TEL AVIV — Israel responded overnight to fire beyond its northern and southern borders with parallel military action aimed at enforcing existing cease-fire rules with Gaza-based Hamas and the flailing Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad.
In the first attacks in Gaza since Israel’s Pillar of Defense operation last November, Israel’s military spokesman announced Wednesday that the Air Force struck sites where mortars had been fired at a settlement along its southern border.
“Yesterday, there was mortar fire coming in from Gaza,” said Brig. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, military spokesman. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) “will not accept a return to the situation prior to Operation Pillar of Defense. Hamas understands that there are new rules.”
Mordechai noted that the five months since the U.S.- and Egyptian-brokered cease-fire that ended Israel’s eight-day campaign in Gaza last November had been the “quietest” since the country withdrew from the coastal strip in 2005.
“The goal is to maintain quiet in southern Israel,” Mordechai said.
Meanwhile, along Israel’s northern border in the Golan Heights, an Israeli tank fired on a building in the Syrian village of Beer Ajam from which mortar and machine-gun fire was directed at an IDF patrol near the border fence.
“An IDF tank accurately struck a building ... and hit the gun post that fired at the IDF patrol,” Mordechai said in the same Wednesday statement.
Just hours earlier, during a Tuesday tour of the theater and briefings by senior IDF commanders, Israel’s new Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon had warned that Israel would not accept any spillover into its territory from the ongoing Syrian civil war.
Going a step further than his predecessor, former Defense Minister Ehud Barak — who said Israel would retaliate against intentional cross-border fire — Ya’alon said Israel would respond to any identified sources of Syrian fire, whether it was intentional or not.
During his tour of the area, Ya’alon told reporters that Israel would not intervene in the ongoing bloodshed in Syria as long as it “does not harm our interests.” However, he warned that “when it harms our interests — whether from gunshots or Grad rockets across the border, and whether it lands in our area intentionally or not intentionally — we will respond to neutralize the sources of fire as we’ve done last week.”
The following morning, Ya’alon’s office sought to further clarify Israel’s policy of responding to accidental or intentional fire from Syria with this statement: “Israel has no intention of ignoring fire from Syria toward Israeli territory, incidental or not, and will respond with a firm hand.”
Ya’alon added, “As soon as we identify the source of the fire, we will take it down without hesitation, as we did last night and in previous cases. As far as we are concerned, the Syrian regime is to be held responsible for everything happening in its territory. Israel will not allow a situation in which firing spills over to Israeli territory without a response.”
As for the Gaza Strip, Ya’alon said in a Wednesday Twitter post that Israel would not tolerate “rain drops” of rockets launched from beyond its southern border. Regardless of which militant groups launch such attacks, he said, Israel will hold Hamas responsible.