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Israel treads water to avoid drowning in the Syrian crisis

For the first time since the beginning of the Syrian conflict, an Israeli civilian was killed during an intentional anti-tank missile attack

Brooklyn Middleton

Published: Updated:

For the first time since the beginning of the Syrian conflict, an Israeli civilian was killed during an intentional anti-tank missile attack emanating from Syrian territory. The missile ripped through the Israel-Syria border separation barrier, striking the vehicle of an Arab-Israeli defense contractor in the Israeli Golan Heights on 22 June; the blast immediately killed the employee’s 14-year-old son, Mohammad Karaka, and severely injured the boy’s father and at least one other person. The Israeli military quickly determined the attack was deliberate with IDF Spokesman Lt. Col. Peter stating, “this is not a case of errant fire, but of an intentional attack.” The public military statement confirmed that this attack differed from several other incidents in the Golan Heights - events that Israeli officials ultimately assessed were the result of unintentional spillover or the work of Hezbollah militants. Days after this, Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman explicitly blames the Assad regime for the deadly assault, stating ”we got all the analysis, all the intelligence and it was clear it was Syrian authorities, Assad’s forces, who fired on the Israeli boy…I hope Damascus got the message.”

The Israeli military retaliated within 24 hours, striking at least nine different Syrian military positions with ground-to-ground Tamuz missiles and IAF fighter jets. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the attacks reportedly killed at least ten Syrian soldiers.

Bashar al-Assad’s disgraced regime confirmed the Israeli attacks indicating, “the Israeli occupation forces on Sunday and Monday carried out a new attack against positions inside Syrian territory, which constitutes a new, flagrant violation of the 1974 Separation of Forces Agreement, of the U.N. charter and international law.”

Despite the deadly, bold attack that killed an Arab-Israeli child and the subsequent fatal Israeli retaliation, any further escalation between Israel and Syria remains unlikely

Brooklyn Middleton

As sought out and timely as the Assad regime’s reflections on international law are, Israel has yet to respond to Damascus’ condemnation and subsequent request for the U.N. to take action against Israel.

Unlikely escalation

Despite the deadly, bold attack that killed an Arab-Israeli child and the subsequent fatal Israeli retaliation, any further escalation between Israel and Syria remains unlikely in the near term; Israel remains focused on its eastern front - closely assessing the threat of ISIS’ encroachment on Jordanian borders and its successful capture of the Iraq-Jordan Turabil border crossing. Meanwhile, only hours before the IDF assessed the situation on its northern front following the missile attack, Israeli security forces detained a Palestinian man armed with a hand grenade inside of a southern Israeli community; reports indicated he crossed from Gaza - the first such incident in over a year. The thwarted attack in Israel’s south occurred as tensions skyrocketed between Palestinians and Israel in the West Bank, with at least five Palestinians killed during the Israeli military’s ongoing “Operation Brother’s Keeper.” The two week long assault targeting Hamas militants, those suspected of having links to the group, and many Hamas-backed or associated institutions, has failed to bring the three Israeli teenagers back to their families and has led to periodically brutal clashes erupting between Palestinians and IDF personnel. While Israel continues striking Hamas in the West Bank, Hamas lashes out from the Gaza Strip, launching rockets at an increasingly frequent rate.

Notably, at the same time, Assad’s calculus regarding Israel remains unchanged; it is unthinkable his military would risk a harsh Israeli response to any attack emanating from Syria, jeopardizing his regime’s ability to sustain the tenuous gains he’s made.

Hezbollah militants

However, as the risk of further Israel-Syria escalation remains the same as it did before last week’s cross-border attacks, Hezbollah militants are highly likely to attempt to target IDF troops on the border as they’ve successfully done in March 2014 and months prior. Israel - who holds the Assad regime responsible for all attacks emanating from Syria - is in turn likely to retaliate against Assad positions as it has consistently done so in the past. With that said, despite the likelihood the militant group will continue to carry out low-scale attacks targeting IDF troops, it also remains deterred from striking Israel too hard as it is increasingly likely Hezbollah must step up efforts in Iraq to sustain the gains the group and Assad’s regime have made in Syria and any confrontation with Israel would likely render that impossible.

Despite the fact that the region remains on the brink of conflagration and Israel’s priorities do not include getting dragged into the Syrian conflict, Israel’s response also demonstrated that the Israeli military will continue to adhere to its own, long-stated red lines regarding the Syrian conflict. The Israeli response sent a message that it will continue targeting Hezbollah bound weaponry and retaliating against the Syrian military for any attack on Israeli territory - while also consistently retaliating for rocket fire on the south, continuing its operation in the West Bank, and stepping up cooperation with the Jordanian military.

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Brooklyn Middleton is an American Political and Security Risk Analyst reporting from Israel. Her work has appeared in Turkish and Israeli publications including The Times of Israel and Hürriyet Daily News. She has previously written about U.S. President Obama's policy in Syria as well as the emerging geopolitical threats Israel faces as it pursues its energy interests in the Eastern Mediterranean. She is currently researching Ayatollah Khomeini’s influence on Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant groups to complete her MA in Middle Eastern Studies. You can follow her on Twitter here: @BklynMiddleton.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.