DEBKAfile Exclusive Report
Syrian rebel forces continued to fall back this week against superior Syrian forces in the north, center and south. Wednesday, May 8, they lost the important town of Kirbet Ghazaleh in the Horan province of southern Syria. For the first time in two months, the main transit route opened up for Syrian troops to reach the Jordanian border from Damascus and the opposition forces holding ground along the Syrian-Israeli border.
The rocky Golan plateau split between Syria and Israel by a demilitarized zone is beginning to move onto center stage.
Tuesday, Bashar Assad was quoted as saying the Golan will be the “front line of resistance” after giving radical Palestinians under his wing permission to install missiles there against Israel. Unidentified Syria military sources vowed to attack the Israeli army vehicles crossing the line to evacuate wounded rebels in need of medical care. Our military sources say that if Israeli army vehicles, presumably unmarked, are indeed entering Syria to pick up injured rebels, they are most likely alerted by local liaison agents in the battle zones who guide them to the spots were the injured men are waiting.
The pro-Al Qaeda Jabhat al-Nusra will have deduced that the contact points between these local Syrian agents and the IDF are located in the 8 sq. km separation zone on the Golan, which has been patrolled by UN Disengagement Observer (UNDOF) peacekeepers since Israel and Syria signed an armistice in 1974.
Hence the abduction of four peacekeepers Monday. The rebel Islamist Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade which claimed responsibility released a photograph of the kidnapped UN troops sitting barefoot on a carpet and wearing light-blue U.N. armored vests, three of which were marked “Philippines.”
This incident highlighted the high strategic importance of the Golan plateau.
Israel has set up a large field hospital near the Tel Hazakah observation and military post on Golan which overlooks southern Syria and northern Jordan. There, incoming Syrian war wounded are vetted and examined by Israeli army medics who decide whether to patch them up and send them back, or judge them badly hurt enough for hospital care. The seriously hurt are moved to one of the the nearest Israeli hospitals in Safed or Haifa.
This arrangement suggests a kind of security zone is evolving on the Israeli-Syrian border which may recall the alliance which evolved between Israel and the Maronite Christians of South Lebanon out of the 1976 Lebanese civil war.
Israel then set up medical facilities for treating Lebanese Christian war wounded at several points on what came to be called the Good Fence. The Maronites willingly pushed Palestinian terrorist forces back from the border and were given permits to work in Israel and other benefits. The South Lebanese Army established at the time with 2,500 militiamen functioned effectively under Israeli command for two decades.
The whole system collapsed when in 2000 Ehud Barak, then prime minister, pulled Israeli forces out of the buffer zone and back to the border. It was then that Hizballah moved in.
No one has actually referred to the potential of the Lebanese scheme in one form or another growing out of Israel’s initial medical ties with certain non-Islamist Syrian rebel militias across the Golan border. But it may be happening on the quiet
Foreign-controlled enclaves are in a more advanced condition in other parts of Syria under the Hizballah and/or Iranian forces assisting the Syrian army’s fight against rebel forces.
Hizballah has completely encircled Al-Qusayr, the central Syrian town which commands the main routes between Damascus, Homs and Lebanon. Civic leaders have sent emissaries to Hizballah commanders offering to capitulate against a pledge not to ravage the town and to save its inhabitants.
In Damascus, Hizballah’s troops along with Iranian Basij militiamen command the Shiite holy places.
And in the southwest, they are securing a cluster of 30 Shiite villages opposite South Lebanon, not far from the intersection of the Israeli-Syrian-Lebanese borders.
By pouring fighting men into Syria, Hizbballah is gambling on Israel not taking advantage of its heavily diluted strength on home ground to strike Hizballah strongholds in Lebanon or its supply routes from Syria.
Both Hizballah and Israeli appear to be in the process of relocating their lines of confrontation from Lebanon to Syria. Israel’s air strike Sunday, May 5, which hit Hizballah and Iranian targets, may have been the first skirmish between them on Syrian territory. It is unlikely to be the last.