Someone in Syria wants to challenge Israel

Israel has yet to determine who was behind the most recent rocket attack from Syria, but multiple actors could have an interest in changing the rules of the game.

The Israel Defense Forces patrols the Israeli-Syrian border in the Golan Heights on Nov. 27, 2017, after the Islamic State shot over the border into Israel. Credit: Basel Awidat/Flash90.
The Israel Defense Forces patrols the Israeli-Syrian border in the Golan Heights on Nov. 27, 2017, after the Islamic State shot over the border into Israel. Credit: Basel Awidat/Flash90.
Yoav Limor
Yoav Limor
Yoav Limor is a veteran Israeli journalist and columnist for Israel Hayom.

The rockets fired at the Golan Heights from Syria on Saturday night seem intended as a signal to Israel.

Saturday’s attack was not the first attack of that type. The most recent rocket attack, in January, took place in the afternoon and was carried out by Shi’ite militias supported by Iran. The rocket was intercepted by an Iron Dome battery stationed in the area in advance.

That incident, which came in response to an Israeli airstrike, was exploited by Israel to carry out a broad attack on Iranian targets in Syria, most notably a logistics center used by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Hezbollah at the international airport in Damascus, which was knocked almost completely out of commission.

And yet Saturday’s attack was unusual, in the sense that it seemingly came out of the blue. Unlike previous incidents, it wasn’t carried out in response to or retaliation for any Israeli activity. This could indicate that someone on the other side is fed up with Israel dictating the rules of the game in the north, and wanting to send it a message that there’s more than one player on the field.

As of Sunday evening, Israeli officials were still unsure who fired the pair of Grad rockets, one of which landed on Mount Hermon and the other of which apparently fell in Syrian territory.

The rockets were reportedly launched from a distance of around 30 kilometers (19 miles) from the border, from an area in which multiple actors are active, at least three of which could have an interest in harming Israel: the Syrian regime or a group acting on its behalf, in an attempt to convey Damascus’ sovereignty; Iranian proxies (Shi’ite militias or Hezbollah), seeking revenge against Israel for anything from airstrikes on weapons depots to economic sanctions imposed on Tehran; or a Palestinian or other terrorist group that managed to get their hands on rockets and decided to put them to use.

From Israel’s perspective, it doesn’t really matter who fired the rockets. Israel’s response—striking Syrian artillery and anti-aircraft batteries and an intelligence post near the border—sought to reiterate that as the sovereign power it is the Syrian regime’s responsibility to prevent hostile activities against Israel from its territory. This is Israel’s standing policy (in Gaza, too)—target the sovereign entity to encourage it to exerts said sovereignty—to which it adhered to even throughout the Syrian civil war when the Assad regime was not in control of the border region.

Still, this rocket attack should concern officials in Jerusalem because it means that someone in Syria wants to challenge Israel.

For the time being, the attack does not alter the basic situational assessment. The Israel Defense Forces enjoys complete dominance in the northern sector. If it avoids making mistakes (specifically regarding Russian forces in Syria) it will be able to continue, for now, to pound away at Iran’s entrenchment and weapons smuggling efforts. In the long term, however, Israel will have to consider and plan new avenues of action that reinforce deterrence and ensure that Israel meets its objectives in Syria, and as a byproduct in Lebanon as well.

Given the recent political upheaval in Israel, this task falls almost squarely on the IDF’s shoulders.

Consequently, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi will have to continue bearing an extraordinarily heavy load until a new, stable government can formulate a clear policy, security-related and otherwise. Until then, it seems things will mostly stay the same, from the frequent headaches in Gaza to the far more disconcerting security concerns in the north.

Yoav Limor is a veteran Israeli journalist and columnist for Israel Hayom.

This column first appeared in Israel Hayom.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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