Liberman: No plans to attack Syria, but we won’t ignore provocation

Defense Minister Avidgor Liberman said Monday that Israel has “no intention of launching a military operation” against Syria or rebel groups operating within it even as tensions have spiraled in recent days.

Speaking at the Knesset Defense and Foreign Affairs committee, Liberman rejected predictions made by some in Israel’s political echelon that the next conflict with either Hezbollah in the north or Hamas in the south is just around the corner.

“If you read the newspapers it seems that we have many prophets predicting a hot summer,” the defense minister said. “Let me be clear once again: We have no intention of initiating a military operation, neither in the north nor in the south.”

But Liberman said that despite the military establishment’s hope for calm on Israel’s borders, it will not tolerate any provocations, even accidental fire that spills over from a neighboring conflict.

“We won’t hold back if necessary and when needed we will respond with all our might,” he said, adding that Israel will not allow Syria to become a base for attacks against Israel.

“Anyone that wants to turn Syria into an Iranian base against Israel should think again. We will not allow Syria to become another front against Israel,” he said.

In the past three days there have been three incidents of errant shells landing in Israel. The IDF has responded with force, targeting Syrian army installations, which Israel holds responsible for all incidents originating from Syrian soil.

Around 10 mortar shells from Syria struck the Golan Heights on Saturday, prompting an Israeli response that reportedly killed two Syrian soldiers. On Sunday, several more projectiles hit Israel in what the army said was spillover fire from fighting between regime forces and rebels.

Israeli soldiers patrol near the border with Syria after projectiles fired from the war-torn country hit the Israeli Golan Heights on June 24, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / JALAA MAREY)

The IDF on Sunday again responded to the errant fire, confirming it targeted a Syrian military vehicle. Arabic media reports said five people were injured in the Israeli raid.

Earlier Monday the IDF said that stray fire from Syria reportedly hit a United Nations peacekeeping position in the Golan Heights. No injuries were reported. The army launched searches following reports that two mortars had landed on the Israeli side of the frontier, but no signs of shelling were found.

Instead, “heavy machine gun bullet holes were identified in a UNDOF post near Zivanit, adjacent to the border,” the army said.

The United Nations Disengagement Observer Force monitors a 1974 ceasefire between Israel and Syria on the Golan Heights.

Syria responded Sunday to Israel’s strikes with its own warnings

“The general staff of the Syrian army warns of the dangers of these aggressive actions and holds the Israeli enemy responsible for the grave consequences of these repeated actions, despite any excuse there may be,” the Ynet news site quoted the Syrian military as saying.

The Syrian general staff also published photos of at least three men it said were Syrian soldiers killed in Israeli strikes. It did not provide a date or any other information on when they were killed.

Also on Sunday, Syrian Defense Minister Fahd Jassem al-Freij visited troops in southern Syria to mark the end of the Ramadan monthlong fast where he vowed the regime would continue fighting until it conquers “every morsel of the homeland.”

Israel has largely stayed out of the Syrian civil war, which broke out in March 2011, but has over the years acknowledged that it helps treat wounded Syrians who arrive at its border, and provides some of them with humanitarian assistance.

It has also claimed a number of airstrikes in Syria it says were meant to prevent terror group Hezbollah from acquiring advanced weaponry from Iran via Damascus. Israel has repeatedly confirmed that it was actively working to disrupt Hezbollah’s arms smuggling operations in Syria and its buildup of capabilities on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights.

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