Israel believes five rockets fired across the border from Syria early Saturday morning may have been deliberately launched at Israel, rather than constituting errant spillover from clashes in Syria, military sources said late Saturday.
Israel fired back into Syria, hitting three rocket launchers, in response to the rocket fire, and warned that further fire would prompt a more intensive response.
Syria, in turn, claimed that Israel had “coordinated” with terror groups, inviting them to fire into Israel as a pretext for the IDF response, and it sent letters of complaint to the United Nations.
The Israeli army said five projectiles were fired at around 5 am, and that four of them fell relatively deep inside Israeli territory. The rockets set off alarms in several locations. They landed in open ground, and caused no injury or damage. One of them landed close to an Israeli residential area.
Channel 2 news reported that although the IDF officially referred to “spillover” fire in its statements Saturday, there was “a growing sense” in the army that the Syrian fire was deliberate.
There was no fighting going on in Syria at the time of the fire, the TV report said. It added that the area from which the rockets were fired is under the control of the Syrian army. And it noted that the projectiles fell deep inside Israeli territory on the Golan Heights, one after the other, rather than close to the border.
Tensions have been particularly high on the Israeli-Syrian front of late.
Concluding a visit to Syria on Saturday, the commander of Iran’s armed forces signed a memorandum of understanding with Syrian officials in which the two allies announced plans for tighter military cooperation and coordination — notably against Israel. The sides agreed to expand cooperation on intelligence, training, technology and against what they called “Zionist-American schemes,” the Ynet news website reported.
Maj. Gen. Mohammad Bagheri, Iran’s chief of staff, has spent several days in Syria, touring war zones and meeting with high-level officials, including President Bashar Assad.
In what was seen as part of a determined effort to put an end to Israel’s hitherto unimpeded air superiority over Syria and Lebanon, Bagheri on Wednesday said Tehran would not tolerate violations of Syrian sovereignty by Israel and vowed that the two countries would jointly fight against Syria’s enemies. “We cannot accept a situation where the Zionist entity attacks Syria from the ground and the air,” he said.
Israel’s Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman this week hosted his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu, and told him that Israel will take action against Iran and its proxies if they continue to entrench themselves along the Syrian border.
Liberman, and IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, are in the US this coming week for talks with US officials, with Syria and Iran high on the agenda.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a rare instance of open disagreement with the Trump administration, has warned that the unfolding situation in southern Syria does not sufficiently address Iranian military ambitions in the area.
“The recent Israeli attack on the outskirts of Quneitra is a new chapter in the conspiracy between the Israeli occupation and armed terror groups, and another attempt to support these organizations,” Syria’s Foreign Ministry said in messages sent to the UN secretary general and the UN Security Council.
Damascus warned of the “dire consequences of these repeated aggressive actions, which cannot be seen as anything but support for terrorism and the criminal terror groups.”
It further expressed “utter astonishment at the Security Council’s inability to stop these Israeli attacks and condemn them.”
The IDF vowed to intensify its responses to future fire. “Even if this is just spillover, this is an exceptional incident and the continuance of such events will be met with a more fierce Israeli response,” a statement by the IDF said.
“The IDF will not tolerate any attempt to harm the sovereignty of the State of Israel and the security of its residents, and considers the Syrian regime responsible for what is happening in its territory,” the statement concluded.
As a result of the projectile fire, missile warning sirens were heard in a number of local communities Saturday morning. The army fired back and hit three Syrian launchers.
After the IDF strike, Syria asserted that Israel had arranged for rebels to fire across the border, in order to justify an Israeli response. The Syrian army said in a statement that the attack was proof of Israel’s “cooperation with terrorist organizations in the region.”