occur in its territory and will continue to act with determination against all violations of the sovereignty of the State of Israel,” the military said in a statement.

Syrian state media confirmed that attacks took place. The official SANA news outlet reported that the country’s air defenses were activated by the incoming missiles, which targeted sites southwest of Damascus. It also quoted a military source as saying the attack caused only material damage and no injuries.

Kohavi’s comments Friday came four days after the Haaretz daily reported that the military believed an Iranian proxy militia was responsible for the attempted attack, not Hezbollah, with which Israel has been in a standoff over the past two weeks.

The Lebanese terror group has threatened some form of retaliation for the death of one of its fighters in Syria in an airstrike that it attributed to Israel, but which the Jewish state has not officially acknowledged conducting.

The IDF had not confirmed the Haaretz report.

The military did say that troops who searched the area of Sunday’s night’s attempted attack found a gun, as well as a backpack with several more bombs, ready for use.

The items were found inside Israeli territory, 25 meters from the border, the army said.

The army added that military officers met with UNDOF’s Maj. Gen. Ishwar Hamal in the afternoon to show the UN peacekeepers the scene of the incident.

According to the IDF, the outpost where the men placed the explosive was located in an enclave in the area of Tel Fares along the border that previously housed a clinic operated by a Christian charity, under the auspices of the IDF, to treat Syrian civilians who were affected by the country’s civil war. It was closed when Syrian dictator Bashar Assad’s forces retook the Syrian Golan in 2018.

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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