IDF shoots 2 terrorists planting bomb on Syrian border

Forces in northern Golan Heights identify hits on militants affiliated with Hezbollah

An Israeli soldier looks through binoculars at a Syrian village from an army post on the border between Israel and Syrian on the Golan Heights (photo credit: AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)
An Israeli soldier looks through binoculars at a Syrian village from an army post on the border between Israel and Syrian on the Golan Heights (photo credit: AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

IDF forces spotted two terrorists trying to plant explosives on the Israel-Syria border in the northern Golan Heights early Wednesday morning, according to the IDF Spokesperson’s office.

Soldiers opened fire at the suspects, and identified direct hits.

The militants belonged to an organization affiliated with Lebanese Shi’ite terror group and political party Hezbollah, the IDF said.

Israel has been bracing for a possible Hezbollah attack since the Lebanese Shi’ite terror group said last Wednesday that it had been hit by Israeli planes near the Syrian border earlier in the week.

Jerusalem has not confirmed involvement in the reported strike, though a high-ranking official told Time magazine that the Israel Defense Forces was behind the attack.

Lebanese sources said that Hezbollah was responsible for firing two Katyusha rockets that struck the Golan Heights on Saturday. The rockets, which hit open areas in northern Israel overnight, were said to be retribution for the strike attributed to Israel near the Lebanon-Syria border last Monday.

According to Maariv’s Lebanese sources, the attack aimed to hit an IDF outpost on Mt. Hermon, and Hezbollah put its troops on the border on alert.

Last week, Israel put its own troops on the northern border with Lebanon on high alert, shortly after Hezbollah threatened retaliation.

Civil defense in communities near the Lebanese border were instructed to be on alert for a Hezbollah reprisal, and farmers in the north were told to stay away from the border fence.

Lebanon’s Daily Star reported that two trucks transferring missiles and a missile launcher were targeted by Israeli Air Force jets in a raid near the border with Syria, in the Bekaa Valley, as they were being transported from Syria to a Hezbollah storage facility. However, Hezbollah denied that a missile or artillery site was the target.

Last Wednesday, Hezbollah acknowledged it was attacked by Israel and warned that it would strike back when and where it deemed appropriate.

The organization’s chief, Hassan Nasrallah, warned key military personnel of the possibility of war with the Jewish state, a Lebanese journalist with close ties to Hezbollah said last week.

Following the attack, analysts said Israel had opened a new front in its attempts to halt weapons smuggling to Hezbollah by striking one of the group’s positions inside Lebanon for the first time since the sides fought a war eight years ago.

They said the alleged airstrike, apparently meant to prevent the Islamic militant group from obtaining sophisticated missiles, was part of a risky policy that could easily backfire by triggering retaliation.

But at a time when the Syrian opposition says Hezbollah has struck a major blow for Syria President Bashar Assad’s government in neighboring Syria by ambushing al-Qaeda-linked fighters there, it shows the strategic importance for Israel of trying to break the Syria-Hezbollah axis.

For now, the odds of a direct conflagration between Israel and Hezbollah appear low. Israel considers both Hezbollah and the al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front to be grave threats.

With a lack of good choices, Israel has avoided taking sides in the Syrian war, and in the short term, is content watching the two sides beat each other up. But in the long run, officials have expressed concerns about the battlefield expertise that Hezbollah has gained. Officials also suspect that despite repeated Israeli airstrikes on suspected arms shipments, Hezbollah has managed to get its hands on many sophisticated weapons, including Russian-made anti-aircraft and anti-ship missiles, ensuring that any future conflict with Israel will be far more intense than previous rounds of fighting.

Lebanese Hezbollah leaders are keen on having the region across the border in Syria cleared of the overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim rebels trying to topple Assad’s government.

In spring 2013, Hezbollah acknowledged sending fighters into Syria to support the Syrian army, exacerbating divisions in Lebanon between pro and anti-Damascus camps.

Hezbollah says it is trying to defend Lebanon from an “extremist” threat, while its critics say the Shi’ite party has pulled the perils of Syria’s war into Lebanon.

On Tuesday, Syrian government forces backed by Lebanese Hezbollah fighters were tightening their grip on the last rebel stronghold near the border with Lebanon a day after taking control of a key village in the area.

Backed by Shi’ite militants, Syrian troops have been on the offensive in Qalamoun since December, trying to sever the rebel supply route from Lebanon.

AP and AFP contributed to this report.

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