ANALYSIS: Russian Offensive Robs Israel of Ability to Strike Iranian Forces

Friday, June 29, 2018 |  Yochanan Visser

A Russian-Syrian led offensive in southwest Syria is complicating Israel’s operational abilities against the growing Iranian threat from the country.

The offensive by the pro-Assad coalition started early last week and aims to drive the various rebel groups out of the region along the Jordanian and Israeli border.

To make things even more complicated for Israel the Russian air force joined the offensive which spelled the end of the so-called de-escalation zones agreement between the U.S., Russia and Jordan from July 2017.

Russian and Syrian airplanes are currently bombing rebel positions in the Daraa Province which borders the Kuneitra Province along the Israeli border.

The offensive has already made between 45,000 and 120,000 civilians homeless, the United Nations and Emad Batin, the vice president of the opposition’s Daraa Provincial Council,reported on Thursday.

The displaced Syrians first tried to flee in the direction of the Jordanian border but after the Hashemite Kingdom, which is already home to more than 1.3 million Syrian refugees closed its borders, the region along the Israeli border became a last resort for the Daraa residents.

Apparently the displaced persons hope Israel will open its border with Syria or that the Syrian army will not dare to launch attacks so close to the Israeli border.

Israeli intervention to stop the Iranian Russian-backed pro-Assad coalition from taking over the border region on the Golan Heights is increasingly becoming unlikely since the Russian air force joined the offensive.

Russian and Syrian warplanes carried out more than 84 airstrikes in Daraa on Thursday morning alone while the Islamist rebels in the Yarmouk Basin region used suicide attacks in an attempt to derail the offensive.

Heavy fighting was also reported in the eastern countryside of Daraa while the Long War Journal (LWJ)revealed at least one Iranian backed Shiite militia from Iraq is fighting along Assad’s army.

According to  LWJ the Iraqi Shia militia Liwa Zulfiqar advertised its presence in the offensive via videos and photos which it posted on its Facebook page.

Liwa Zulfiqar took part in the battle for Busra al Harir a strategically important town in eastern Daraa and claimed rebels had tried to assassinate its commander.

During the offensive in Daraa at least three hospitals were bombed leaving residents of the province, where the uprising against Assad started in 2011, without medical care local media reported.

The pro-Assad coalition is now approaching the Israeli border and bombed the Free Syrian Army in the town of Nawa which is located less than twelve kilometers from the Golan Heights.

Russian and Syrian warplanes are targeting the Islamic State affiliate Jaish Khalid bin al-Walid which is controlling most of the Yarmouk Basin area.

The United States, meanwhile, has made clear it has no intention to help the rebels in southeast Syria while the Trump Administration has set up a meeting to discuss the Iranian presence in Syria with Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Putin and Trump are expected to meet in Europe after a NATO conference in Helsinki, Finland which will take place in another two weeks.

Israel, meanwhile, continues to strike Iranian weapon transports to Syria but seems to be robbed of its military options by Russia to stop the Iran-dominated pro-Assad coalition from taking over the region adjacent to the Israeli Syrian border on the Golan Heights.

The presence of Russian airplanes in Syrian airspace above the Quneitra and Daraa provinces will most likely tie the hands of the Israeli air force whenever the offensive reaches the Golan Heights

The pro-Assad coalition, on the other hand, seems also very cautious in its efforts to take over the Golan Heights.

Most of the fighting since the beginning of the offensive has taken place in Daraa, not Kuneitra.

While Arab media claimed a Syrian offensive on the Golan Heights would lead to Israeli airstrikes or even an IDF ground operation in Syria, the most likely path the pro-Assad coalition will follow is to close a ‘reconciliation’ deal with the Islamist rebels on the Golan Heights.

Such deals ended other stand-offs with Islamist rebel groups across Syria and would include the forced transfer of the Islamist rebels along the Israeli and Jordanian border to Sunni dominated areas in northern and eastern Syria.

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