An Israeli soldier prays on a Merkava tank on the Israeli-Syrian border near Quneitra. File photo
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On Sunday Israel’s military said it launched an airstrike on its border with Syria after spotting militants carrying a bomb into the Israeli-held Golan Heights.
The military said it carried out the strike after troops saw “a group of armed terrorists” approach the border with an explosive intended to target Israeli troops. Israeli aircraft were dispatched, “targeted the squad, and prevented the attack.”
No casualty figure were released for the strike. However, Iran’s state-run, English-language satellite news channel, Press TV, later reported four people had been killed in an Israeli airstrike in the Golan Heights, but did not elaborate.
On Twitter, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent messages commending the soldiers involved in the strike.
“Any attempt to harm our soldiers and civilians will be met with a determined response like the military action tonight that thwarted a terror attack,” Netanyahu said.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack launched from inside Syria, which has been in the grips of a civil war since 2011. Syrian state media did not immediately report on the strike.
Israel has tried to stay out of the war in Syria, but it has spilled into the country before. In September, the Israeli military shot down a Syrian fighter jet in its airspace over the Golan Heights–which Israel captured from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war and later annexed in a move that has never been internationally recognized. In August, Israel shot down a drone that came into the same airspace from Syria.
Israeli troops have also responded to occasional mortar fire from Syria. Israel says some of the attacks may have been accidental spillover, while others have been intentionally aimed at Israeli civilians and soldiers. It has always held Syria responsible for any cross-border fire.
Israel and Syria are bitter enemies. While relations are hostile, the ruling Assad family in Syria has kept the border area with Israel quiet for most of the past 40 years. Israel is concerned that the possible ouster of the embattled President Bashir Assad could push the country into the hands of Islamic State extremists or al-Qaida linked militants, plunging the region further into sectarian warfare.
It has also repeatedly threatened to take military action to prevent Syria from transferring advanced weapons to its ally, Hezbollah. Israel is believed to have carried out several airstrikes in Syria in recent years that have targeted sophisticated weapons systems, including Russian-made anti-aircraft missiles and Iranian-made missiles.
There were reports in the Arab media last week that Israel had carried out another attack on such weapons in Syria. Israeli officials have not commented.
But just hours before the border strike Sunday night, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon warned Syria and Iran against arming Hezbollah with such weapons.
“We will not allow the transfer of quality weapons to terror groups led by Hezbollah and we know how to reach them and those that dispatch them at any time,” Yaalon said. He added that Iran is continuously trying to find ways to arm Hezbollah with the weapons.