Video shows group near border fence, hit by missile

Syrian cell entered Israeli territory to plant bomb in unmanned army post — IDF

Army confirms all four would-be bombers killed, but says it’s not yet clear who they were working for; spokesman indicates Israel may retaliate against Damascus

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

Four people crossed into Israeli territory from Syria and planted improvised explosive devices inside an unmanned Israel Defense Forces outpost along the Syrian border late Sunday night, the military said, as it revealed new details about the overnight incident.

Soldiers from the Maglan special forces unit and unspecified aircraft opened fire at the four suspects, some of whom were armed, killing them all, IDF Spokesperson Hidai Zilberman told reporters Monday morning. The army also released video of the incident, showing figures approaching a fence near the border and being hit with a missile.

No Israeli soldiers were injured.

The spokesman said the military did not yet know which military or terrorist organization the men belonged to, but the IDF was looking into the matter.

He said it was not immediately clear if this was an isolated incident or if it was tied to the ongoing tensions with Hezbollah, which has vowed to carry out some kind of attack on Israel in retaliation for the death of one of its fighters in an airstrike in Syria last month that it attributed to the Jewish state. There has been no comment from the Lebanon-based group.

“I believe in the coming days we’ll know better about what organization they were a part of,” Zilberman said.

The spokesman said the military was working on “neutralizing” the area where the four militants were operating — disarming the bombs they planted — so that the explosives could be studied in order to determine which organization the men belonged to.

Israeli army forces seen stationed near the border between Israel and Lebanon in the Golan Heights on July 27, 2020. (David Cohen/Flash90)

Zilberman said regardless of which group was behind the attempted attack the military ultimately holds the Syrian government responsible for the incident and indicated it was considering retaliating against Damascus in some way, as it has in the case of previous attacks that came from Syria, irrespective of which group carried them out.

The spokesman said the military was not changing its level of alertness in light of the attempted attack and would remain with reinforcements along the Syrian and Lebanese borders for the time being.

“We will continue to be on alert for many more days. We have a lot of patience,” he said.

The four suspects were under IDF surveillance over the course of several hours before the troops opened fire, being monitored by female soldiers operating powerful security cameras, known in Hebrew as tatzpitaniyot.

The men were first seen approaching the area at around 8 p.m., and they crossed the official Israel-Syria border — but not the security fence separating the two countries, which lies a few meters west — some three hours later.

“They crossed the ‘alpha line’ so they were totally within Israeli territory,” Zilberman said, referring to the technical term for the line marking the Israel-Syria border.

Israeli army forces seen stationed near the border between Israel and Lebanon in the Golan Heights on July 27, 2020. (David Cohen/Flash90)

Seeing that the men were armed, the lookouts directed a group of Maglan soldiers, who had been lying in wait, to the location.

The special forces troops opened fire with machine guns and other weapons, while an aircraft overhead also fired at the suspects. “I can say with high certainty that they were killed,” Zilberman said.

The spokesman said the lookouts had noted a number of cases of people approaching the border “pretending to be innocent shepherds” in recent days, which the military believed to in fact be reconnaissance operations ahead of an attack. In light of these concerns, the IDF sent a Maglan team to the area to act as an “ambush” if such an attack should occur, Zilberman said.

The IDF spokesman said that while the outpost where the men planted the bomb was unmanned, the military still considered the attempted attack to be serious matter as the area is often patrolled by Israeli troops.

The military on Monday morning released the footage of the men entering Israeli territory (above). The weapons that the IDF said were in their possession are not clearly visible in the grainy footage filmed with a night-vision camera.

In the video, the men can be seen stalking through a field and approaching the security fence. The suspects can then be seen standing behind a mound of dirt before being apparently hit with a missile, which causes an explosion where they were standing.

Asked why the IDF was prepared to release the footage from Sunday night, but not from an incident last Monday in which the military said a group of Hezbollah operatives attempted to carry out an attack on Mount Dov along the Israel-Lebanon border, Zilberman said the decision was made out of “operational” considerations.

The military believes that releasing the footage of the failed Hezbollah attack from July would embarrass the group and perhaps increase the chances of some kind of retaliation.

A picture taken from the Israeli side of the Blue Line that separates Israel and Lebanon shows smoke billowing above Mount Dov on the Israeli-Lebanese border, after reports of clashes between the IDF and Hezbollah in the area, on July 27, 2020. (Jalaa MAREY / AFP)

According to Zilberman, the outpost where the men placed the explosive was located in an enclave in the area of Tel Fares along the border that previously housed a clinic operated by a Christian charity, under the auspices of the IDF, to treat Syrian civilians who were affected by the country’s civil war. It was closed when Syrian dictator Bashar Assad’s forces retook the Syrian Golan in 2018.

In the past, the area was controlled by the Islamic State terror group, which attempted to carry out a small number of attacks along the border.

Over the past weeks, Hezbollah has threatened some form of retaliation for the death of one of its fighters last week in Syria in an airstrike that it attributed to Israel, but which the Jewish state has not officially acknowledged conducting.

Israeli soldiers work on tanks near the Lebanon border on July 28, 2020. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Bracing for the attack, the IDF sent an infantry battalion to the Northern Command as reinforcements, along with additional “advanced” firepower in the form of precision-guided surface-to-surface missiles, combat intelligence units and special forces. The military has also ordered its troops and vehicles to keep away from areas along the border that are vulnerable to attack.

Last Monday, the IDF said it thwarted an attempt by Hezbollah to send a team of fighters into the Israeli-controlled territory of Mount Dov, also known as Shebaa Farms, to carry out an attack. According to the military, the Hezbollah cell made it a few meters across the border before IDF troops opened fire at the operatives — apparently not hitting them, but driving them back into Lebanon.

Hezbollah officially denied that an attack had taken place, but did not explicitly dispute that its members had crossed into the Israeli-controlled enclave.

The terror group said a reprisal for its fallen operative in Syria was still to come.

In the past, Hezbollah has vowed to retaliate for losses of its fighters in Syria with attacks on Israel. This was the case in September, when the terror group fired three anti-tank guided missiles at Israeli military targets along the Lebanese border, narrowly missing an IDF armored ambulance with five soldiers inside, after the IDF killed two of its fighters in Syria the month before.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report

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