ISRAEL’S TIGHTROPE dance with Syria hit a new snag last month. For the first time during the three years of Syria’s bloody civil war, the Israel Air Force openly bombed targets belonging to President Bashar Assad’s army.The IDF took responsibility for the action, one that could bring on an escalation and drag the Israeli government reluctantly into a military conflict, which – at least at this stage – it does not seem to want to be a part of. It was the first time during the civil war that Israel admitted that its air force attacked Syrian positions.The IAF’s overt attack was carried out in response to a roadside bomb that was placed on the Israeli side of the Golan Heights near the town of Majdal Shams. The bomb wounded four Israeli paratroopers on a routine security patrol in the area. This incident followed three others in recent weeks, one of them in the Har Dov corridor leading to Mount Hermon on the shared border between Israel, Syria and Lebanon.The defense establishment’s assessment is that responsibility for all four incidents, and certainly the latest, rests with Hezbollah, the radical Lebanese Shi’ite movement, with the Syrian Army either turning a blind eye or providing tacit cooperation. Israeli intelligence estimates that Hezbollah decided to avenge an earlier Israeli operation on Lebanese soil.In February, the IAF attacked a convoy carrying weapons from Syria to the Shi’ite organization inside Lebanese territory.Though in this case Israel maintained its silence and did not take credit for the assault on Lebanon, it was pretty clear to regional observers and certainly to Hezbollah that Israel was behind the strike.The IAF’s latest attack, on Syrian soil, carried out overnight, was meant not just to pass on a clear message to Assad that Jerusalem holds him responsible for incidents against Israel that originate from territory under his control, and that Israel will not tolerate what it views first and foremost as an initial step toward a war of attrition on the Golan Heights. However, whether intended or not, the attack also, in effect, changed the rules of the game and may have contributed to the creation of a new reality in the sensitive tripartite relations between Israel, Syria and Hezbollah.UNTIL RECENTLY, Israel’s policy had been not to intervene overtly in its neighbor to the north’s ongoing civil war. This was a responsible and correct approach.Israel ignored the appeals repeatedly made in public and in secret meetings with representatives of the opposition groups (the secular moderates) regime and weakening Assad’s army, was in Israel’s best national and strategic interests – notwithstanding the danger of 30,000 global Islamist Jihadists in the region, many of them near the Israeli border.The few overt military operations carried out by Israel so far have been limited in requesting military aid.Israeli intelligence assessed that the civil war, which was draining the blood of the regime and weakening Assad’s army, was in Israel’s best national and strategic intersts – notwithstanding the danger of 30,000 global Islamist Jihadists in the region, many of them near the Israeli border.The few overt military operations carried out by Israel so far have been limited in scope and responsive in nature.Israel responded with artillery fire and rockets every time shots or mortar shells were fired at the Golan Heights, whether deliberate or errant.More importantly, according to foreign reports, the air force also carried out at least five attacks in the last year on army bases and convoys either storing or transporting advanced weapons from the Syrian Army to Hezbollah. These were weapons viewed by Israel as “game-changers” – long-range ground-to-ground missiles, anti-aircraft missiles and land-to-sea missiles – that must not be allowed to fall into the hands of Hezbollah. All five attacks had two things in common: They were carried out on Syrian territory and Israel never admitted responsibility. With this wisely ambiguous approach, Israel established a “denial zone,” which enabled Assad’s regime to take the punch and restrain itself. It created a face-saving excuse for Assad.But in February 2014, Israel widened its steps. For the first time, it attacked a convoy on a Hezbollah base on the SyriaLebanon border, but within Lebanese territory.Hezbollah announced that it viewed the Israeli action as an attack on Lebanese sovereignty and a violation of the 2006 cease-fire agreement and would no longer restrain itself. With such a blatant violation, attacking Lebanon and provoking Hezbollah, Israel was playing with fire.It appears that the conflict in Syria is expanding towards Israel’s northern border. Hezbollah has indeed not exercised restraint; and by initiating the recent incidents, the Shi’ite movement is heating up the triangle border area between the three states.As Israel did not take responsibility for the attack on Lebanese soil, Hezbollah, too, is exercising a similar approach. In order to conceal its involvement, it is not targeting Israel from Lebanese territory – it prefers to carry out its revenge from within Syria.Hezbollah is obviously exploiting its direct and widespread influence (with the help of Iran) on the regime in Damascus, which owes it no small thanks for the military assistance it has given Assad.Just before the attack near Majdal Shams, Lebanese media reports revealed that more than 500 Hezbollah fighters (about one-fifth of its force) from the organization’s elite units had fallen in the Syrian civil war. As a result, Assad is clearly finding it difficult to refuse the requests of Hezbollah (and Iran) to transfer sophisticated weapons and enable the Shi’ite organization to operate from within Syrian territory.As such, the air force attack last month that Israel admitted to is different from all others. It shows up Assad and makes it difficult for him to hold back, despite his weakness and unwillingness to engage in confrontation with Israel. It may also drag Israel into the vicious cycle of escalation. There is a feeling of déjà vu in the air.Twice in the history of the state has a vicious cycle of this sort – actionresponse-reprisal – brought Israel into a war that neither side wanted. The first time this happened was in the 1950s, when Israel’s policy of “reprisal operations” in response to Palestinian infiltrations from the West Bank (then under Jordanian control) and Gaza (then under Egyptian control) into Israel intensified the situation on the borders and culminated in the Sinai Campaign in 1956.The second time was in the 1960s, when the infiltrations and terror attacks carried out by fighters from the recently established Fatah group led by Yasser Arafat through the borders of Syria and Jordan led the IDF to carry out reprisals and eventually to the Six Day War.One can only hope that Israel’s massive payback activities and spinoff involvement in the Syrian civil war won’t spiral into an unwanted war for the third time.