Militants from an Al Qaeda affiliate have taken control of the Quneitra crossing point at the demarcation line of Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, according to reports out Wednesday.
Israel, fresh from battling Hamas fighters who launched thousands of rockets at the Jewish state from Gaza, Palestine, is closely watching developments in Golan Heights, though wary of entering the fray of opposing factions battling in Syria.
Nevertheless, the latest incursion of Qaeda-linked Nusra Front militants near Golan Heights at the Quneitra crossing point means Islamic forces are now within 200 yards of Israeli-controlled territory. Israel has voiced great reluctance to getting involved in the bloody Syrian civil war raging across its border.
Meanwhile, it remains unclear what a United Nations force that is supposed to monitor the crossing point is doing, or what it might do to avert a potential clash between Islamic militants and Israel from the Golan Heights line of demarcation.
At the same time, militants from Islamic State (ISIS) are battling government forces in Iraq and Syria. The Islamic extremists who recently spilled over the border of Syria into Iraq at present control large swaths of northern and central Iraq.
While Israel’s leaders do not wish to enter the Syrian war, militants seem to be edging their way toward Israel especially at the Golan Heights front. An attack on Israel by the extremists who staged their latest move from a nearby village could change the equation for Israel and perhaps the Middle East cauldron. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not likely to back down from any significant attack on his tiny country from the demarcation line in Golan Heights.
Israel annexed the Golan Heights territory after its 1967 war with Syria. During Wednesday’s skirmishes, one Israeli soldier was injured by enemy fire to which Israel responded with an artillery barrage against Syrian Army positions near Golan Heights.
In the U.S., spillover from the Syrian civil war into Iraq caught Pres. Obama off guard. Mr. Obama removed all American forces from Iraq and 2011, but is now caught up in a seemingly unavoidable third Iraqi war and is on the verge of involving the U.S. in Syria's civil war. Over the past week, the administration has ordered American pilots to fly reconnaissance missions over Syria in advance of a potential widening of airstrikes so far limited to Iraq.
Yaakov Amidror, a former Israeli national security adviser, said reports of the Nusra Front taking control of the Quneitra crossing could be “very significant.” He warned that it would be more difficult for Israel to remain militarily neutral if extremists linked their control of the Quneitra crossing to its stronghold in Dara’a, in southern Syria, and other areas.
The Quneitra crossing and demarcation line have little strategic value beyond being adjacent to Israeli-controlled territory. However, a significant military buildup around Golan Heights by Islamic militants would be considered a threat to Israel.
As Hamas learned over the past weeks, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would be quick to respond to attacks from across its borders. Should Nursra Front insurgents attempt to widen their attacks from Syria to include parts of Israel, it could have the affect of throwing gasoline on smoldering embers.