Israel strikes pro-Assad militia in Syria

The Israel Defense Forces struck a base controlled by a pro-Syrian government militia on Sunday killing three and wounding two others, according a statement by the militia — the Syrian National Defense Forces. This militia fights alongside the Syrian army in support of Assad.

The Israeli attack occurred in the province Quneitra. Rebels hold portions of Quneitra; the army and pro-Assad forces control other portions.

The Sunday attack by the IDF followed a strike on Friday against pro-Assad militants in the Syrian Golan Heights. This strike was a response to three mortar shells exploding on the Israeli side of the border. Reportedly, the Israeli army deemed it likely that the fire was not intentional. However, Israel is not going to tolerate any spillover into its territory of the Syrian civil war.

As with the U.S. strike against a Syrian air base, the Israeli attacks occurred notwithstanding Russia’s backing of Assad and notwithstanding the air defenses it has provided him. Sources say it’s not clear whether the Sunday bombardment was an air strike or a shelling.

Israeli forces have attacked Syria via the air before. In mid-March, the Israeli air force attacked several targets across the border. The Syrian air defense launched several anti-aircraft rockets in response. One of the rockets entered Israeli airspace and was shot down by an Arrow missile.

Israel’s target in the mid-March attack was Hezbollah. The attack reportedly was intended to prevent that outfit from obtaining “balance-breaking” weapons for its arsenal in Lebanon.

After Israel acknowledged its attack, a departure from usual policy, Russia summoned Israel’s ambassador to explain it. The summons may have been a formality, inasmuch as Israel had already explained itself to the Russians.

Not long before the attack, Prime Minister Netanyahu visited Moscow reportedly to explain that Israel would not agree to Iranian military presence, or that of Iran’s proxies, in Syria, given that the civil war seemed to be winding down and Syrian President Bashar Assad’s rule seemed to have been preserved. The mid-March attack, and Israel’s public acknowledgement of it, suggested that Russia understands Israel’s concern, or at least that Israel thinks Russia does.

It’s unclear how Russia will respond to Israel’s latest incursion, which does not appear to have been directed at Iranian or Hezbollah forces. Most likely, Russia will do nothing consequential as long as Israel doesn’t seek to alter the course of the civil war.

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