Will it be Hezbollah or Al Qaeda on Israel’s Syrian border?

Fighting at the Israel-Syrian border

As has been widely forecast, the Syrian civil war, which has occasionally spilled over Israel’s border, has now reached the Israeli border crossing itself. The town of Quneitra, where the Israel-Syria crossing point is located, today briefly fell into the hands of the rebels before being retaken by Assad’s forces. This translates as Quneitra falling into the hands of Al Qaeda before being retaken by Hezbollah.

Rebels seized then lost a border crossing on the demilitarized zone between Israel and Syria on Thursday, activists and the Israeli army said, as heavy clashes raged between the opposition and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces at the border crossing and in “Old Quneitra” town just adjacent to the border.

On Thursday morning, the Israel Defense Forces confirmed that the crossing had fallen into rebel hands. This was also confirmed by the Austrian Defense Ministry, which has peacekeeping troops on the Golan. Reuters reported that the Austrian troops in the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force had “gone into their bunkers” during the battle. A few hours later, the Syrian army, using tanks, had retaken the border crossing, the IDF said.

The IDF said two shells originating from the Syrian fighting landed in the Israeli-held part of the Golan, with no casualties caused.

Israel is worried that the Golan, which it captured from Syria in 1967, will become a springboard for attacks on Israelis by jihadi fighters, who are taking part in the armed struggle against Assad. On Wednesday, Israel Hayom reported exclusively that Israel believes Hezbollah is working to open a front against Israel on the strategic plateau.

“The rebels have seized the crossing near the old city of Quneitra in the occupied Golan Heights,” said Rami Abdelrahman, head of the Observatory. “There are heavy explosions and fierce clashing ongoing in the area.”

Eli Malka, head of the Golan Regional Council, told Channel 2’s internet news site that residents were closely following the developments: “There is errant fire and some concern here on the Golan. We are working in complete coordination with the Israel Defense Forces.” According to Army Radio, the authorities decided to close farmers’ access to orchard fields located some two kilometers (1.2 miles) from the fighting. Highway 98 between the communities of Alonei Habashan and Ein Zivan was also closed.

According to Israel Radio, the IDF has again agreed to treat some of the wounded rebel combatants, several of whom were taken to Israeli hospitals. There is a military field hospital on the Israeli side of the Golan close to the border with Syria.

Israel’s humanitarianism in treating its enemies almost came to catastrophe today when one of the injured fighters taken to Ziv Hospital in Safed for treatment was found to have an unexploded grenade in his pocket!

The emergency room in Safed’s Ziv medical center was briefly evacuated Thursday after hospital staff, while undressing a wounded Syrian national brought in for treatment, discovered a hand grenade in one of his pockets. Sappers were called in to remove and defuse the explosive device, a lethal fragmentation grenade. There was no suggestion the injured man aimed to use it against the hospital staff.

The man was one of two Syrians who were transferred to Israel for medical treatment on Thursday.

The two were brought in, both in critical condition. One had a chest wound and the other a stomach wound.

They were being treated in the hospital’s trauma center and were slated to undergo surgery later in the day.

On Wednesday, a Syrian man wounded in fighting near Israel’s border died en route to Ziv hospital after he was administered medical care by Israeli army personnel at the border. A second man was hospitalized in stable condition with shrapnel injuries.

According to figures released by the hospital, the two men admitted Thursday were the eighteenth and nineteenth Syrians to be treated at the medical center since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war two years ago.

Three other Syrians, including the patient admitted on Wednesday, remain hospitalized at Ziv, bringing the total number of Syrians currently there to five. Other injured Syrians have been hospitalized in Haifa’s Rambam Medical Center.

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon on Monday confirmed for the first time that Israel is operating a field hospital on the Syrian border. He said the IDF was transferring severely wounded Syrian nationals to Israeli hospitals for treatment.

Returning to the Israel Hayom story on the Quneitra fighting, it looks like the UN peacekeeping force is going to fold:

The Quneitra crossing is used primarily by U.N. peacekeepers and the Druze population on the Golan Heights.

Its initial fall to the rebels, and then the Syrian army’s counterattack, is likely to expedite the complete withdrawal of the U.N. peacekeeping force from the area. IDF officials have said recently that the fall of Quneitra, perhaps one of the regime’s most important symbols of power, would signify a dramatic development.

Speaking to Army Radio on Thursday, Hebrew University Professor Moshe Maoz said, “The identity of the rebels is crucial. There are reports that members of al-Qaida were in the area. This is bad news and it requires caution.”

The Times of Israel has more on the fighting near the border:

Some of the fighting was taking place some 200 yards from Israeli territory. An Israeli military source told the Times of Israel that the “situation is still very fluid. Rebels are fighting in both the town [of Quneitra] and the border crossing.”

Israel on Thursday lodged a complaint to the UN over the Syrian military’s use of tanks and armored personnel carriers in the de-militarized zone, a move it said was in violation of the two countries’ ceasefire agreement.

Explosions were heard in the area in the early morning and a mortar shell was reported to have landed at the UN base located at the crossing, injuring at least one person.

With all the violence and associated instability in the area, it should come as no surprise that some Syrians are now attempting to flee to safety in Israel:

Dozens of Syrians arrived at the Quneitra border crossing between Israel and Syria at around noon Thursday and requested entry into Israel.

The group was received by the IDF, which examined them at the crossing. However, after the IDF decided the Syrian side of the Quneitra crossing was no longer dangerous, it decided to send the group back to their war-torn country.

I hope someone in Israel has given some thought as to what will happen on “the day after”, when Syrian refugees will attempt to flood into Israel, and Israel will not be able to return them to Syria due to the violence there.

In the meantime, fighting on the Syrian side of the Golan has led to a number of wildfires on both sides of the border. The fires began in Syria and spread through minefields mediating between the two countries.

Golan shrubbery goes up in flames from Syrian fire

According to assessments, hundreds of dunams have gone up in flames, some of which have come near the IDF’s Golan positions. An Israeli firefighter squad is currently at the scene attempting to take control of the fire and the IDF has instructed local farmers to stay away from their lands near the border for the time being.

With the choice of either Hezbollah, assisting Assad as Iran’s proxy, or Al Qaeda jihadists in the form of Syrian rebels, which would be the least bad option for Israel? According to one Israeli official, Al Qaeda is the “preferred” option:

Israeli officials are concerned about the growing strength of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in recent days, Army Radio reported.

Senior Israeli officials were quoted as saying that “al-Qaida control over Syria would be preferable to a victory by Assad over the rebels.”

This view is based on the assessment that a victorious Assad would be much more dependent on Iran than in the past. In such a scenario, Iran would have greater ability to threaten Israel than it does today. Also, the ties between Iran, Syria and Hezbollah would become even tighter, increasing the dangers facing Israel.

Israeli officials said one country in the world was openly seeking the destruction of Israel — Iran.

“Assad is now Iran,” the officials said, making any other group preferable to govern Syria, even al-Qaida or other radical Islamists. “Any of these groups would be less problematic for Israel than an Assad regime that is a puppet of Iran,” the report quoted the officials as saying.

Last month, a senior Israeli intelligence official sounded a different tune, telling The Times of London that Israel preferred the survival of the Assad regime over the takeover of Syria by Islamist rebels.

“Better the devil we know than the demons we can only imagine if Syria falls into chaos and the extremists from across the Arab world gain a foothold there,” the official was quoted as saying in an article published on May 17.

In case further proof were needed of the extreme danger posed by Hezbollah, The Tower (a new online magazine) reminds us how the organization has turned Southern Lebanon’s homes and villages into military installations:

Hezbollah is attempting to move advanced weapons into civilian areas in Lebanon in preparation for another conflict with Israel. The Iran-backed terror group has an extensive, video-documented history of exploiting Lebanese civilians, and during its 2006 war with Israel successfully created incidents in which human shields were endangered and killed.

The organization has spent the subsequent years creating a network of weapons storage facilities and bunkers in civilian areas throughout southern Lebanon:

[…]

Another expose published earlier this year detailed how Hezbollah exploits poor Shiite families, subsidizing their homes in exchange for those families becoming human shields:

[…]

Israeli intelligence officials believe that one in ten houses in southern Lebanon is used as a storage facility for Hezbollah weapons.

Compounding matters for Israel, Russia might be entering the imbroglio by sending in warships to resupply Assad:

Russian warships believed to be carrying arms to resupply the Syrian regime were spotted in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, CNN reported on Wednesday.

The report cited U.S. intelligence sources that stated they had identified the ships leaving Russian ports several days ago. Using U.S. satellite imagery, they had further identified containers that are thought to possibly carry parts of the advanced S-300 anti-air missile system in them, as well as other weapons to be used by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s military.

According to the report, the U.S. did not identify helicopters being loaded onto the ships, which the Syrians are believed to have wanted to acquire from the Russians to use in their fight against the rebels.

Russia maintains its only port in the Mediterranean is in the Syrian city of Tartus.

Is Russia really intending to resupply Assad or is it playing a double game like it did with the on-again off-again S-300 missile shipments?

Clifford May in Israel Hayom compares the two terrorist organizations but his main conclusion is simply one question:

In the final analysis, “which is the A team-of terrorism” is not the paramount question. What is? In the years ahead, does the U.S. have what it takes to be the A-team of counterterrorism?

I’m not sure the answer to that is “Yes”. Israel will have to step into the breach, pray to G-d and look after itself as it always ends up doing.

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