Tensions mount on the Israeli-Syrian border

On Monday morning, as reported by the Associated Press, “The Israeli military says it has fired into Syria for a second straight day in response to errant mortar fire that landed in the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights.”

This incident is similar to several which have occurred previously on the Turkish border, in which mortar rounds fired during the Syrian civil war flew across the border and prompted a response from the Turkish military.  According to the Jerusalem Postthe shell that crossed into Israel on Sunday have been landing near military outposts, without causing injuries or damage.  The Israeli response to the first offense was characterized as a “warning shot,” but nevertheless represented the first time Israel has fired at Syrian forces since the Yom Kippur War in 1973.

The second incident prompted the IDF to actually target the source of the incoming fire with an advanced Tapuz-class missile, although the AP says there were “no reports of injuries from either side of the frontier,” so this might be characterized as an exceptionally stern warning shot.  A complaint was also lodged with the United Nations, in which Israel said that further hits on its territory would result in “a real response.”  The IDF has thus far observed a policy of limited response, since as the Jerusalem Post observes, it will “only fire intensively in response to coming under major Syrian fire.”

“The message has certainly been relayed,” said Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, referring to the IDF’s efforts at communication via Warhead Express.  ”To tell you confidently that no shell will fall?  I cannot.  If a shell falls, we will respond.”  Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel is “closely following what is happening on our border with Syria and is prepared for any development.”

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The AFP news service reports that United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon  is “deeply concerned by the potential for escalation,” and calls for “utmost restraint,” with no more “firing of any kind” across the ceasefire line.  (When the line that separates you from your unruly neighbors is called a “ceasefire line,” you know you’re living in a tough neighborhood.)

Some observers wondered if the incidents between Turkey and Syria were actually caused by Syrian rebel forces, who might have been mischievously seeking to antagonize the Turks into bombing their adversaries.  In this case, there doesn’t seem to be much doubt that government forces were the source of the shells that landed in Israel.  The U.N. has already filed complaints with the Syrian government for parking three tanks in the demilitarized zone on Saturday afternoon, where they remained for several hours.

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