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Fighting on Golan border puts Israel on the spot

Israel has intercepted a drone over the Golan Heights, but turned a blind eye to a Syrian warplane near its border, highlighting the complex reality of the war in Syria and the difficulty in calculating what is in Israel's best interest.
Israeli soldiers observe the Syrian side of the Quneitra border crossing between the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights and Syria, August 29, 2014. U.N. officials shuttled along the rocky frontier between Syria and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights on Friday, trying to establish the whereabouts of 44 United Nations peacekeepers seized by al-Qaeda-linked militants inside Syria. Israeli forces took up positions at Quneitra, a fortified crossing between Syria and the Golan, barely 400 meters (437 yards) from Nu

On Aug. 27, a Syrian warplane attacked insurgent positions in the area of Quneitra and then returned safely to its base somewhere in Syria. On an ordinary day, there is no way a plane appearing over Quneitra, literally along the Israeli-Syrian disengagement line, would have returned home safely. The Israeli Air Force (IAF), with its interception systems, is constantly on alert. Identifying a foreign jet grazing the country’s northern border would normally lead to an immediate interception. That, however, was not the case in this instance. It is believed that Israel weighed the situation and decided to turn a blind eye, allowing the Syrian plane to carry out its mission without shooting it down. This episode might be a telltale sign of the Israeli government's tendency these days to prefer Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to the insurgents fighting him.

A few days later, on Aug. 31, an unmanned airborne vehicle (UAV) was intercepted at the exact same place. An IAF Patriot battery deployed in the Upper Galilee fired a missile, easily downing it. The craft was initially reported to be a Syrian drone. Then reports emerged that it was probably an Iranian UAV used by the Syrian military. Did Israel regret having shot it down? Did Israel exercise added discretion, deciding that an Iranian drone on its border meant crossing a “red line”? Was it indeed an Iranian UAV? If so, could Israel have known about it in real time?

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