Netanyahu Confirms Syria Strike
The Syrian state media reported on Monday February 11th, 2019 that Israel bombed a demolished hospital and observation post in Syria’s southern Quneitra province near the border between Israel and Syria. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu confirmed on February 12th, 2019 that Israel did in fact strike Hezbollah targets in Syria the previous day. "We operate every day, including yesterday, against Iran and its attempts to entrench itself in the region," Netanyahu stated as he set out to attend an international conference on the Middle East in Warsaw.
Despite this admission, the position of the Israeli security establishment remains the same and contrary to Netanyahu’s statement. When asked, senior officials refrained from addressing the incident on the Syrian Golan Heights in desire of renewing the policy of ambiguity of recent years. Regardless, the attack targeted Hezbollah and the intention was to drive them away from the Israeli border.
Israel is also actively fending off Iranian threats in the region. Netanyahu states "Iran is issuing threats against us. On the fortieth anniversary of their revolution, they threatened to destroy Tel Aviv and Haifa. I said that they won't succeed and if they try it will be the last anniversary they celebrate." The prime minster adds “we are operating through a lot of different means and elements against their attempts to arm up on nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. We also halt their attempts to entrench themselves in Syria.” With that said, however, Netanyahu claims Israel maintains good relations with all countries in the Middle East except for Syria.
When it comes to the Israeli-Syrian border, Israeli intelligence officials believe that Iran and Hezbollah are still insistent on opening a new front against Israel in the Golan. They predict that Iran will try to take advantage of the opportunity when Lebanon-based Shi’ite organization might challenge Israel along the border.
Although Israel claims it has reached understandings with Russia and the United States, Monday’s incident casts some doubt on that statement. These understandings included that Iran and its proxies would be kept at least 80 kilometers from the Syrian-Israeli border.
Despite Iran and Hezbollah having few officers and advisers in Syria today, ISF still think that both Iranian and Hezbollah personnel will remain in the country. Iran’s main objective in Syria at the moment is to establish its Syrian militias and locate them near the Golan. Similarly, Hezbollah is attempting to reinforce its control over the southern Golan where Israel, Syria and Jordan meet in a triangle.
The Syrian army has regained control of most of the country, including the Golan Heights. Perhaps what worries Israel the most is that Iranian and Hezbollah forces are working with Syrian soldiers in the Golan. The fact that Iranian and Hezbollah forces are stationed among or alongside Syrian soldiers in the Golan worries Israel.
Some recent events prove that Iran is still insistent on stationing itself closer to the Israeli border than Israel would like. In December of 2018, several armed men were seen crossing the fence into the buffer zone between Syria and Israel. ISF fired at the men but they escaped unharmed and the officers were displeased with this outcome as they believe the armed men should have been killed.
Moreover, last month, a missile was fired at Mount Hermon following an airstrike near the Damascus airport that was attributed to Israel. The missile, Iranian model that came from an Iranian factory, was launched near a site much closer to the border than the 80 kilometers Israel was promised by Russia and the United States.