Israel yesterday threated to strike Syrian government forces if they breach the demilitarised border zone near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
Israel’s Public Security Minister, Gilad Erdan, said that “we must do everything to clarify, vis-a-vis the Russians, the Assad government, that we will not accept any armed presence by the Assad regime in the areas which are meant to be demilitarised,” according to Reuters. Erdan said that Israel was “unequivocally” willing to take preventative action against Syrian regime forces.
Other prominent Israeli military and political figures have echoed Erdan’s comments and expressed Israel’s resolve to counter any entry of Syrian forces into the zone. An Israeli military captain of the 401st Armored Brigade, Tsur Goldman, said that “IDF troops will protect Israel’s border until the last millimeter.” Goldman told the Jerusalem Post that “I want to believe that the Syrian regime would not deploy their troops here against the 1974 agreement,” but that “[Israeli] tanks and infantry troops are prepared to deal with the Syrian regime or errant rocket fire.”
Israeli Defence Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, also warned Iran against any deployment of its troops in the zone, telling an Israeli Farsi-language radio station that Israel “will not tolerate the presence of the [Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’] Quds Forces on Syrian soil, or any attempt to establish Iranian military bases in Syria. We will act in the most determined and decisive manner.”
Earlier this week, Israel boosted its tank and artillery deployment in the occupied Golan to caution Damascus against advancing its forces near the border. The border region has witnessed an escalation of fighting in June, as regime forces continued their assault on opposition-held Daraa. Some 350,000 refugees have fled Daraa and assembled on the Jordanian and Israeli-occupied Golan Heights border. Neither Jordan nor Israel have permitted the refugees to enter their territory. It is expected that Syrian regime forces will now advance on oppisition-held Quneitra, situated inside the Golan buffer zone.
The agreement to which Israeli military captain Goldman refers was signed between Israel and Syria following the cessation of the 1973 War, in which Syria failed to regain control of the Golan Heights. The area had been occupied by Israel since the 1967 War, often called the Naksa or setback, along with the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The 1974 agreement created a demilitarised buffer zone between the two forces, located on the Syrian side of the border, and monitored by the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF). The agreement also limits the number of forces Israel and Syria can deploy within 25 kilometres of the zone, according to the Times of Israel. In 1981, Israel annexed the Golan Heights, though this annexation is not recognised internationally and is considered illegal under international law.