JERUSALEM, Israel -- Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz responded to Syria's threats with one of his own: "If Assad destabilizes the Golan Heights, he will pay a heavy price," he said.
Gantz said Assad is behind Syria's recent aggression on the Golan. He called Assad's conjecture that an IDF patrol penetrated Syrian territory "just nonsense" and said rumors it was involved in clashes between pro-Assad Hezbollah fighters and rebel forces "completely ridiculous."
"The patrol was clearly along the border fence with Syria," Gantz said. "It did not enter Syria; that is nonsense. The patrol was fired upon once, a second and a third time, clearly from a position in Syria," he said.
"We will not allow the Golan Heights to become a comfort space for Assad," he continued, saying if he causes the situation to deteriorate in the Golan, "he will have to bear the consequences."
Syria's state-run SANA news agency quoted senior military sources claiming its forces destroyed an IDF vehicle that crossed the border, warning it would respond with "immediate and firm retaliation."
"Syria is ready for a conflict with Israel," Syrian minister Halef al-Muftah told Hezbollah's al-Manar satellite television station, broadcasting from Lebanon. "The Syrian army is ready to answer any threat," he reportedly said, claiming, "the rules have changed."
Over the past year, stray gunfire and even mortars fired from Syria have landed on the Golan. But this was the first time Assad claimed responsibility for deliberately firing on Israeli border patrols.
Tensions have been on the rise since Israel targeted an Iranian shipment of advanced weapons near Damascus, which were en route to Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Some said Assad wanted to display his bravado, but most say battling anti-government forces and mounting international condemnation is all he can handle right now.
But if Assad is trying to stir up trouble on the Golan, Gantz warned he will pay a heavy price.