Saturday, October 21, 2017

21-Oct-17: Early-morning rocket fire deep into northern Israel today and IDF believes the Syrians meant it this time

Damascus today: Iranians on the left, Syrians on the right, Iran's Maj. Gen.
Mohammad Bagheri in the middle shaking hands with Syria's top military
officer Gen. Ali Ayoub. The military agreement they signed is described
below [Image Source]

Israel's Syria border has been relatively quiet for decades. But the recent and ongoing geo-strategic changes in the Middle East (think: Iran) mean the likelihood of substantial changes there - for the worse - is on the minds of everyone in the Israeli security establishment.

Here's what we know about the events of today (Saturday).

Times of Israel, in a report entitled "Israel believes rocket fire from Syria may have been deliberate" says five rockets were fired across its border from Syria early this morning (Saturday). While earlier incoming rockets (there have been many this year already - most recently this past Thursday) have been called incidental to the ferocious blood-letting in Syria, today's
"may have been deliberately launched at Israel, rather than constituting errant spillover from clashes in Syria, military sources said late Saturday. Israel fired back into Syria, hitting three rocket launchers, in response to the rocket fire, and warned that further fire would prompt a more intensive response... Channel 2 news reported that although the IDF officially referred to “spillover” fire in its statements Saturday, there was “a growing sense” in the army that the Syrian fire was deliberate..." [Times of Israel, today]
Today's rockets were all fired into Israel around 5 am. Four fell relatively deeply inside Israeli territory and according to Times of Israel set off Code Red (Tzeva Adom) alarms in several locations. It's still believed at this stage that all crashed onto open ground without causing injury or damage, though one "landed close to an Israeli residential area."

Israeli suspicions start with the assessment that  no fighting was going on in any relevant part of Syria at the time of the fire. The Syrian army fully controls the specific area from which they were fired. And they landed far from the Syrian frontier.  And this:
Concluding a visit to Syria on Saturday, the commander of Iran’s armed forces signed a memorandum of understanding with Syrian officials in which the two allies announced plans for tighter military cooperation and coordination — notably against Israel. [Times of Israel, today]
More about that below.

All sides - Syria, Israel, Iran - have been making statements.

The Syrian defense ministry says Israel arranged for the rocket attack on its territory:
"The terrorists, acting at the behest of Israel, shelled empty ground to provide a pretext for this aggression..." [Turkish news site Daily Sabah, today]
The IDF doesn't think it attacked itself and issued this blunt warning:
“The IDF will not tolerate any attempt to harm the sovereignty of the State of Israel and the security of its residents, and considers the Syrian regime responsible for what is happening in its territory... Even if this is just spillover, this is an exceptional incident and the continuance of such events will be met with a more fierce Israeli response... ” [IDF statement quoted by Times of Israel, today]
And Bagheri, the Iranian, said just three days ago from Damascus [source] where he arrived a day earlier that he was there to coordinate
in order to fight our common enemies — whether they are the Zionists or the terrorists. We discussed ways to strengthen relations in the future and outlined the basic principles of this cooperation... We cannot accept a situation where the Zionist entity attacks Syria from the ground and the air”.
Associated Press today added to what we know about the unusual Syrian junket by Iran's most senior military officer:
The Chief of Staff of Iran's armed forces, Maj. Gen. Mohammad Bagheri, is on an official visit to Syria. He toured the front lines in the northern province of Aleppo and discussed military cooperation with President Bashar Assad... Syria and its strong backer Iran signed a joint memorandum of understanding for developing cooperation and coordination between the two countries' armies... [The] memo was signed between the two countries' chiefs of staffs [and] provides for exchanging military expertise and intelligence and technology information in a way that can boost the two countries' capability for fight terrorism, according to [Syria's] state news agency SANA. Iran has been one of Syrian President Bashar Assad's strongest supporters since the country's crisis began in 2011 and has sent thousands of Iranian-backed militiamen to boost his troops against opponents.
Meanwhile, Israel National News says the IDF fire in the hours after the Syrian rocketry "destroyed three Syrian artillery cannons".

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