Israel Hits Syria Targets as Officials Warn of Escalation

Israel launched air strikes against Syrian military positions after a border bomb attack on its troops, as officials in Jerusalem warned that fallout from Syria’s civil war is escalating tensions along the frontier.

Israeli jets struck a Syrian army training facility, a military headquarters building and artillery batteries, the army said in a e-mailed statement. The strikes were a response to the wounding of four Israeli soldiers by the explosion of a device on the Golan Heights frontier with Syria yesterday, the third such incident along Israel’s northern border this month.

While Israel did not directly accuse the Syrian military of planting the device, its aircraft struck targets linked to “Syrian elements that not only facilitated, but also cooperated with, the attacks on our forces,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the cabinet in Jerusalem today.

Israel captured the southern Golan from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war, one of three conflicts with its neighbor. It also engaged in a monthlong conflict with Hezbollah in 2006. While Israel has never acknowledged any role in at least three reported airstrikes against Syrian arms transfers to Hezbollah during the past 14 months, it has threatened to do so.

One Syrian soldier was killed and seven wounded in the Israeli strikes, according to an armed forces statement cited by state-run Syrian television. Israeli acts of aggression jeopardize the stability of the entire region, exposing it to “all possibilities,” the Syrian military said.

‘Strategic Threat’

“It is evident there is a new strategic threat to Israel’s north,” Shaul Mofaz, a lawmaker who was previously defense minister and army chief, told Army Radio. The three years of fighting in Syria have enabled radical Islamic elements to approach Israel’s northern borders, Mofaz said, and the army is having to respond “operationally, organizationally, and in terms of infrastructure and intelligence.”

Yesterday’s attack on Israeli soldiers came four days after an explosive device targeted troops patrolling the border with Lebanon, drawing retaliatory fire at Lebanon’s Iranian-backed Hezbollah militia, which is fighting in Syria in support of President Bashar al-Assad. On March 5, the military said it fired at Hezbollah militants trying to plant an explosive device in the Golan.

“The most likely suspect in these bombings is Hezbollah, retaliating for the air strike against its arms convoy from Syria last month that it blamed on Israel,” Jonathan Spyer, a political scientist at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, said by phone. “But another possibility is jihadist forces fighting with the Syrian rebels, and if that were the case, this would be a worrying new development for Israel.”

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