The Israeli Air Force struck and killed a cell of terrorists affiliated with the Islamic State group in Syria after shots were fired across the border at military forces in the Golan Heights on Sunday morning, according to an IDF statement.
In the first clashes between the IDF and an IS-linked group, the Israeli air force allegedly struck four operatives from the ISIS-linked Khalid ibn al-Walid Army (formerly known as Yarmouk Martyrs' Brigade) who had initially opened fire at IDF forces in the southern Golan Heights at around 8:30am, east of the community of Avnei Eitan.
The incident unfolded as forces from the IDF's Golani Brigade operating in the area came under attack by small arms fire and a mortar shell from the terror operatives in Syrian territory, according to the IDF.
The IDF returned fire, and in the ensuing exchange the an Israeli Air Force aircraft targeted the terror cell along with a vehicle and weapons being used by the terrorists. According to the army, all four of its occupants were killed.There were no reports of injury to the Israeli side.
In light of the incident, field workers and residents were told to evacuate the area near the border until calm was restored.
During a special cabinet meeting in Haifa, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the soldiers who had repelled the attack, saying that "we are well prepared on our northern border, and will not let Daesh or any other group a foothold for their war in Syria."
Aymenn al-Tamimi, a fellow at the US-based Middle East Forum who is currently located on the Syrian border told The Jerusalem Post that "it's not in the group's interest to engage in a wider war with Israel for the time being. Their main priority is fighting the rebels who are besieging their territory."
Separately, rebel groups on Saturday announced the launching of a new offensive against the Syrian army, ostensibly as part of a renewed intent to break through the regime's military lines north of the Druze village of Hadr and relieve the siege of remaining rebel pockets in the West Ghouta area of Damascus.
According to Tamimi, while the incident may be "a mere provocation to see if Israel would respond," it may be more complicated than that.
"Some important members of the group have been imprisoned at the hand of its own security apparatus, most notably Abu Obeida Qahtan, who is apparently accused of collaborating with Israel, though that remains unconfirmed."
Qahtan, a prominent Syrian-Palestinian fighter who formerly fought in Afghanistan, was arrested at the end of last month alongside other prominent members of Jaysh Khalid bin al-Waleed who were based in the village of Jamla along the border with the southern Golan Heights. This followed on from the assassination of the group's overall amir (commander)- Abu Hashim al-Shami- in what appears to have been an inside job.
But according to Tamimi, it is unlikely that the group is planning an all-out war against Israel, as according to one fighter of the group who had spoken to Tamimi regarding the incident, "the Jews came upon [/transgressed] the lands of the Dawla (Islamic State) and the soldiers repelled them."
Spillover from the civil war in Syria has crossed into Israeli territory on several occasions, mostly in the form of mortar and projectile fire. Earlier this month, a mortar landed in the Golan Heights following accidental spillover from internal fighting between factions in the Syrian civil war. No injuries or damage were reported.
Israel's Iron Dome system intercepted two long-range mortars fired towards the Golan Heights in September, marking the first time the system had been used to intercept fire from Syria.
Israel holds the Syrian government responsible for any hostile activities emanating from its territory.