IDF chief sends clear message to Syria: "If Assad destabilizes the Golan Heights, he will pay a heavy price."
Speaking at the Institute for National Security Studies at Haifa University on Tuesday, IDF
Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz
claimed that Syrian President Bashar Assad was "encouraging the aggression against Israel
taking place in the Golan Heights." Gantz's comments came hours after Syria
claimed that it had destroyed an IDF jeep which crossed into its territory.
Gantz vehemently denied that the IDF jeep hit
Tuesday had in fact entered into the Syrian side of the Golan – as Syria had claimed.
'Assad will pay for Golan destabilization' (Photo: Avishag Shaar-Yashuv)
However, he did comment on the incident, saying "the patrol was most definitely conducted along the Syrian border fence, but it did not penetrate into Syrian territory, that is just nonsense."
Syrian fire on jeep, IDF retaliation
"The patrol was fired on only once, twice, three times, all of which undoubtedly originating from the Syrian side."
Nonetheless, "the chances of an all out regional war will break out are small," the chief of staff said.
"The Syrians maintain forces in the Golan, but most of them battle the rebels. I don’t think Lebanon
has the ability to maneuver with Israel, and Hezbollah
has only limited means; and I don’t think it's in Egypt's interest to cross the Rubicon between peace and war.
Nonetheless, he stressed that "not all of the regional developments contain a threat, some hold potential," referencing new mutual interests and possible cooperation which could be forged with neighboring countries that would also suffer if fundamental Islamic forces were to overtake Syria.
"Even the current situation in Sinai does not benefit the Egyptians"
Regarding the claims that the patrol or Israel was somehow involved in clashes between Syrian rebels and pro-Assad Hezbollah forces in Qusair, Gantz said they were "completely ridiculous."
Gantz peering at Syrian Golan (Photo: IDF Spokesperson Unit)
In the early morning hours, official Syrian state news agency SANA reported that Syria's military leadership said its forces destroyed an Israeli vehicle that had crossed the ceasefire line, heading for the Syrian village of Bir al-Ajam.
The report warned that any attempt to violate Syrian sovereignty would be met with "immediate and firm retaliation," noting that the incident was further proof of the ties between Israel and rebel forces.
Shortly after the SANA report, a senior Syrian minister, Halef al-Muftah said that his country's reaction to the alleged Israeli infiltration coincided with the "severity of Israel's action of breaching Syrian sovereignty.
"Syria is ready for a conflict with Israel, we have strategic weapons. The Syrian army is ready to answer any threat, the rules have changed," he said to the Hezbollah-owned Al Manar television station in Lebanon.
Home Front Command Chief Major-General Eyal Eisenberg
also commented on the developments in the north during a press briefing held in anticipation of Wednesday's annual home front exercise.
Eisenberg said that "we will be forced to deal with heavy rocket fire. The weapons possessed by our enemies are long range and have large warheads," adding that if a conflict were to break out, the home front would face "difficult days."
However, he added that "Israel has the ability to destroy 10-fold," adding that he recommends that "our enemies think twice before deteriorating the situation."
Regarding the patrol jeep incident, Israel denied the report, saying one of its vehicles was hit by gunfire on the Israeli side of Golan ceasefire line, and claimed that the incident highlighted the potential for renewed conflict along a front line that has been largely quiet for nearly four decades.
The Israeli military said a vehicle had been damaged by gunfire from Syria but no Israeli soldiers were hurt. Israeli troops returned fire after the incident, it said.