IDF probe clears troops of wrongdoing after Israeli woman walked into Syria
Military finds the woman, whose name is censored, triggered sensor when she climbed fence, but since soldiers were looking for infiltrations into Israel, they dismissed the alert
Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.
A military investigation into how an Israeli woman crossed into Syria earlier this month cleared soldiers of any wrongdoing, an Israel Defense Forces spokesperson said Monday.
As the woman, whose name is barred from publication, has attempted to cross Israel’s borders illegally multiple times, the military requested a restraining order from the police to keep her away from the country’s frontiers, the Kan public broadcaster reported.
According to the military probe, which was conducted by the IDF Northern Command, the woman arrived to the Druze village of Majdal Shams on the Golan Heights near the Syrian border on February 1. She evidently knew the area where she planned to cross into Syria well, and set off for the border, near Mount Hermon, early the following morning.
She climbed a security fence — an older, lower barrier than the taller, more robust steel fencing used elsewhere along the border — triggering a sensor and alerting the military to a possible breach.
A soldier operating a security camera scanned the area for signs of an infiltration. However, the protocols that the servicewoman was following focused on people entering Israel, rather than leaving it, so the Israeli woman’s breach went undetected, as she had already crossed into Syria.
As a result, the surveillance camera operator did not call in ground troops to investigate, and dismissed the alert, the IDF spokesperson said.
The military said that the soldiers and officers involved carried out their given orders, so there was no cause for them to be punished, but that the episode will be studied in order to prevent similar incidents in the future.
After the woman crossed into Syria, she entered the Druze village of Khader, where she was captured and handed over to Syrian security forces on suspicion of being an Israeli spy. Over the course of nearly two weeks, Israel negotiated her release from Syria, with Russia acting as an intermediary.
The woman was sent back to Israel in the predawn hours of Friday morning. In exchange for her release, Israel freed two Syrian shepherds, who had been detained after they entered Israeli territory earlier this month, and shortened the prison sentence of a Druze woman from the Golan Heights, who remains loyal to Damascus. According to foreign reports, Israel also paid Russia $1.2 million to buy its Sputnik coronavirus vaccines for Syria.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, when asked about the report, said that “not even one Israeli vaccine dose went to this thing” — an allegation that had not been made — though he did not deny that Israel had funded a purchase of Russian vaccines.
“We brought the woman home, I’m happy we did it, but beyond that I’m not adding anything because that was what Russia requested,” he said.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz also refused to comment on whether Israel was funding Russian vaccines for Syria.
Aspects of the incident remain barred from publication by the military censor.
This initial investigation into the crossing was ordered by IDF Northern Command chief Maj. Gen. Amir Baram. It was conducted after the woman, who is in her 20s and lives in the largely ultra-Orthodox settlement of Modiin Illit, was returned to Israel.
Upon landing in Israel, the woman was questioned by the Shin Bet security service, telling investigators that she went to Syria “seeking adventure,” and did not apologize or express regret for the trip.
It was not her first time attempting to cross Israel’s borders illegally. According to Israeli authorities, she has twice tried to enter the Gaza Strip — once by land and once by sea in a makeshift raft — and once tried to cross into Jordan. She was also photographed last October scoping out the Lebanese border, before an apparent attempt to cross into Lebanon.
Attempting to cross into enemy territory and crossing into enemy territory is a prosecutable offense, yet the woman has not yet been arrested.
Investigators determined that she did not cooperate with any enemy entities in Syria.
“I was seeking adventure, and didn’t intend to meet anyone specific,” Channel 12 reported that she told investigators. “Syria was, for me, another destination for a trip.”
A report by Channel 13 news said that the woman suffers from “personal problems.”
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.