The former head of the IDF’s military intelligence said Thursday that the firing of a pair of missiles from Syria into the Sea of Galilee a day earlier was likely an effort by the Islamic State group to draw Israel into a confrontation with the Syrian regime.
The missiles crashed into the lake mere dozens of meters from groups of tourists, according to eyewitnesses, and were initially thought to be spillover fighting from intense battles taking place just over the border in Syria, where regime forces backed by Russian air power are attempting to gain control of a last pocket held by jihadists.
But Amos Yadlin, a former IDF general, said it seemed the Islamic State had deliberately targeted Israel, looking to take advantage of the IDF’s policy of striking forces belonging to Syrian President Bashar Assad in response to spillover violence.
“I actually think [IS] did want to harm us,” said Yadlin, who now head of the Institute for National Security Studies think tank.
“What [IS] wanted was apparently to cause some kind of confrontation between us and the Syrians, who are putting immense pressure on them with heavy shelling from Syrian planes and Russian planes,” Yadlin told the Times of Israel. “I think that the intention was to cause harm, but these types of rockets are very, very inaccurate.”
According to Israel’s Hadashot news, the missiles fell somewhere into the Sea of Galilee, some 50 meters from beach-goers at the popular tourist site. As of Thursday evening, the army had not announced if they had located the projectiles.
Breaking with policy and apparently not taking the jihadists bait, Israel hit the missile launcher where the rocket was shot from, which the IDF said belonged to IS.
On Thursday, the Russian Defense Ministry said it thanked the Israeli army for destroying the IS launcher. Moscow also contended that the rockets were fired deliberately by IS in a bid to draw the Jewish state into the conflict and have Israel open fire on Syrian regime targets.
Analysts in the past have noted other occasions when rebels groups appeared to fire rockets into Israel intentionally to lure the IDF into hitting regime positions, with some calling for Israel to re-examine its policy and consider targeting the group and not just the regime.
Syria regularly accuses Israel of supporting the rebels, citing the attacks on regime positions.
Yadlin said Israel was correct to hit IS instead of the Syrian army.
“I think that was the right move,” Yadlin said, calling on the military to strike any additional IS rocket launchers that could threaten Israel.
He also said Israel must remain wary of a possible IS attack, with the “desperate” jihadist group on the “verge of collapse” in the Golan Heights.
He pointed to a series of jihadist attacks on the Druze city of Sweida Wednesday that left nearly 250 people dead — one of the deadliest days in seven-years of civil war — as a sign of the group’s desperation.
“We have to ensure that once they actually reach a point of despair like they did yesterday — they carried out one of the worst suicide bombing attacks — we have to make sure we are not the target,” he said.
The decision to hit the IS launcher came a week after Israel signaled it was would not interfere with Assad’s retaking of the Syrian Golan Heights and would seek to make sure the 1974 agreement demarcating the separation of Israeli and Syrian forces be kept.
Israel’s non-interference strategy was complicated on Tuesday, when it shot down a Syrian fighter jet it said had entered its airspace. The army later signaled that the plane had likely accidentally strayed over the border during bombing runs against IS in the Yarmouk Basin, but Israeli leaders said the incident was an important message about Israel taking the 1974 line seriously.
Yadlin said with IS and other rebel groups still holding pockets in the Golan and Idlib, Assad had little interest in opening a new front against Israel.
“Assad’s enemy today is the opposition. In the south, only Da’ash remains. In the north, he still has other large forces in this area. The last thing the Syrian regime wants is an escalation [of fighting] against Israel,” he said.
“The regime’s first priority is to retake control of the areas that were under the opposition, and therefore I am not afraid of the Syrians,” added Yadlin.
The missile incident has raised questions about the country’s air defense capabilities in the north after the IDF’s anti-missile array failed to even attempt to knock down either rocket.
On Monday, Israel for the first time deployed its David’s Sling anti-mid-range-missile system, after rockets fired within Syria triggered alarms in Israel. In that case too, the system failed to intercept any projectile.
Though Israelis have become accustomed to high success rates thanks to the Iron Dome short-range missile defense system, Yadlin argued that Israelis should not expect every missile or rocket fired at Israel to be intercepted.
“Although Israel has a defense system for missiles and rockets among the best in the world, it cannot intercept anything in any place. This is an illusion,” he said.
“There will always be more rockets and more missiles than we have interceptors.”