Archive for the ‘Golan’ category

Syria attacks Beit Jinn opposite IDF Hermon positions – reprisal for reported Israeli airstrike on Iranian base near Damascus

December 2, 2017

Syria attacks Beit Jinn opposite IDF Hermon positions – reprisal for reported Israeli airstrike on Iranian base near Damascus, DEBKAfile, December 2, 2017

Two significant military events were reported early Saturday, Dec. 2, by Arab and Russian sources – neither of them officially confirmed. The first was an Israeli airborne missile attack on the Syrian army’s 1st Division’s ammunition dump near Al-Kiswah 14km southwest of Damascus and 50km from the Golan. The target was identified as an Iranian military base which the BBC reported on Nov. 10 to be under construction in the Syrian military compound at Al-Kiswah. DEBKAfile’s military sources refuted the BBC report.

Other sources reported that the Israeli target early Saturday was a Hizballah position near the Syrian 1st Division’s 91st Brigade base in the same area. Syrian military sources and Arab social media released videos showing Syrian air defense intercepting some of the Israeli missiles while others hit the target. Some sources claimed they were launched from Lebanese air space. A short time later, the Syrian army announced that units of its 7th armored division and the 42nd brigade of its 4th division had just launched an offensive on the Beit Jinn pocket on Mount Hermon a little more than 4km away from IDF positions on the mount. A Druze village is located inside this enclave. The Syrian military statement omitted to mention the fact that Hizballah forces are spearheading this attack.

Syrian drone over Golan followed Trump-Putin disagreement on Syrian buffer zones

November 11, 2017

Syrian drone over Golan followed Trump-Putin disagreement on Syrian buffer zones, DEBKAfile, November 11, 2017

Nonetheless, the negotiating teams did achieve progress on two points, our sources report: It was decided to expand the de-escalation zones already operating in Syria and also to boost the joint US-Russian Monitoring Center based in Amman – not only to prevent accidental clashes between Russian and US forces, but also between their local allies.

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The Syrian UAV was sent over the Golan, likely with Russian approval, to probe Israel’s flexibility on the buffer zones for keeping Syrian/Iranian/Hizballah forces far from its borders.

The Syrian UAV which flew over the Golan demilitarized zone Saturday, Nov. 11, was a direct result of the failure of US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin to reach an agreement in time for the Danang summit in Vietnam on the political and military future of Syria. They were at odds in particular on the depth of the buffer zone to be carved out between Syria and Israel. This is reported exclusively by DEBKAfile’s sources.

The Syrian UAV was sent over the Golan, presumably with Russian approval, to probe Israel’s reactions and find out how far into Israeli air space the drone would be permitted to enter. This probe was to be taken as a measure of Israeli flexibility and willingness to accept a buffer zone between IDF positions and Syrian/Iranian/Hizballah forces of less than 30-40km deep.

Israel struck back and launched a Patriot missile defense system which intercepted the Syrian drone before it crossed the border and reached Israeli air space over the Golan. No breach of Israel’s sovereignty was allowed to occur.

Neither did a “high-ranking IDF source” need to offer reassurance that the Russian liaison apparatus was kept in the picture, since the Russian officers in Syria must have tracked the UAV and taken note of the message Israel relayed by shooting it down.

Our sources add that the Trump administration, as well as Moscow, is pushing Israel hard for flexibility as to the depth of the Syrian buffer zone. But the Netanyahu government has not so far given way, in the knowledge that Tehran fully intends to maintain military strength together with its proxies, including Hizballah, in post-war Syria.

The BBC revelation of Friday, Nov. 11, supported by large satellite images, that Iran is building a permanent base in Syria just 50km from the Israeli-Syrian Golan border, was intended to show that Israeli leaders don’t mean what they say. The site cited by “Western intelligence sources” is El-Kiswah, 14km from Damascus, where Syrian military facilities already exist

The British report contains several quotes of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s declarations that Israel will not permit Iran to establish a military presence in Syria that threatens its borders.

The May government has a bone to pick with Netanyahu on other issues. The Brits, whom both Washington and Moscow have cut out of decision-making on Syria’s future, were also taking a dig at them both by showing that Tehran is out of their control.

The buffer zone is not the only topic on which Trump and Putin are in discord on the shape of post-war Syria.

The plan for a US-Russian deal on a final accommodation was meant to ride on the momentum of the recent military successes in pushing ISIS back from eastern Syria and into western Iraq. Both presidents felt that these victories were too good not to use for working together on Syria’s future. Therefore, when ISIS strongholds in Al Qaim, Iraq and Abu Kamal, Syria fell to joint Iraqi-Syrian-Hizballah-pro-Iranian Shiite militia forces in the last two weeks, both the US and Russia were eager to seize star roles as victors by forging a final accord for ending the Syrian war.

However, the US and Russian teams working on a draft accord found the gaps between them too great to bridge at this time. They are at loggerheads on major issues —  such as the political future of Bashar Assad — how long he would remain president and how much power must he hand over to Syrian opposition groups in a government coalition. Neither do they see eye to eye on the disposition of foreign armies to remain in the country, specifically Iran’s role in the new Syria.

Last Friday, Nov. 10, DEBKAfile reported that the differences between Trump and Putin on the Syrian issue had prevented the release of a statement of accord. The US president insisted that without an accord there would be no formal sit-down at the Vietnam Asian summit.

Nonetheless, the negotiating teams did achieve progress on two points, our sources report: It was decided to expand the de-escalation zones already operating in Syria and also to boost the joint US-Russian Monitoring Center based in Amman – not only to prevent accidental clashes between Russian and US forces, but also between their local allies.

IDF simulates war-to-win strategy vs Hizballah

September 5, 2017

IDF simulates war-to-win strategy vs Hizballah, DEBKAfile, September 5, 2017

The IDF Tuesday, Sept. 5, embarked on its biggest military exercise against Hizballah in 19 years, with a radically revised mission in the face of a greatly empowered enemy (tanks and drones as well as 100,000 rocket and missiles) which is now embedded in Syria, not just in Lebanon.

Tens of thousands of ground, air, sea and intelligence units, including reservists – the IDF’s entire northern array – will simulate a Hizballah thrust across the border to occupy two Israeli locales in Galilee and the Golan. They will conduct simultaneous defensive and offensive operations deep behind enemy lines. The game plan is not to aim for a ceasefire and respite for the enemy to prepare for the next round, as the 2006 Lebanon war ended. This time, Israel strategists have set themselves the goal of defeating Hizballah convincingly enough to smash its morale and infrastructure and end its belief that it can destroy Israel the next time round

The exercise’s three military objectives are clearly laid out:

1.  Two sectors are defined for repelling a deep Hizballah thrust into northern Israel; (see map)

(a)  Hizballah is expected to go for the Metulla-Misgav sector on the Lebanese border, as well as the “Fatma Road” linking the Galilee hills north of Kiryat Shemona along the Israeli-Lebanese border.

(b)  Zarit-Shetula in western Galilee north of Nahariya, which is close enough to the Lebanese border for Hizballah troops to reach by land and through tunnels.

Israeli forces will practice driving the enemy out of occupied towns and villages, often using the element of surprise.

2. Another major IDF force will storm across the border into Lebanon for an effort to rapidly and decisively defeat Hizballah on its home ground. The defensive operation apart, the IDF is resolved to inflict on the enemy intolerable losses of life, infrastructure and territory.

This fighting-to-win strategy draws heavily on the negative lessons of the 2006 war, DEBKAfile’s military sources report. Then, the IDF’s overreliance on air might for winning the war proved counterproductive. By the time ground troops were deployed to cross the border and challenge Hizballah, they were too few and too late.

3.  This time, the air force is practicing a different role in the conflict, in coordination with Israel’s heavily upgraded, multi-tier air defenses. They will not only be geared for contending with Hizballah’s vast 100,000 rockets and missiles, but also, for the first time, with a formidable fleet of assorted UAVs, which are designed to serve the enemy in multiple tasks: intelligence-gathering, delivering rockets and guided  drones packed with explosives.

Also for the first time, the IDF will prepare to order the evacuation of civilians, up to 75,000, from towns and village within close range of Hizballah fire. Their evacuation may take place by roads that are under enemy attack.

Trump-Putin deal imperils Israeli, Jordan borders

August 12, 2017

Trump-Putin deal imperils Israeli, Jordan borders, DEBKAfile, August 12, 2017

Local US-backed Syrian rebel groups disbanded without a shot, went over to the Syrian government side and handed in their US-supplied weapons to Syrian army and Hizballah fighters.

Sooner or later, the Sweida model will be replicated in Quneitra. Neither the Russian troops nor UN peacekeepers will fight to stop it happening. By then, the Syrian rebel groups, in whose support Israel invested for years as a buffer against hostile Syrian, Iranian and Hizballah forces, are already falling apart. Disowned by their Saudi backers, they are being crushed by the US-Russian “de-escalation” steamroller. Israel like Jordan will soon find three hostile forces sitting pretty just across its border, far too close for safety.

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The transformation of a small, strategic wedge of land between the Syrian, Israeli, Jordanian and Iraqi borders is going forward apace without arousing much interest – even in Israel, where it should cause the most concern, DEBKAfile reports.

On Wednesday, Aug. 8, two Russian army companies of Ingushet troops from the northern Caucasus set up a command post in the Syrian village of Tal al-Shahm, 13km from Israel’s Golan border. Its commander, Col. Alexei Kozin, has thus taken charge of Syria’s border with Israel. As DEBKAfile reported last month, his task is to set up 10 control checkpoints along that border.

This border area was designated as one of four de-escalation zones agreed on between Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin at their meeting in Hamburg on July 7.

According to understandings reached between Washington, Moscow and Jerusalem, the UN separation force (UNDOF) will return to its Fawar base opposite Quneitra as a buffer between IDF and Russian forces. Its past history in this role between IDF and Syrian forces was never exactly impressive.

A piece of diplomacy consistent with this process was contributed by Russian foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Friday, Aug. 11. It was an assurance that Russia would take into account Israel’s interests in Jerusalem in the framework of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

It also fits in with the surprising statement from Washington on the same day, namely, that Donald Trump, although in the midst of a fearsome crisis with North Korea with military overtones, is planning to send his senior adviser, son-in-law Jared Kushner and Israel-Palestinian peace broker Jason Greenblatt, on an early visit to the Middle East to continue this mission.

To see how these disparate elements fill out the whole picture, we turn 70km east from Quneitra on the Syria Golan to the battles ongoing at Sweida in southeastern Syria opposite the Jordanian and Iraqi borders. Russian troops moved into the key town of Daraa, abutting on the Jordanian border on July 13. Like in Quneitra, a month later, they set up command posts to monitor the first de-escalation or ceasefire zone to be set up under the Hamburg accord.

The Russian troops’ assignment was to stop the fighting there and execute the withdrawal of the combatant forces, the Syrian army, Iran, and its foreign Shiite militias, including Hizballah, to a distance of 40km from the border.

But that arrangement never stood up.

Nearly four weeks later, on Wednesday night, Aug. 9, on the same night that Russian troops moved into Quneitra, the Syrian army and Hizballah launched a major offensive in Sweida province. Three days later, by Saturday, they had forced the local rebel forces to retreat into Jordan and seized 57km of Syria’s southern frontier with the Hashemite Kingdom.

Neither the Russians nor the American interfered with the Syrian-Hizballah-led push, although the Russians took responsibility for maintaining the ceasefire, and US special forces were and still are posted to the east of Sweida at Al-Tanf in the Syrian-Jordanian-Iraqi border triangle.

(See attached map)

DEBKAfile’s military sources add that the Syrian-Hizballah offensive violated the ceasefire deal. Local US-backed Syrian rebel groups disbanded without a shot, went over to the Syrian government side and handed in their US-supplied weapons to Syrian army and Hizballah fighters.

The Sweida episode demonstrated how the Syrian-Iranian-Hizballah alliance sees its way to using the Trump-Putin ceasefire zones accord as an open door for seizing control of southern Syria and grabbing the Jordanian and Israeli borders.

The Syrian rebel movement is disintegrating at an alarming rate following the “Jubeir earthquake,” as it has become known – another momentous event which Western and Israeli front pages have chosen to ignore.

Last week, Saudi Foreign Mniser Adel al-Jubeir reportedly informed a delegation of Syrian opposition leaders invited to Riyadh that his government was pulling its support from their fighting militias, in the wake of President Trump’s decision to reduce US military action in Syria solely to the war on ISIS – and therefore end US resistance to the Assad regime.

Saudi officials did not deny the report, only termed it “inaccurate.”

But meanwhile, the decisions by Riyadh and Washington to abandon the anti-Assad cause spread like wildfire among Syrian rebel groups. Many responded by laying down their arms and surrendering.

The fate of the rebel movement after six years of cruel warfare against the dictator Bashar Assad should be an object lesson to other recipients of American and Russian promises. Therefore, Lavrov’s pledge to take Israel’s interests in Jerusalem into account should be taken with a pinch of salt. He was most likely shooting a line to allay Israeli skepticism about the prospect of Russian troops keeping Syrian, Iranian and Hizballah troops at bay from its northern border – even through this pledge was underwritten by Washington.

Instead of taking the two powers at their word, Israel need only watch what is going on in the last few hours just across the border at Sweida, to appreciate the value of such promises.

Sooner or later, the Sweida model will be replicated in Quneitra. Neither the Russian troops nor UN peacekeepers will fight to stop it happening. By then, the Syrian rebel groups, in whose support Israel invested for years as a buffer against hostile Syrian, Iranian and Hizballah forces, are already falling apart. Disowned by their Saudi backers, they are being crushed by the US-Russian “de-escalation” steamroller. Israel like Jordan will soon find three hostile forces sitting pretty just across its border, far too close for safety.

Russia posts troops 8km from the Israeli Golan

July 25, 2017

Russia posts troops 8km from the Israeli Golan, DEBKAfile, July 25,2017

Most of the Russian troops were recruited in Chechnya, Dagestan and Ingushetia, republics known for their Muslim extremist activity.

DEBKAfile recalls that the Russians brought into embattled Daraa earlier this month to monitor the first ceasefire zone did not require Hizballah to withdraw. Iran’s Lebanese proxy is still there. Israel fears that Hizballah will repeat this exercise in the second ceasefire zone and establish a presence opposite the Golan without the Russians raising a finger to keep them out.

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Russia has quietly moved troops to a point in southern Syria that is 8km from Israel’s Golan border, in the face of Israeli objections, DEBKAfile reports exclusively. Moscow used the uproar over the Temple Mount standoff and the diplomatic crisis between Israel and Jordan to cover its creeping troop deployment almost up to Syria’s borders with Israel and Jordan.

Tuesday, July 15, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Avidor Lieberman and Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gady Eisenkott visited Bashan Division headquarters on the Golan for a rundown on the Russian deployment just opposite. (see photo)

DEBKAfile’s military sources report that some 800 Russian troops face Israel and another 400 are positioned on the border with Jordan. They have set up a roadblock east of Quneitra 8km from Israeli positions on the Golan. They have also strung an additional four to six lookout posts, some of them 13km from Israeli military positions, along the 64km Syrian-Israeli border – from Mount Hermon in the north, up to a point south of Qunetra in the south.

Most of the Russian troops were recruited in Chechnya, Dagestan and Ingushetia, republics known for their Muslim extremist activity.

Israel has repeatedly objected to the proximity of this Russian military presence, and asked the Trump administration to prevent it. But the protests from Jerusalem went unheeded in Washington and Moscow. President Donald Trump and Defense Secretary James Mattis regard the creation of US-Russian sponsored ceasefire zones in southwestern Syria as an essential component of their military cooperation in Syria and the war on ISIS.

DEBKAfile’s military sources report that, on Monday, July 24, Moscow announced the Russian deployment after the fact in messages to Washington, Jerusalem and Amman. They were all too engrossed in coping with the crises that had sprung up over Temple Mount and in relations between Jerusalem and Amman to pay much attention to this Russian fait accompli.

According to the announcement by Col.-Gen Sergey Rudskoy, Chief of the Main Operational Directorate of the Russian General Staff, the Russian units were in already in place on July 21 and 22:

“We informed our colleagues from the United States, Jordan and Israel, through military diplomatic channels in advance of the deployment of the Russian-controlled forces around the perimeter of the de-escalation zone in southern Syria,” he wrote.

DEBKAfile recalls that the Russians brought into embattled Daraa earlier this month to monitor the first ceasefire zone did not require Hizballah to withdraw. Iran’s Lebanese proxy is still there. Israel fears that Hizballah will repeat this exercise in the second ceasefire zone and establish a presence opposite the Golan without the Russians raising a finger to keep them out.

Russia vies with Israel over aid for Quneitra

July 19, 2017

Russia vies with Israel over aid for Quneitra, DEBKAfile, July 19, 2017

(Please see also, Operation Good Neighbor: Israel’s part in Syria.– DM)

On their arrival in Quneitra, the Russians found a population that was better fed and cared for than Syrian civilians on any other of the country’s warfronts. They are nonetheless challenging Israel for the locals’ hearts and minds.

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As Russian troops began moving into the Quneitra ceasefire sector opposite Israel’s Golan border on Wednesday, July 19, they found they were in hot competition with Israel over … humanitarian aid for the sector’s rebel-held villages.

Since Israel is adamantly opposed to the Russian presence in the Quneitra demilitarized zone – although it was endorsed by the Trump administration, as DEBKAfile reported exclusively on Tuesday, July 18 – Moscow decided to take it slowly and meanwhile try and win over the Syrian rebel groups whom Israel has succored for years. The Kremlin figured that if these anti-Assad groups could be weaned away from Israel, they might be persuaded to cooperate with the Russian troops in setting up the Quneitra ceasefire zone, and the Russians would not need Israel’s compliance.

On Tuesday, therefore, a Russian military convoy drove into Jabah, a village northeast of Qunetra town and 4km from Israel’s Golan border. Officers described as belonging to the “Russian Defense Ministry’s reconciliation center” alit from the trucks and began handing out food packages to the villagers.

The civilians received necessities and were treated by Russian doctors, a Syrian officer announced. Russian and Syrian officers promised that more humanitarian aid would be delivered to “settlements across the Quneitra province” and Russian doctors would visit all the villages in the ceasefire zone.

Israel, who has been sending aid across these Syrian villages which were cut off by the civil war from basic necessities, has mostly kept its humanitarian program under wraps, except when witnesses reported what they saw to the media. On Wednesday, the IDF officers running the program asked sardonically: “Where were the Russians all these years when Israel alone helped the beleaguered villages across its border?”

After watching the Russian troops hand out packages to the people of Quneitra, the Israeli government and military chiefs decided to challenge the Russian belated propaganda move.

Up until now, Israel has supplied regular humanitarian aid to some 200,000 Syrian villagers living in 80 non-ISIS rebel-controlled villages 15km deep inside the Syrian Golan. Last year alone, Israel sent over half a million liters of heavy fuel, 360 tonnes of foodstuffs, 77 tonnes of clothing and shoes, tens of generators and water system, as well as providing them with medical treatment, including hospital care for sick and injured Syrians and a field hospital on the border.

Wednesday, Israel formalized its assistance program under the title “The Good Neighbor” and disclosed it had been administered since 2016 by a special unit of the Bashan Division which is in charge of the Golan sector.

The IDF released footage of trucks ferrying across the border supplies of medical equipment, medicines, foodstuffs and fuel, as well as pictures documenting IDF medics lifting Injured Syrians off the battlefield for treatment in Israeli hospitals.

According to IDF statistics, at least 3,000 Syrians crossed the border in the past four years for medical treatment. And Israel sent over as needed incubators, respirators and ambulances. In the same period, the IDF conducted 150 assistance operations on Syrian soil.

On their arrival in Quneitra, the Russians found a population that was better fed and cared for than Syrian civilians on any other of the country’s warfronts. They are nonetheless challenging Israel for the locals’ hearts and minds.

Northern border heating up

June 27, 2017

Northern border heating up, Israel Hayom, Ofek Ish Maas, June 27, 2017

(Please see also, After IDF retaliates for spillover, Syrian army warns Israel.– DM)

In the past few days, the Syrian civil war has been knocking on Israel’s door. On Saturday, 10 errant mortars and tank shells landed in the northern Golan Heights, and at the beginning of the week the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit reported a few more ordnance hits in open areas.

In accordance with policy, the IDF responded by firing at Syrian army targets. But although tenuous quiet has been restored, we cannot discount the possibility that errant fire from Syria will continue and increase.

The army of Syrian President Bashar Assad, which was responsible for the errant fire, is trying to block an attack by rebels, who want to break through and reach the highway that leads from Damascus to the southwestern city of Daraa, which has been the site of heavy fighting for control of southern Syria over the past month.

Since the beginning of June, Daraaa has been subjected to massive bombing by the Syrian regime and its allies. Hundreds of barrel bombs and rockets and dozens of bombs from Syrian and Russian planes have rained down on the city. According to rebel reports, some of the bombs even included phosphorus. Among other things, in an attempt to deter the rebels, the regime intentionally attacked a school in a nearby village, killing more than 20 women and children who had sought shelter there. The worsening situation led the local government to declare Daraa and its surroundings a disaster area.

Daraa, which lies about 30 kilometers (18.5 miles) east of Israel and 13 kilometers (8 miles) north of Syria’s border with Jordan, is a strategic target for the Syrian regime. First, control over border crossings in a symbol of sovereignty and the implementation of Assad’s desire to once again control all of Syria. Second, the regime and its Shiite allies want to reduce the chance of a sustainable security buffer zone under Western, Jordanian, and Israeli influence being established in southern Syria. Assad’s forces reaching the Jordanian border would stop the supply of logistic, military, and humanitarian aid Western and Persian Gulf nations are sending the rebels and would create a divide between the two rebel-controlled areas in southern Syria.

With a goal so important to the regime, and with the increasingly serious stand-off between the U.S., Russia, and Iran in eastern Syria threatening any chances of a peace deal in the south, it appears that nothing is stopping Assad from proceeding full force.

The ramifications for Israel’s security could be heavy. In the short term, if we see a repeat of the images out of Aleppo at the end of 2016 — women and children slaughtered, buildings collapsing with people inside, the use of unconventional weapons against civilians — there will be waves of displaced persons, some of whom might seek shelter along the border, in Israel’s shadow, and even ask for asylum. In the long term, Israel’s northeastern front could become a stronghold of Iran, Hezbollah, and other Shiite militias that would comprise a threat to security and safety in northern Israel.

Israel must decide how it will prepare to prevent these dangerous scenarios. It must choose between increasing support for the Sunni rebels as a buffer against Iran and its satellites, or assenting through silence to Assad returning to power. If Israel wants to stick to the idea of a buffer zone, it will have to increase support for the rebels and provide them with defense coverage, both diplomatic, against Russia, and military, in hope that the U.S. will agree. But diverting American attention to southwestern Syria will hamper its efforts to defeat the Islamic State in the east and prevent Iran from filling the ensuing vacuum. Israel, therefore, would have to roll up its sleeves and plunge its hands into the Syrian mess. On the other hand, if Israel is unwilling to do so, it will have to set clear rules of engagement for the Assad regime, which is regaining ground, by demanding that Iranian satellites not gain a foothold in the region and backing that demand up with military action.

In any case, neither option is certain and each has its risks. But the reality in Syria, especially in the south of the country, is changing fast, and the comparative security that Israel has been enjoying is in danger and requires immediate planning and responses.

Ofek Ish Maas (Riemer) is a research assistant at the Institute for National Security Studies.