Ex IDF commander: Israel should take Assad retaliation threats seriously

A former top IDF commander familiar with the region says that while the recent spillover is probably a result of the "direction" of combat, Assad's threats are very real.

Smoke rises during fighting in the village of Ahmadiyah in Syria, as seen from the Israeli side of the border fence between Syria and the Golan Heights [File] (photo credit: REUTERS)
Smoke rises during fighting in the village of Ahmadiyah in Syria, as seen from the Israeli side of the border fence between Syria and the Golan Heights [File]
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Emboldened by Russian air support, Syria is serious in its threats to warn Israel against further strikes against regime positions, Brig.-Gen. (res.) Nitzan Nuriel, former director of the Counter Terrorism Bureau in the Prime Minister’s Office, said on Monday.
“I believe the Syrian government, that they have had enough of Israel’s activity in Syria, and by having the Russian umbrella, they can be more aggressive, like they were a few months ago when they launched a missile toward Israel,” Nuriel said during a conference call with journalists. “It may not be large, but the Syrian regime will send the message [to Israel] that it cannot be that you are the only one attacking us.”
The IDF has carried out several retaliatory strikes against Syrian regime positions after errant mortar shells struck Israel’s northern Golan Heights. On Sunday, the general command of the Syrian army said Israel was responsible for “serious consequences if it repeats similar aggressive actions under any pretext.”
Nuriel, who is also a former deputy commander of the IDF’s Galilee Division, said the Syrian regime would not attack Israel itself, but could send a proxy to retaliate along the border, even in the knowledge that the IDF would retaliate “quickly and hard.”
“Israel cannot tolerate any spillover by any group, be it the Islamic State group, al-Nusra groups, Iran or Syria, to use the chaos on the border to launch an attack on Israel on purpose or by mistake,” he said.
Fighting has intensified near Quneitra, which is near the central part of the Golan border, as the Assad regime fights against the al-Qaida-linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and other rebels groups that recently launched an offensive to take control of the city of al-Baath, one of the few towns in the province that has remained under control of government forces.
While groups affiliated with Islamic State and al-Qaida have controlled the Syrian side of the border for nearly five years, the regime recently regained lost territory with the help of Russian air support.
While most of the rebel groups do not want Israel to be part of the conflict, “at the end of the day they do not like us,” Nuriel said.
Israel strikes Syrian targets in response to earlier cross-border fire, June 24, 2017. (IDF Spokesperson"s Unit)
“After ISIS is gone, other groups like Hezbollah will use the Golan Heights as a platform to strike Israel,” he explained.
“When they finish fighting among themselves, they will turn to finding a way to attack us.”
On Monday, gunfire struck a United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) post adjacent to the Golan border.
Agricultural workers on the Israeli side raised fears by saying they had heard mortar rounds fall, but after searching the area, the IDF stated that rounds from a single machine gun fired on the other side of the border had struck the UNDOF post. As the result of the shooting, a brush fire broke out in a nearby minefield.
The IDF said the blaze was under control and there were no reports of injuries.
According to Nuriel, the spillover from last the three days was due to the direction of the offensive by the regime.
“From a tactical perspective, if you are attacking from east to west, there will likely be spillover,” he said, adding that “if you really want to win, attack from north to south so as to prevent any spillover into Israel.”
Farmers have been instructed not to approach any orchards near the border.