In wake of border clashes, Assad, Netanyahu swap threats

Syrian dictator vows to stand by threats to attack in Golan Heights; prime minister says Israel will retaliate

Aaron Kalman is a former writer and breaking news editor for the Times of Israel

Syrian President Bashar Assad has made a “serious decision” to open a front with Israel along the Golan Heights, he said in an interview published Monday. Shortly thereafter, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned in a public statement that “any who threaten to harm, or harm, Israel will be harmed.”

In an interview with Lebanese newspaper Al Akhbar, Assad said his country’s military action against Israel would be substantial, sustained and effective, not a “random firing of mortars” across the border.

He further asserted that there has been massive foreign involvement in the civil war since its eruption over two years ago. He claimed that Western powers were helping his regime as well as the rebels.

Assad’s comments came a few days after a fierce battle between the Syrian army and rebels over the city of Quneitra, near the Israeli border on the Syrian Golan Heights, nearly brought Israel and Syria into open confrontation, according to a UN document leaked on Saturday by US-based blogger Nabil Abi Saab.

Netanyahu, speaking at the Knesset’s Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee, promised retaliation against the Syrian regime and said that Israel was “ready for any eventuality.”

The prime minister’s comments echoed statements he’d made Sunday at the weekly cabinet meeting, in which he said that “Israel is not intervening in the Syrian civil war, as long as fire is not being directed at us.”

Reiterating Israel’s right to self-defense in the face of increasing violence on the opposite side of the Syrian border, Netanyahu asserted that  “the crumbling of the UN force on the Golan Heights underscores the fact that Israel cannot depend on international forces for its security. They can be part of the arrangements. They cannot be the basic foundation of Israel’s security.”

Last week Austria announced that it would be removing its peacekeepers from the UN disengagement force on the Israel-Syria border after the latest clashes in Quneitra.

Committee head Avigdor Liberman (Yisrael Beytenu), speaking at the same Knesset committee meeting, said that while the region was going through a “very turbulent period,” he was more concerned by the European Union’s decision not to include Hezbollah on the list of terror organizations.

Not adding Hezbollah to the list “makes the EU irrelevant to Israel,” Liberman, a former foreign minister, declared.

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