Israel and Syria Exchange Fire

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Marco Werman: There's long been concern that the conflict in Syria could spill over into neighboring countries. Turkey and Lebanon have seen some of that spill-over, and now, so has Israel. Today, Syrian mortar shells landed in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. The Israeli army says it fired back and scored direct hits on the Syrian artillery units involved. The World's Matthew Bell is in Jerusalem. Matthew, what's going on? Is this in fact serious spillover?

Matthew Bell: It is, absolutely. It's not the first time it has happened, but it is the first time going back all the way to 1973 when Israel and Syria signed a cease-fire agreement, that the two sides have shot at each other across this cease-fire line. Israel and Syria have technically been at war for decades, but the truth is, Marco, is that border has been very, very quiet for all these years. So there's a big question about whether Bashar al-Assad, the president in Syria, is trying to provoke Israel. That would be a real game changer here and I think it would indicate a real final act of desperation on his part. At that point, we just don't know whether that's the case or not.

Werman: So do these Israeli reactions and the rhetoric indicate that there's a danger of Israel getting sucked into the Syrian conflict now?

Bell: I do think, Marco, the truth is that the Israelis absolutely do not want to get drawn into that deadly mess that's going on across the border.

Werman: Right. Now while this is all going on, Israel's also dealing with rockets being fired from Gaza into southern Israel. What's the latest there?

Bell: That's right, Marco. Things started on Saturday when an Israeli jeep that was apparently operating inside the security fence was hit by an anti-tank missile. Four Israeli soldiers were injured. The Israeli army responded with shelling. Six Palestinians have been killed so far, two militants and four civilians. The Israelis conducted more air strikes. The rockets continued today. One thing that's contributing to this is that Israel is in election season. In particular, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is a politician who staked his reputation on his national security credentials, so he, himself, is under increasing pressure to live up to that reputation as somebody who will do what it takes to keep Israel safe, and there are a lot of questions right now about what to do in Gaza.

Werman: Are you saying that politically it would be a good thing for the Israeli government to go full bore on Gaza?

Bell: Well, there are a lot of risks of course. The Middle East in 2012 is a different place than when Israel attacked Gaza in 2008. There are questions about Egypt, how would Egypt respond to an Israeli attack. The Israelis have to be wondering also about the international reaction. The Europeans have already told the Israelis and the Palestinians in Gaza to stop the violence. Finally, there's Washington. The Obama administration says it supports Israel's right to defend itself, but it's also shown no enthusiasm for more war in the Middle East.

Werman: What does the Israeli public seem to want in relation to Gaza?

Bell: Some people say the Israeli military should go in and solve this thing with force. You've got other Israelis who are clearly concerned about the implications of that. It's a big question. Now in the Israeli media there's talk about perhaps bringing back the policy of targeted assassinations. That is when Israel killed Palestinain militant leaders, and they're even talking now about going after Hamas leaders themselves. There's talk about intensifying an air campaign against militant groups, and then going all the way up, where you've got some officials calling for a full-on ground incursion, a real invasion of Gaza again.

Werman: The World's Matthew Bell in Jerusalem. Thank you so much.

Bell: You're welcome, Marco.