Netanyahu: Harm us and we will harm you

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Israeli defense forces patrolled the country’s border along the demilitarized zone between Israel and Syria on Monday, after renewed tensions in the region last week when forces loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad fought off an attempt by rebels to seize the sole crossing between Syria and Israel.

Also In the past week, Assad’s forces and Hezbollah captured the town of Qusayr, which lies on a cross-border supply route with neighboring Lebanon, a sign of reversing momentum after the rebels seized swathes of the country in the second half of last year.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel was ready to respond to any attack to maintain the security of the country.

“What guides us is first and foremost to maintain the security of our citizens. We are prepared for any events and the most basic principle is that whoever threatens to harm us or harms the citizens of Israel will be harmed,” Netanyahu said.

With stray or direct gunfire coming into the Israeli-occupied Golan from Syria, Israel forces have occasionally fired back. Israel has also carried out at least three air strikes on Syrian sites that intelligence sources described as advanced weaponry in transit to Hezbollah.

Surrounded by hostility and instability, Israel is loath to see the Syrian front descend further into chaos, especially as it estimates one in 10 anti-Assad rebels are radical Islamists.

It has said repeatedly that it will not engage in the war unless forced to -- a position Israeli minister for international relations and strategic affairs Yuval Steinitz reiterated on Monday.

“It’s terrible civil war, terrible tragedy, close to 100,000 casualties, mostly civilians but we do not want to get involved in it,” he said, before warning Syria not to provoke Israel.

“Don’t force us, don’t force us. Don’t provoke us, don’t make any miscalculations about us. We don’t want to get involved on the one hand but on the other hand if somebody think that he can allow some kind of war of attrition on our borders, he better think again,” Steinitz said.

Speaking at the same briefing, Steinitz said Assad might prevail in the uprising against him because of the backing he receives from Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

The assessment was quickly disavowed by others in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government.

The demilitarized zone on the Golan Heights is patrolled by the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), a mission that has kept the Israeli-Syrian war front quiet for 40 years.

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