DEBKAfile Exclusive Report October 23, 2015
Wholly preoccupied with the ferocious Palestinian terror campaign washing over their country, Israelis have scarcely noticed that Hizballah forces, believing they are protected by the Russian military presence in Syria, are creeping toward Israel’s northeastern Golan border. debkafile reports: The Lebanese group thinks it is a step away from changing the military balance on the Golan to Israel’s detriment and gaining its first Syrian jumping-off base against the Jewish state – depending on the Syrian-Hizballah forces winning the fierce battle now raging around Quneitra opposite Israel’s military positions.
For two years, Hizballah, egged on intensely by Iran, has made every effort to plant its forces along the Syrian border with Israel. For Tehran, this objective remains important enough to bring Al Qods Brigades chief, Gen. Qassem Soleiman, on a visit last week to the Syrian army’s 90th Brigade Quneitra base, which is the command post of the battle waged against Syrian rebel forces.
Soleimani, who is commander-in-chief of Iran’s military operations across the Middle East, is acting as military liaison in Syria between Tehran and Moscow.
debkafile’s military sources report that the Iranian general inspected the Quneitra battle lines no more than 1.5-2 km from the Israeli Golan border. He arrived a few days after Revolutionary Guards Col. Nader Hamid, commander of Iranian and Hizballah forces in the region, died there fighting against Syrian rebels.
His death betrayed the fact that not only are Hizballah forces gaining a foothold on the strategic Golan enclave, but with them are Iranian servicemen, officers and troops.
While in Quneitra, the Iranian general also sought to find out whether Col. Hamid really did die in battle or was targeted for assassination by Israel to distance Iranian commanders from its border.
Just 10 months ago, on Jan. 18, Israel drones struck a group of Iranian and Hizballah officers who were secretly scouting the Quneitra region for a new base. Iranian Gen. Ali Mohamad Ali Allah Dadi died in that attack.
But Tehran and Hizballah are again trying their luck. During his visit to Quneitra, Soleimani called up reinforcements to boost the 500 Hizballah fighters in the sector.
Seen from Israel, the Syrian conflict is again bringing enemy forces into dangerous proximity to its border.
The Iranian general and Russian Air Force commanders agree that the drawn-out battle for Quneitra will not be won without Russian air strikes against the rebels holding out there. A decision to extend Russia’s aerial campaign from northern and central Syria to the south would be momentous enough to require President Vladimir Putin’s personal approval.
This decision would, however, cross a strong red line Israel laid down when Binyamin Netanyahu met Putin on Sept. 21 in Moscow and when, last week, a delegation of Russian generals visited Tel Aviv to set up a hot line for coordinating Israeli and Russian air operations over Syria.
Israeli officials made it very clear that Iranian and Hizballah forces would not be permitted to establish a presence opposite the Israeli Golan border and that any Russian air activity over southern Syria and areas close to its borders was unacceptable.
The possibility of Israeli fighter jets being scrambled against Russian aerial intervention in the Quneitra battle was not ruled out.
This state of affairs was fully clarified to Gen. Joseph Dunford, Chairman of the Joint US Chiefs of Staff, when he was taken on a trip this week to the southern Golan under the escort of IDF Chief of Staff Gen. Gady Eisenkot and OC Northern Command Gen. Avivi Kochavi. He visited the command post of Brig. Yaniv Azor, commander of the Bashan Division, which will be called upon for action if the hazard to Israel’s security emanating the Quneitra standoff takes a dangerous turn.