Syrian Tanks Breach Golan Heights, Israel on High Alert - The Jewish Voice
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Thursday, July 7, 2022

Syrian Tanks Breach Golan Heights, Israel on High Alert

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Tensions between Israel and Syria flared anew this past weekend when three Syrian tanks entered a demilitarized zone in the Golan Heights that had been established in a 1974 disengagement treaty between the two countries.

In response, Lieutenant General Benny Gantz, Israel’s military chief of staff, toured the area. Cautioning soldiers there to be on high alert, Gantz warned that Syria’s escalating internal warfare might reach Israel’s borders.

An Israeli military spokesman said that the government of Israel had lodged a formal complaint with United Nations peacekeepers on Saturday. This Syrian foray into Israeli territory represents the first such violation in 40 years and also raises concerns that widespread violence emanating from Syria’s protracted civil war could ignite this frontier that has been marked by relative quiet for decades.

The Syrian tanks entered the demilitarized zone on the Golan Heights on Saturday afternoon, remaining there for several hours into the evening. The IDF was waiting for the United Nations’ Disengagement Force on the Golan Heights to oversee their withdrawal. According to published reports, the tanks, which were involved in heavy clashes with Syrian rebels, entered Be’er Ajam, a Circassian village in the Syrian-controlled portion of the Golan Heights that is close to an IDF position on the border. Earlier on Saturday, locals near the Syrian border reported hearing heavy exchanges of fire between the Syrian army and rebels.

The Northern Command has been on the lookout for such a development since Syrian infighting approached the Israeli border several months ago, and it remains committed to a policy of zero-tolerance to challenges to Israeli sovereignty from Syria. The Israeli news web site, Ynet, reported that the tanks and two armored personnel carriers drove a few kilometers from Israeli military positions.

Despite the fact that the incursion indicates the most serious spillover of Syria’s turmoil at the Israeli border to date, analysts believe that Israel’s relatively low-key response of turning to the UN peacekeepers to air their grievances suggests that the Jewish state does not view the Syrian armor as an imminent threat.

In the past, misfired Syrian shells have exploded inside Israel, and as recently as this month, the Israel Defense Forces evacuated tourists from the top of Mount Hermon after sighting dozens of Syrians – many of them with guns – in civilian clothing approaching the border. The suspects, who may have been rebels, did not infiltrate the border, and stopped their approach to the fence some 500 meters away from the international boundary.

Prior to Israel’s capture of the Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 Mideast war, Syria had utilized the highlands as a launching pad for rockets aimed at Israeli villages and farms. Israel later annexed the strategic territory in its most northern region. Approximately seven kilometers at its widest and 200 meters at its narrowest, the Golan Heights demilitarized zone was established subsequent to the Yom Kippur War of 1973 in which Syria made attempts to retake the plateau.

Marco Carminjani, an official with the UN body supervising the zone, said that if the report of Syrian tanks entering the Golan Heights is confirmed, it would be a clear violation of the 1974 disengagement agreement between Syria and Israel. Saying that although he could not immediately verify the report, Mr. Carminjani did acknowledge that, if true, it would represent the first such Syrian move in the zone since the accord was ratified. There was no immediate comment from Syria.

There is growing concern in Israel that if the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is toppled, the country could fall into the hands of Islamic extremists or descend into sectarian warfare, destabilizing the region. Israeli officials have also expressed worries that the frontier region could morph into a lawless area like Egypt’s Sinai desert, where Islamic militants have gained strength since the ouster last year of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

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