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Alarm in Israel: Hezbollah, Assad army fight to take areas near Israel border from rebels

SyriaAlarm in Israel: Hezbollah, Assad army fight to take areas near Israel border from rebels

Published 12 February 2015

In a move viewed with growing alarm in Israel, Syrian and Hezbollah forces, under the command of senior Iranian officers from Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, have launched a sweeping campaign to take over areas on the Syrian side of the Israel-Syria border on the Golan Heights. These areas have been under the control of moderate anti-Assad rebels since the spring of 2014. Iran, eager to increase the military pressure on Israel, has decided to gain control of areas to the east of Israel’s northern Galilee, now under the control of moderate Syrian rebels. Hezbollah’s control of south and south-east Lebanon already allows Iran presence immediately to the west and north Israel’s northern Galilee region.

In a move viewed with growing alarm in Israel, Syrian and Hezbollah forces, under the command of senior Iranian officers from Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, have launched a sweeping campaign to take over areas on the Syrian side of the Israel-Syria border on the Golan Heights.

These areas have been under the control of moderate anti-Assad rebels since the spring of 2014. Israel’s defense minister, Moshe Ya’alon, last October acknowledged that Israel has reached a tacit understanding with moderate anti-regime rebels: the rebels would keep the Islamist ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra away from the border area in exchange for Israeli humanitarian aid, which has included blankets and baby food to villagers under moderate rebels’ control, and the treatment of hundreds, if not thousands, of injured Syrians – both civilians and anti-regime fighters – in Israeli hospitals.

Iran, eager to increase the military pressure on Israel, has decided to gain control of areas to the east of Israel’s northern Galilee, now under the control of moderate Syrian rebels. Hezbollah’s control of south and south-east Lebanon already allows Iran a presence on immediately to the west and north Israel’s northern Galilee region.

The presence of moderate rebels in the area was also a threat to the territorial contiguity of areas in Syria under Assad control and areas in Lebanon under Hezbollah control. The eviction of the rebels from the area would allow Iran to have its local agents, Assad and Hezbollah, control a seamless stretch of territory extending from the Turkish border in the north down to the Israeli border in the south, with large parts of Lebanon included.

The Guardian reports that the Syrian military confirmed that it began a “broad operation” in the south which had led to advances in the rural areas south-west of Damascus , to the cities of Quneitra and Daraa, regaining control of a number of towns and strategic hilltops from what it described as the “terrorists of the Nusra front.”

The Syrian military said it will continue operations against “terrorist gangs” – a term the Syrian and Iranian governments use for rebel fighters.

“The operation started two days ago and is very big,” Rami Abdulrahman, the head of the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) monitoring group, told Reuters on Tuesday.

SOHR said fighters from Hezbollah, Iran, and the Assad regime took control of the hills of al-Sarja and al-Arous in the south-western countryside of Damascus. Pro-regime forces killed twenty rebel fighters on Tuesday, including eight in an ambush.

Observers note that southern Syria is one of the last remaining bastions of the moderate Syrian opposition, which has been increasingly marginalized by the rise of Islamist groups like ISIS and the Nusra Front.

The effort by Iran, Hezbollah, and the Assad regime to take over the areas on the Golan Heights south-west of Damascus in order to open another front against Israel, explains the 18 January attack by Israeli drones-carried missiles on a convoy traveling two miles east of the Israel border. The attack killed twelve people, including Jihad Mughniyeh, a Hezbollah commander, as well as an Iranian Revolutionary Guard general who was in the convoy. Jihad was the son of Imad Mughniyeh, the party’s former military chief who was assassinated by Israeli agents in Damascus in February 2008.

Israeli intelligence reports that on Iranian instructions, Hezbollah was putting together an infrastructure in the area for launching terror attacks on Israel in support of various Iranian foreign and defense policy goals, and that the group of Hezbollah and Iranian commanders which was attacked last month was traveling in the area to inspect the state of readiness of that terror infrastructure.

Hezbollah can attack Israel from the territories it controls in Lebanon, but the Shi’a organization is already paid a steep political price in Lebanon for confirming, in its actions, what its critics had argued all along – that it is an agent of Iranian policy rather than a genuine Lebanese force. Iran has concluded that it would thus be better for Hezbollah to launch attacks against Israel from Syria, where there is no political rice to pay, rather than Lebanon.

In the past few months, sources in the Assad regime have complained that Israel, rather than maintain a posture of neutrality between the regime and the anti-regime rebels, have begun to favor the rebels – especially as Jordan and the United States have increased their material support of the moderate rebels.

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