Golan Heights attack aims to bait Israel | Middle East| News and analysis of events in the Arab world | DW | 19.03.2014
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Middle East

Golan Heights attack aims to bait Israel

The recent attack on Israeli-occupied Golan Heights was carried out by Sunni Jihadis in an attempt to bring Israel into a direct conflict with Hezbollah and the Syrian Army, according to Israeli military experts.

The former deputy head for assessment of the Israeli Defense Force's military intelligence and former adviser to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Dr Jacques Neriah, says the strength of Hezbollah's forces had been eroded by the Syrian civil war and there was little will to fight Israel.

"I don't believe Hezbollah is behind this, this is something the rebels have done to try and bring Israel into direct conflict with Hezbollah and the Syrian Army. I don't believe Hezbollah is in any position to fight Israel, they usually target Israel's soft belly mainly through attacks overseas," he told DW.

The bomb that injured four Israeli soldiers on Tuesday was the latest in a series of incidents along Israel's volatile northern borders with Syria and Lebanon. Last week a roadside bomb went off near a military patrol along the Lebanese border with Israel causing no injuries. Earlier this month the Israeli Defence Force said it killed two Hezbollah-affiliated militants, who were trying to plant a bomb on the border.

Right to protect

"The IDF retains the right to act in any way and at any time it sees fit to protect the citizens of Israel," an IDF statement said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his cabinet that Israel's policy is clear - "we hurt those who hurt us," he said.

Netanyahu was referring to Israeli air strikes against weapons shipments saying that Israel had taken action during the Syrian conflict to "thwart, as much as we can, the transfer of arms by sea, air and land."

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Israel says it reserves the right to retaliate

Israel's Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon pointed the finger at Syrian President Bashar al-Assad "as the person responsible for what happens in his country. If Assad continues to cooperate with terrorists who seek to harm Israel he will continue to pay a heavy price that he will regret," he said.

Dr Neriah said the presence of rebels on the border between Syria and Israel meant the Golan Heights had now become a hot spot, when it had previously been quiet.

"The equation has changed in the Golan Heights, it has been silent for 40 years and now that silence has been diminished by the appearance of the rebel element," he said.

Dr Jonathan Spyer, a senior researcher at the Global Research in International Affairs Center in Israel said it was unlikely Hezbollah and Assad were trying to bring Israel into a circle of violence.

"I see this as another round of violence with certain parameters, not an escalation or a change of any kind. Assad is still fighting for survival, after he has lost control of nearly half of the Syrian territory," he told DW.

Strategic realignment

Dr Neriah disagreed with Spyer saying "the wind was now blowing in Assad's direction. Assad has never chosen to control the whole country, he's always strategically had control of cities and key logistic lines and borders and the desert, which makes up 60 percent of Syria. Assad has had key victories lately."

Daniel Nisman, intelligence manager of the Middle East division of Max Security Solutions, a geopolitical risk consulting firm in Tel Aviv, says Assad and Hezbollah now needed to be viewed as one entity.

"Yesterday's bomb attack was similar to common Hezbollah military operations used in Southern Lebanon, but happened in an area controlled by the Syrian army," he told DW.

According to Nisman, Hezbollah was now at the forefront of the Syrian military and featured in the most key battlefronts, including the Qalamoun region this year and the Qusayr region last year. Hezbollah was also protecting key sites around Damascus, he said.

"Because of this Assad needs to allow Hezbollah room to operate against Israel, particularly as Hezbollah has lost hundreds of quality soldiers fighting the rebels," said Nisman.

Israeli soldiers photo: JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images

Israel is on alert for attacks by Syria

Israel's options

Last May in an opinion piece Nisman warned the Assad regime had threatened to retaliate against Israel.

"Both the Damascus-based Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command and the far more fearsome Hezbollah has pledged to take the fight against Israel to the long-dormant Golan Heights," he wrote.

Last year Lebanese media reported it had sent 40 of its operatives to the Golan Heights to possibly set the stage for a future attack.

"The situation on the Golan Heights offers ideal conditions for a terrorist strike. The presence of multiple militant groups, coupled with the increasing absence of the Syrian military, would complicated any effort to attribute responsibility for an attack. This makes Israel's efforts to legitimize subsequent retaliation against Hezbollah's positions in Lebanon or the Assad regime far more difficult," Nisman said.

Nisman believes a wave of attacks from the Golan Heights would leave Israel with no option but to enter Syrian territory and establish a buffer zone between its citizens and the multitude of jihadi rebels and Assad proxies on the other side.

"As far back as 2012, reports surfaced that plans had been drawn up in Tehran to lure the Israeli Defense Forces into a resource-draining occupation in the event of Assad's fall."

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