Israel launched air raids against Syrian army positions early yesterday and issued a stark warning to Damascus just hours after a bomb on the occupied Golan Heights wounded four of its soldiers.
The air strikes marked the most serious escalation along the ceasefire line with Syria since the 1973 Middle East War, with Israel’s defense minister warning that Damascus would pay a “high price” for helping militants bent on harming the Jewish state.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had on Tuesday warned that Israel would act “forcefully” to defend itself following the Golan attack.
“The IDF [Israeli Defense Force] targeted several Syrian army positions which aided and abetted the attack against IDF personnel yesterday,” a military statement said, with a spokeswoman confirming the air force had staged bombing raids on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights plateau.
The air raids targeted a Syrian army training facility, a military headquarters and artillery batteries, the statement said.
Military sources confirmed that the air force had carried out four strikes about 3am.
There was no immediate response from the Syrian military, the spokeswoman said.
The air raids took place 12 hours after four soldiers who were patrolling the Israeli side of the ceasefire line were wounded by a roadside bomb, one of them severely.
It was the third such incident in two weeks along Israel’s northern frontier, with Israeli military officials blaming the Syrian army for complicity in the attack.
Two previous attempts to strike soldiers along Israel’s northern borders on March 5 and on Friday last week were blamed on Hezbollah.
In a statement issued at dawn, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said Israel held the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad accountable for the attack.
“We see the Assad regime as responsible for what is happening under its authority, and if it continues to cooperate with terror elements who seek to harm Israel, we will make it pay a high price,” he said.
Militants from Hezbollah are fighting alongside Syrian troops in their three-year battle against rebels bent on overthrowing al-Assad.
Israel would not tolerate any “breach” of its sovereignty and would continue to strike anyone seeking to harm its forces or civilians, Yaalon said.
“We will react with determination and force against anyone operating against us, at any time and any place, as we have done tonight,” he said. “Whoever tries to harm us takes his fate in his hands.”
Israeli officials have been careful not to directly blame Hezbollah at this stage, but Netanyahu on Tuesday said there was a growing number of “jihadists and Hezbollah elements” on the Syrian Golan, saying it “represents a new threat” for Israel.
Although there was no immediate claim of responsibility for Tuesday’s bomb, analysts pointed to similarities with an explosion last week targeting troops along the Lebanese border, which was blamed on Hezbollah, and a similar attempt in the Golan on March 5.