ANALYSIS: Have Iranian forces withdrawn from the Israeli border in Syria?

Thursday, August 02, 2018 |  Yochanan Visser

On Monday, the pro-Assad coalition in Syria finally finished off the last pockets of Islamist resistance along the Israeli border on the Golan Heights after a six-week-long campaign which included the ‘liberation’ of the Daraa and Kuneitra provinces in southwest Syria.

Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad’s forces, which today include Hezbollah and other Shiite militias,  regained full control over the Syrian Golan Heights after closing a surrender deal with Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (formerly known by the name Jabhat al-Nusra) and after a bloody fight with ISIS branch Jaish Khalid Bin Walid.

Assad’s mouthpiece SANA claimed on Monday the Russian-Iranian-backed pro-Assad coalition drove the last ISIS terrorists out of the town of Shajarah in the Yarmouk basin on the southern Golan Heights.

From Shajarah the forces of the Syrian dictator proceeded in the direction of the villages Abidin and Maariyah and finally recaptured the region along the border with Israel on the Golan Heights.

The remaining members of Jaish Khalid Bin Walid were driven into the bush and the valleys of the Yarmuk basin as they tried to stage suicide attacks against soldiers of the pro-Assad coalition.

The operation was carried out with combat units and special tactics (so) that the terrorist organization lost the ability to maneuver,” according to a statement released by the Assad government.

The offensive was supported by the Russian air force which heavily pounded Jaish Khalid Bin Walid positions on the southern Golan Heights.

Those aerial bombardments were even audible in the area of the Sea of Galilee in northern Israel on Saturday and Sunday.

The ISIS affiliate has now retorted to suicide bombings against Syrian army positions and against Druze and other Syrian civilians in Daraa, Quneitra and the Sweida province which is home to a large Druze minority in Syria.

Last week ISIS suicide bombers killed more than 215 Druze civilians in the city of Sweida and nearby villages while kidnapping dozens of others.

Hezbollah and other Iranian-backed Shiite militias reportedly played a key role in re-capturing the region along the border despite Russian assurances they would be kept away from the Israeli border and denials by the Assad regime the Iranian trained and funded forces were taking part in the battle.

Israel has now closed its border with Syria and will no longer provide medical help and others forms of humanitarian aid to people who are trying to cross into the Jewish state.

Since Israel started its operation "Good Neighbor” in 2013 the IDF delivered tons of food, medicines and other humanitarian aid goods in Syria and has provided medical treatment to thousands of Syrians including 600 children who came to Israeli hospital accompanied by their mothers.

Israel has now asked Russia to ensure Assad’s forces will not carry out a massacre of the thousands of Syrian civilians who fled their homes during the offensive and are camping out along the Israeli border.

The Israeli broadcaster Hadeshot reported Monday night the Israeli government passed on the message to Putin via diplomatic channels but it remains to be seen if the Russians are willing to intervene when Assad cracks down on the refugees who are in majority opponents of the ruthless regime.

The return of Assad’s army to the Israeli border on the Golan Heights means that Prime Minister Netanyahu’s diplomatic offensive to keep the Iranian-backed militias at least 40 kilometer from the Israeli border has failed.

Netanyahu repeatedly traveled to Moscow and often called President Vladimir Putin to discuss the creation of a buffer zone free of Iranian forces along the border with Syria on the Golan Heights and later demanded Russia would ensure Iran would withdraw from Syria completely.

The situation on the ground and an interview with the Russian ambassador in Israel made it clear Russia has no intention to assist Israel in its war against the Iranian military build-up in Syria despite promises Russian military police would prevent Iran from approaching the Israeli border on the Golan Heights.

Ambassador Anatoly Viktorov told Channel 10 in Israel Russia cannot compel Iranian forces to leave Syria because they are playing a crucial role in defeating "terrorists".

Two days later another Russian diplomat contradicted Viktorov and claimed Iranian forces had pulled out to 85 kilometer from the Israeli border.

Alexander Lavrentyev, Putin’s envoy in Syria told state-controlled Sputnik news in Russia the Russian government was taking Israel’s security needs in account and claimed the Russians had “managed to attain the pullout of Iranian units 85km from the Israeli border.”

Levrentyev  wasn’t speaking the truth.

On July 22 Hashem Safi al-Din, head of Hezbollah’s Executive Council, said during a commemorative ceremony in Nabatieh, Lebanon to mark the anniversary of the Second Lebanon War that Hezbollah, which is an Iranian proxy army, had not left southern Syria and had participated in the battle against rebels in Daraa and Kuneitra which borders Israel.

The Assad regime, furthermore, said Syria’s Special Forces had ‘liberated’ the Syrian side of the Golan Heights.

Those Special Forces are made up of Shiite fighters who were recruited by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and receive their orders from Qassem Soleimani the shrewd commander of the Quds Force of the IRGC.

It is therefore no exaggeration to say that Israel is now facing Iranian-trained and financed forces along two fronts in the north of the country: Lebanon and Syria.

PHOTO: Iranian-linked forces continue to take part in battles just on the other side of the Israel-Syria border. (Basel Awidat/Flash90)

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