The Israeli army said Monday it had killed four men laying explosives near the Israeli-occupied sector of the Golan Heights, the latest security incident on the tense northern borders.
The incident comes with the military on high alert for an attack by Hezbollah, which is seeking revenge for a fighter killed in an airstrike attributed to Israel.
“They were inside Israeli territory but beyond the fence,” military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus told journalists in a telephone briefing.
Escalating Israel-Syria tensions
He said an Israeli commando unit lying in wait attacked the intruders shortly after 11 pm Sunday (2000 GMT) with assault rifles and sniper fire backed by air strikes.
“Our estimate is that all four were killed,” Conricus said in English, adding that there were no Israeli casualties.
Tensions are already high between bitter rivals Israel and Syria.
Last month, Israeli army helicopters struck military targets in southern Syria in retaliation for earlier “munitions” fire towards Israel.
Israeli airstrike on Syrian military posts south west of Damascus in responses to the attempt of 4 terrorists last night to put IEDs by the border fence. Another air strike took place at the “Imam Ali” Iranian militia base near the city of Al Bukamal close to the Iraqi border.
— Amir Tsarfati (@BeholdIsrael) August 4, 2020
Israel did not directly blame Syrian forces for the munitions fire, but said it held the Damascus government responsible.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement Monday that “the army thwarted an attempted attack on the Syrian front”.
“We don’t let our guard down,” he said, recalling an incident at the Lebanese border last week that prompted Israeli artillery fire across the frontier, as well as rocket fire Sunday evening from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip which led to retaliatory Israeli air strikes.
Israel will “strike anyone who attacks us or tries to attack us,” Netanyahu said.
Hezbollah potential connections and links
Several Israeli media outlets reported that Monday’s actions were in response to an increased threat from the Iran-backed Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah, which has a significant presence in Syria.
Last month, five Iran-backed fighters were killed in an Israeli missile strike south of Damascus, according to Britain-based monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Then last Monday, Israel said it thwarted an infiltration attempt from Lebanon by up to five Hezbollah gunmen, a claim denied by the Iran-backed group.
Israel reported an exchange of fire that forced the “terrorists” back into Lebanon and said it fired artillery across the heavily guarded border for “defensive” purposes.
Hezbollah officially denied that an attack had taken place, but did not explicitly dispute that its members had crossed into the Israeli-controlled enclave.
Conricus said Israeli troops were early Monday searching the area of the incident for clues but that he could not immediately link the overnight attack to the Lebanese group or its sponsors in Tehran.
“We do not know at this stage and we cannot confirm a link between this terrorist squad and Hezbollah or Iranians,” he said.
#Breaking: Exchange of fire between #Israel and #Hezbollah in the Israeli-Lebanese border, unconfirmed Lebanese reports say an Israeli military vehicle was hit. Hezbollah had vowed to revenge the death of its member in an Israeli airstrike in #Syria last week.#Lebanon pic.twitter.com/ueESZdB7kO
— Ilan Zalayat (@ilanzalayat) July 27, 2020
“We know that there are many different factions operating on Syrian soil.”
The Syrian Observatory said it was “likely”, but could not be confirmed, that the attackers were from the Syrian Resistance to Liberate the Golan.
Exchanges between Israel and Hezbollah
The Hezbollah-linked group was formed more than six years ago to launch attacks in the Israeli-occupied zone.
Conricus said that Israel’s Maglan commando unit had been deployed at the attack site for several days.
“We spotted irregular night-time activity in this specific location for the past week and we had a commando unit deployed in the area,” he said.
He added that for Israeli civilians on the Golan Heights, normal life was uninterrupted during the incident.
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.
Since 2011, Israel has launched hundreds of strikes in Syria, targeting government troops and allied Iranian and Hezbollah forces and vowing to end Iran’s military presence in Syria.
AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk