February 25, 2015

ISRAEL: Syrian Army, Hezbollah Launch Attack to Capture Territory Near Israel-Held Golan Heights. Iran Believed To Be Behind Move.

Washington Free Beacon
written by Abraham Rabinovich
Wednesday February 11, 2015

JERUSALEM—The Syrian army and its Hezbollah ally launched a joint attack this week apparently aimed at capturing a swath of territory abutting the Israeli-held Golan Heights from rebel forces, opening a possible new front for the Israeli army to contend with.

Iran, which has acknowledged sending military advisers and high-ranking officers from its Revolutionary Guard to assist in the operation, is believed to be behind the strategic move. The establishment of Hezbollah bases on Syrian territory opposite the Golan would enable the Lebanese organization to strike at Israel without risking retaliation against Lebanon.

While the Syrian army is playing a major role in border battles, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the Syrian civil war, the position of the Damascus regime regarding the Iranian-inspired move is unclear. Since a ceasefire was signed by Syria and Israel in the wake of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Syria has kept its border with Israel peaceful. It has been the most peaceful of Israel’s four borders with Arab states. Neither President Bashar al-Assad nor his father and predecessor as president, Hafez al-Assad, wished to risk retaliation from Israel by permitting infiltration or harassment across the border.

However, the central role Iran is playing in supporting Damascus in the Syrian civil war, both economically and militarily, means that the Syrian regime cannot lightly dismiss Iranian interests. These interests include making Hezbollah a credible military force capable of deterring Israel from striking at Iran’s nuclear infrastructure.

This week’s battles, which included tanks and artillery on the Syrian side, are the heaviest in the area since the civil war began four years ago. The Syrian army and Hezbollah are within five miles of the border. Israel has said it will not permit the area adjacent to the border to become a Hezbollah base of operations, which raises the possibility of a direct confrontation.

After reports in the Israeli media last month of Hezbollah’s plans to begin operating from the Golan border area, Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah issued a denial. However, a few days later an Israeli air attack destroyed two SUVs reconnoitering the border area. Twelve military personnel were killed in the attack. It emerged that they were six Hezbollah fighters and six Iranian members of the Revolutionary Guard. Among the dead was Jihad Mughniye, the son of Imad Mughniye, Hezbollah’s military chief assassinated in Damascus in 2008. The younger Mughniye had reportedly been designated by the organization as commander of the Golan front Hezbollah is seeking to establish. Among the Iranians killed in the attack was a senior general. Tehran has warned that it will respond against Israel at a time and place of its choosing.

For the past three years, Israel has retained a working relationship with the rebel militias along the Golan border, including the al Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra Front. Some 1,000 wounded Syrians have been treated by Israeli medical personnel in field hospitals on the Golan side of the border set up specifically for this purpose and many have been hospitalized inside Israel. Israel is also reported to have supplied blankets and other humanitarian items for Syrian villages in the border area. Although shells from the Syrian side have occasionally exploded inside Israeli territory, Israeli officers describe these as mostly random overshots.

Nasrallah has attacked the Syrian rebel groups in the area, specifically the al-Nusra Front, for serving as Israel’s shields.

Washington Free Beacon
written by Abraham Rabinovich
Thursday February 19, 2015

JERUSALEM—The strategic threat posed to Israel by Iran’s nuclear program is being augmented by a new and no less ominous threat: the presence of Iranian ground forces adjacent to Israel’s northern border.

The Arabic-digital news site, Rai-al-Youm, reported this week that Iranian troops have been participating, together with Hezbollah and the Syrian army, in an attempt to drive rebel and jihadi forces from southern Syria, where they dominate a triangle of territory between the Golan Heights, the province of Daraa on the Jordanian border, and the outskirts of Damascus.

“This is the first time we have a public operational intervention by IRGC [Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps] forces in the conflict,” the report said. Several media outlets have reported the presence in the battle area of Qassem Suleimani, the commander of the IRGC al-Quds force, which is responsible for operations outside Iran’s borders.

Iran, which has been attempting to build its sphere of influence from Somalia to Afghanistan, has been particularly successful in Syria, where it has become a major prop for President Bashar al-Assad, and in Lebanon, where Hezbollah has become a formidable proxy. Iranian military advisers have been active in both areas for years, but the presence of Iranian troops on the ground–even in small numbers–is little known.

In a recent bulletin, the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), which monitors media throughout the region, reported that the Iranian military presence in the region has hitherto been in the form of command posts and a limited number of special forces. It notes that according to a plan outlined by a senior IRGC official on an Iranian website last year the command posts are intended to operate “130,000 trained Iranian Basij (a volunteer militia) fighters waiting to enter Syria.” The authors of the MEMRI report, Yigal Carmon and Y. Yehoshua, said the statement was immediately removed from the site after publication.

Syria’s Al-Hadath website, which is close to the regime, recently revealed Iran’s active involvement on the regime’s side in the civil war.

“Iran, which had been taking part in the fighting in Syria by means of military advisers, recently decided to join the military conflict officially and openly,” it declared.

The presence of Iranian military personnel near the Golan border was revealed last month when an Israeli aircraft, in a targeted strike, interdicted two SUVs apparently reconnoitering the border area from the Syrian side.

Twelve were killed in the strike, six of them Hezbollah fighters and six of them Iranian military personnel.

Although Iranian leaders frequently call for Israel’s demise, the authors note that fomenting action against Israel by proxies such as Hezbollah stems from Iranian strategy, not just ideology, since it is believed to create deterrence against an Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. This presumed deterrence would be reinforced by the creation of another point of conflict on Israel’s Syrian border.

The MEMRI authors say Teheran also has domestic considerations in its operations beyond its borders.

“Mobilization of Iranian national forces and Iranian youth in the ideological framework of struggle outside Iran inoculates Iran’s dictatorial regime against internal uprising and rebellion,” according to the authors. The authors add that Iran’s involvement on Israel’s northern front together with its deep involvement in Syria and elsewhere “creates tremendous pressure on its dwindling resources and exhausts it, intensifying its dependence on regional forces.”

Hezbollah leaders recently declared their intention of creating another front inside Syria, presumably with President Assad’s assent, opposite the Golan. After last month’s air strike, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon indicated that the strike was intended as a statement that Israel would not permit Hezbollah and its Iranian mentors to open a new front.

Israel has established a working relationship with rebels and even, reportedly, with jihadi militias who have been operating near the Golan border—treating wounded and providing humanitarian aid in return for keeping the border quiet.
Al Arabiya News
written by Staff
Wednesday January 28, 2015

The specter of a full-blown war between Israel and Hezbollah escalated on Wednesday after the Lebanese militia fired a missile at an Israeli army vehicle along the frontiers, killing two and wounding seven Israeli soldiers.

The Israeli army confirmed the soldiers’ deaths hours after the cross border attack. The announcement was delayed until their families were notified, a military statement said.

“Confirmed: Two IDF soldiers were killed and an additional seven were wounded in the Hezbollah attack near Mt. Dov earlier today,” said the statement posted on the army’s Twitter account.

An earlier tweet said: “Several injured in attack near Mt. Dov. We hold Hezbollah responsible for the attacks in northern Israel today.”

Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV said nine Israeli vehicles were damaged in the attack on the Shebaa farms frontier area. The militant group said it will release a statement on the attacks soon.

The Israeli army, meanwhile, declared the Golan Heights and its northern frontiers area a closed military zone.

After that, its ambassador to the U.N. sent a letter to the Security Council saying that Israel will take all necessary measures to defend itself.

“Israel will not stand by as Hezbollah targets Israelis,” Israel's U.N. Ambassador Ron Prosor said in a letter to the Security Council.

“Israel will not accept any attacks on its territory and it will exercise its right to self-defense and take all necessary measures to protect its population,” he added.

The United States condemned Hezbollah’s attack as “an act of violence” and called for calm.

“We urge all parties to refrain from any action that could escalate the situation,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told a daily briefing.

U.N. Meeting
The U.N. Security Council has called an emergency meeting from 2100 GMT on Wednesday to discuss the flare-up of violence, diplomats said.

Wednesday's attack came several hours after Israel launched an air strike in Syria in retaliation for rockets launched at the Israel-occupied Golan Heights a day earlier, the Israeli army said.

Tensions have escalated in the area over the past 10 days after an Israeli strike in Syria which killed several Hezbollah men and an Iranian general.

On Tuesday, at least two rockets from Syria hit the Golan Heights and Israel responded with artillery fire, the army said.

The incident forced Israel to evacuate its Mt. Hermon ski resort on the Golan Heights, although a resort official said it had reopened for business on Wednesday.

The airstrike on January 18 killed six fighters of Lebanon’s Hezbollah group and Iranian Revolutionary Guard General Mohammad Ali Allahdadi, who were fighting in support for President Bashar al-Assad in Syria’s civil war.

Lebanon’s Prime Minister Tammam Salam said Lebanon was committed to U.N. resolution 1701 that ended 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war, the national news agency reported.

Iran warns of consequences

Iran has told the United States on Tuesday that Israel “crossed Iran's red lines” for killing an Iranian general in the attack on the Golan Heights.

"We have sent a message to the United States through diplomatic channels telling the Americans that the Zionist regime crossed Iran's red lines with this action," said Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian.

"In this message, we said those responsible should wait to suffer the consequences of their act," he added, in remarks carried by the official IRNA news agency.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said before the Israeli response that Washington had seen the news of Tuesday's rocket firing and did not want "an escalation of the situation."

"We support Israel's legitimate right to self defence and have been clear about our concerns over the regional instability caused by the crisis in Syria," she told reporters.

"We call upon all parties to avoid any action that would jeopardise the long-held ceasefire between Israel and Syria and abide by the 1974 disengagement of forces agreement."

Israel captured the Golan from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war. Mortar shells and rockets have struck the heights numerous times during Syria’s nearly four-year-old civil war.

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