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IDF says Hezbollah, Syrian army behind attempted sniper attack on border

Military releases photos and videos that it says show fighters in Syria preparing to carry out an attack against Israel earlier this month

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

A person films Israel from the buffer zone between Syria and Israel in what the IDF says was an effort to prepare for a sniper attack, as seen in a surveillance photo released by the military on March 17, 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)
A person films Israel from the buffer zone between Syria and Israel in what the IDF says was an effort to prepare for a sniper attack, as seen in a surveillance photo released by the military on March 17, 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Israel Defense Forces on Tuesday accused the Hezbollah terror group and the Syrian army of being behind an attempted sniping attack against Israeli soldiers in the Golan Heights earlier this month, which was thwarted by an Israeli strike on the suspects’ car.

The military said that in the months preceding the incident Israeli troops saw Hezbollah fighters and Syrian soldiers preparing for an attack, filming the border area with smartphones and professional cameras and measuring wind speed from different locations in the supposedly demilitarized buffer zone between the two countries — in what the IDF said appeared to be efforts to identify a target and improve snipers’ accuracy.

The military said that on March 2 fighters were seen preparing to carry out the attack from a car.

“When there was an operational opportunity, the car being used by the cell was attacked by an IDF helicopter,” the military said.

Pictures purportedly from the scene showed a burning white truck that appeared to be completely destroyed in the strike.

“The IDF has been conducting a longstanding campaign against the Hezbollah terror group’s efforts to establish a front on the Golan Heights and is taking a variety of steps to thwart its attempts to carry out terror attacks against the State of Israel,” the military said.

A person prepares to carry out a sniper attack against Israel from Syria, according to the military, as seen in a surveillance photo released on March 17, 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)

In a tacit threat, the IDF added that it saw the Syrian government “as responsible for all that happens in its territory.”

Though Syrian media has reported on several alleged Israeli strikes against Hezbollah in the Golan Heights, Israeli officials have largely refused to comment on the matter until this month’s incident.

The military said the investigation into the attempted sniper attack was conducted by the head of the IDF Northern Command, Maj. Gen. Amir Baram, with help from the head of the Golan Division, Brig. Gen. Amit Fisher.

The military credited combat intelligence soldiers — both troops who serve on the ground and those who monitor the border with advanced surveillance cameras — with spotting the attempted sniper attack.

A Syrian soldier measures windspeed in the buffer zone between Syria and Israel in what the IDF says was an effort to prepare for a sniper attack, as seen in a surveillance photo released by the military on March 17, 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)

At the time, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor said the vehicle that was bombed by the IDF helicopter belonged to members of a militia loyal to Syrian dictator Bashar Assad.

A vehicle that was reportedly struck by an Israeli missile strike in Syria, near the Golan border with Israel, on March 2, 2020. (Courtesy)

Videos from the scene shared on social media showed a helicopter firing flares and then a missile.

Syrian state-run news agency SANA claimed that Israeli forces fired a missile at a civilian vehicle “in the suburbs of Quneitra.”

Though Israeli officials generally refrain from taking responsibility for specific strikes in Syria, they have acknowledged conducting hundreds to thousands of raids in the country since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011. These have overwhelmingly been directed against Iran and its proxies, notably the Lebanese Hezbollah terror group, but the IDF has also carried out strikes on Syrian air defenses when those batteries have fired at Israeli jets.

Israel has in the past accused Iran of attempting to set up rocket launching crews and other “terror infrastructure” in the Syrian Golan Heights, to be used against Israel.

An agreement with Russia was supposed to push Iranian and Tehran-backed militias, including Hezbollah, dozens of kilometers away from the border.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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