Israel was still busy battling wildfires across the country when the Islamic State’s west Syrian branch, Jaysh Khaled Ibn al-Walid (formerly known as the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade), engaged the Israeli Defense Forces in a battle on the Golan Heights for the first time.
At 8:30 a.m. Sunday, ISIS operatives opened fire at a Golani Brigade patrol of the IDF near Avnei Eitan on the southern Golan Heights in north-east Israel.
The IDF soldiers had crossed the border fence to conduct an “ambush operation” while remaining within Israeli territory when they were fired upon by ISIS terrorists on the other side of the border.
The soldiers returned fire but then came under attack from mortar shells.
At that point, the Israeli Air Force intervened and a drone targeted the four terrorists with a missile while they tried to flee in a truck with a heavy machine gun on top of it.
IDF spokesman Col. Peter Lerner said that “it was a short exchange” and called it “productive,” meaning the four ISIS terrorists were killed.
On Monday morning, the Israeli Air Force again targeted the Jaysh Khaled Ibn al-Walid brigade, named after Muhammad’s top general, Khaled Ibn al-Walid, who lived in the seventh century and died in a battle in Syria.
This time an abandoned U.N. Disengagement Observer Force compound that ISIS used as an operations center was bombed to bits with no fewer than 10 2,200-pound bombs.
“This is an additional response to yesterday’s attack, and it is aimed at preventing the terrorists from returning to the installation which poses a significant threat,” an IDF statement read.
The Israeli army said the former UNDOF compound was the base from which the four terrorists had departed prior to their attack on the Golani patrol.
Analysts and pundits in Israel were quick to point out that the attack by the ISIS branch was not the beginning of a war between Israel and the Islamic State and that the reason for the attack was an internal feud, ISIS’ crumbling caliphate, a reaction to an Israeli provocation, or even an operational error.
Ha’aretz military affairs analyst Amos Harel went as far as suggesting that the Syrian border area had been quiet and claimed that “militias keep the border quiet and keep the extremist rebels away, above all the Al-Qaida-linked group formerly known as the Nusra Front.”
The reality is somewhat different, however.
The Syrian army, together with Iranian-backed Shiite militias, is working to retake the Kuneitra province while the Islamist rebel groups on the Israeli-Syrian border are increasingly cooperating.
Two weeks ago, Jabhat Fatah al-Sham — formerly known as Jabhat al-Nusra, an Islamist rebel group that was affiliated with al-Qaida but decided to go it alone this year — together with other Islamist rebels, launched a massive attack on the Druze village of Khader just across the Israeli border near Magdal Shams on the northern Golan Heights.
Hassan Fagredin, a Druze political activist from Magdal Shams, told Western Journalism that nine Druze fighters and 50 Islamist rebels had died in the battle.
He partly confirmed a NOW Lebanon report of Nov. 14 that said a large battle had taken place between the Syrian army and its allies and a Jabhat Fatah al-Sham-led Islamist coalition that tried to overtake Khader, one of the three Bashar al-Assad strongholds near the Israeli border.
Fagredin, who said he has remained loyal to al-Assad because the Syrian dictator is the only one who guarantees the safety of the Druze minority in Syria, asserted that the Syrian army now has the upper hand in the protracted battle against the Islamist rebel groups in the border area.
The Druze activist suggested the ISIS attack on Israel could have been related to the anger in Syria over Israel’s activities on the Golan Heights, where existing communities will be expanded on a large scale and where plans exist to build new villages.
Fagredin said there have been more battles recently between al-Assad’s army and the rebels in the border area with Israel.
This was also confirmed by foreign journalists at the Kuneitra observation post some 10 miles from Magdal Shams.
The reporters told Western Journalism they had witnessed how the al-Assad alliance had recently attacked rebel positions near the abandoned UNDOF base at Kuneitra.
By using binoculars one could see the bombed-out buildings near the U.N. compound on the Syrian side of the border, they said.
The pro-al-Assad coalition is reportedly also laying siege on rebel-held towns in Kuneitra province while the Islamist rebels frequently fire rockets and mortar shells on government-controlled towns in the region.
In September, the Islamist coalition made another attempt to stop the advances of the pro-al-Assad coalition, but the offensive ended in an abysmal failure, according to Al Masdar News.
The latest spillover of the Syrian civil war into Israel comes a year after the pro-al-Assad coalition launched a major offensive that was expected to have ended in a victory over the Islamist rebels in Kuneitra.
However, the situation on the ground shows that al-Assad might need the sort of offensive that is currently taking place in Aleppo (Halab) to realize his goal on the Golan Heights.
As Western Journalism reported in September, the Islamist groups in the area of the Israeli border are increasingly cooperating, and some of them have sworn allegiance to the Islamic State.
The battles for control over Khader and Kuneitra show the Islamist coalition is far from defeated and could pose a long-term danger to Israel.
The IDF, meanwhile, is preparing for more incidents like the one that occurred Sunday as a massive drill involving Merkava tanks and armored vehicles a few miles from the Kuneitra observation post showed Monday.