On Sunday, the Israeli army said it fired a guided antitank missile into Syria as a warning after the landing of another errant shell that had been fired in fighting between Syrian troops and rebels. The Israeli responses followed several recent incidents in which stray munitions from the clashes in Syria had fallen in Israeli-held territory.
The renewed firing Monday heightened concerns that the Syrian conflict could draw in Israeli forces on the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau taken by Israel from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War. The fighting in Syria has led to sporadic clashes on the country’s borders with Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan, raising fears that it could trigger wider regional conflict.
On Monday, Syrian jets bombed a rebel-held town along the Turkish border, killing more than a dozen people. Also Monday, a new umbrella organization for Syrian opposition groups was recognized by the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council, the first formal endorsement the group has received.
An Israeli army statement on Monday’s Golan incident said that a shell fired “as part of the internal conflict inside Syria” landed harmlessly in an open area near an army outpost in the central Golan Heights — the same post hit by a stray mortar shell Sunday.
Israeli troops responded by firing “tank shells toward the source of the fire, confirming direct hits,” the statement said. Military officials said that the tank fire hit a Syrian mobile artillery unit and that there was no response from Syrian forces.
Syria did not comment on the incident, and it was not reported on state news broadcasts.
Eyal Zisser, an expert on Syria at Tel Aviv University, said that despite the flare-up, neither Israel nor the embattled Syrian government had an interest in widening the hostilities. “It’s not something that either side wants to get into,” Zisser said. “It’s a very local and measured incident.”
Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Sunday that the army had been ordered to prevent the fighting in Syria from spilling over the Golan frontier.
Rising public clamor
Top government and military officials seemed more preoccupied Monday with the rocket attacks in the south. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu conferred with Barak and the army chief of staff to discuss possible responses that could address a rising public clamor for action without provoking an international outcry and rupturing delicate relations with Egypt, which has mediated between Israel and Hamas, the Islamist group that rules the Gaza Strip.