Islamic State’s (IS) affiliate in south-western Syria, the Army of Khaled bin al-Walid (AKbW), opened fire on soldiers in the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights with machine guns and mortars on 27 November, causing no injuries. IS affiliates have carried out rocket attacks from Gaza in the past but these were the first direct clashes between the Army and IS fighters. Israel responded with air strikes on an armed vehicle, killing four militants, as well as on an abandoned UN building that Tel Aviv believes is now used as an IS operations centre. The jihadist group was formed in May when the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade, which pledged allegiance to IS in 2014 and has an established presence on the border, merged with other hardline factions.
AKbW had previously sought to avoid direct conflict with Israel since it does not want to provoke retaliatory military action that would undermine its ability to hold territory in Syria’s South-West. Nonetheless, an IS attack on the Israeli security forces will be hugely popular across the Middle East and help to demonstrate the group’s continued relevance at a time when it is suffering major territorial losses in Syria and Iraq. IS’s central leadership will therefore have welcomed the shooting, though it is highly unlikely to have directed it. Indeed, the seemingly improvised nature of the attack suggests that this was simply an opportunistic attempt to target Israeli soldiers and raise AKbW’s profile in the region.
Moreover, AKbW’s decision to use small arms rather than more sophisticated weaponry suggests that the group wants to continue to avoid a larger-scale confrontation with Israel. Tel Aviv is also reluctant to be dragged into the Syrian conflict (save for periodic air strikes on Hizballah) and so will have moderated its response. Consequently, this will likely remain an isolated incident, though further copycat attacks are possible as and when IS comes under increased military pressure in Syria.