"Israel is trying to divert attention from the defeat that it suffered in the face of the determination of the hero prisoner, Mohammed Allan."
That’s from a spokesperson for the subtly named Islamic Jihad, a rebel group whose leadership is based in Damascus. Mohammed Allan had been starving himself for more than two months while in Israeli detention. He apparently decided to start eating again on Wednesday after Israel’s high court suspended his arrest warrant.
This "defeat", Islamic Jihad claims, prompted Israel to blame the group for a rocket attack that hit an Israeli village on Thursday.
The rockets fell harmlessly into the brush and even if they hadn't, Israel had deployed Iron Dome interceptors "as a precaution," so in the event citizens were at risk, the missiles likely would have been shot down, but nevertheless, the Israeli military retaliated in characteristically disproportionate fashion striking targets in the Syrian Golan Heights "five or six times" on Friday. Here’s Reuters:
Israeli officials said two rockets struck close to a northern village in the upper Galilee, near the Lebanese border, setting off brush fires but causing no casualties. Air-raid sirens had sent residents to shelters.
The attack was unusual as that frontier had been largely quiet since the 2006 war between Israel and the Lebanese guerrilla group Hezbollah. By contrast, the Israeli-occupied Golan, about 16 km (10 miles) to the east, has occasionally come under fire from within Syria during the four-year-old civil war there.
An Israeli military source said the air force and artillery had struck "five or six times" in the Syrian Golan.
Syrian state TV confirmed Israeli strikes had hit, but said only material damage was done after "several missiles" targeted a transportation center and a public building in the Quneitra area near the Israeli frontier.
Rebel sources in Syria, however, said the strikes hit some of Damascus's military facilities on the Golan. A monitor initially reported casualties but did not elaborate.
For their part, Israel says a cell within the group fired the rockets at the behest of an unnamed "Iranian commander." That commander is apparently now dead, along with at least three out of four militants whose car was the target of the Israeli airstrikes.
More from Hareetz:
On Friday morning, an Israeli aircraft struck a car carrying five people in Syria. According to Syrian state TV, the attack took place in a village near Quneitra but gave no further details. According to the IDF, four were killed in the attack, while the condition of the fifth was unknown. It said that the men were members of the Islamic Jihad.
In Syria, there were conflicting reports as to the identity of those killed in the attack. Sources in the Syrian opposition said that five people were killed in the attack, including an Iranian commander. Syrian state TV said the five were civilians.
A senior Israeli officer told reporters on Friday that the IDF was tracking the cell following the rocket attack. He said that the decision to target them was reached after intelligence information confirmed that they fired the rockets on Thursday.
The strike was carried out at the center of the Syrian Golan Heights, ten kilometers from the border with Israel. The senior officer stressed that the attack took place in an area controlled by the Syrian army.
"We have no wish to continue heating up [the border], but to protect the security of the State of Israel and its northern border," the officer said. He stressed that the militants received their directions from Iran.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel "has no intention to escalate the events, but our (Israel's) policy stands. He added: "The states rushing to embrace Iran should know that an Iranian commander gave the cell orders to fire at Israel."
The implications here are as yet unclear, but there are two things worth noting.
First, Islamic Jihad is openly backed by Iran. Should the conflict escalate it will likely serve as further ammunition (figuratively speaking) for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been a sharp critic of the nuclear deal which is currently the subject of fierce debate among US lawmakers ahead of an attempt by Republicans to undercut the agreement and override a Presidential veto next month. From FT:
[The attacks] came as Israel delivered a demarche to the six world powers who signed a nuclear deal with Iran, which it blames for having co-ordinated the rocket attack.
“This is another clear and blatant demonstration of Iran’s continued and unabating support and involvement in terrorist attacks against Israel and in the region in general,” the demarche, published by Israel’s foreign ministry on Friday morning, said.
“This attack has also occurred before the ink on the . . . nuclear agreement has even dried, and provided a clear indication of how Iran intends to continue to pursue its destabilising actions and policies as the international sanctions regime is withdrawn in the near future,” the Israeli protest said.
Perhaps more importantly, Israel says it "holds the Syrian government responsible for [the] attacks," which would seem to suggest that in the event further "stray" rockets should find their way into Israel setting off any more brush fires, the Israeli military - which, you’ll note, isn’t exactly shy about retaliating mercilessly in the face of "aggression" - might just join the melee across the border.