Al Qaeda’s Syrian wing, Jabhat al-Nusra, led a Syrian rebel operation Wednesday, March 13, to occupy Golan and cleanse it of every last Syrian troop loyal to Bashar Assad. The Islamists had two more objectives:
1. To be in position for cross-border attacks on Israel and Jordan – possibly in the course of US President Barack Obama’s March 20-22 visits to those countries.
2. To use the “liberated” Syrian Golan as launching pads for a war of attrition against Israel and Jordan – like Taliban’s campaign against NATO forces in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Their deadline for achieving this objective is March 15.
Jabhat al-Nusra kicked off its Golan operation Wednesday, debkafile’s military sources report, by murdering Gen. Nour e-Din Habib, commander of the Syrian Army’s 90th Brigade, parts of which remain on the Golan. He was struck down from a well-planned ambush against his convoy. Also killed in the attack was Col. Radouan Rifai, the brigade’s senior liaison officer with the Syrian 3rd Extended Division.
The purpose of the attack was to disable the brigade by wiping out its top command.
Our military sources add that, in the course of the fighting Wednesday, the Nusra front uncovered a secret network of large tunnels running from different points on the Golan up to the Israeli border. They are big enough for the passage of entire Syrian units with their tanks and heavy trucks, allowing them to pop up without warning against Israeli border units and use their surprise to mow them down and advance into the Israeli sector.
debkafile reported earlier Wednesday:
US President Barack Obama’s first engagement upon landing in Israel on March 20 will be a quick tour of the Iron Dome missile interceptor stationed at Ben Gurion international airport. After a round of handshakes, the officers and men operating the system will explain how it works.
The innovative counter-missile weapon is to be deployed there, not just as a spectacle to honor the US president for his contribution to its development, but out of necessity for his safety. Air Force One might be seen as fair game for the ground-to-ground missiles wielded by Al Qaeda units fighting Assad in Syria and its affiliates in the Sinai Peninsula at the very moment that the US President steps down to the strains of the IDF welcoming band.
In normal circumstances, personal security arrangements for a US presidential foreign visit are kept under close wraps and rarely visible to the public.
This time, debkafile’s counterterrorism sources report, the visit’s planners made an exception. They decided there was no option but to visibly install an Iron Dome battery inside the airport, because the first battery plus a Patriot interceptor stationed for more than two months north and south of Tel Aviv were not sufficient guarantee of security against rocket attack for President Obama’s arrival.
This decision set up two precedents:
1. Air Force One will land on the Ben Gurion airport runway on March 20 enclosed by two defensive rings of US and Israeli missile interceptors in the densest formation ever to guard an American president's arrival in Israel.
2. The Iron Dome battery will stay in place for the three days of Obama’s visits to Israel and Jordan. It will defend Jerusalem’s air space against rocket attack for the duration of his stay.
Still fresh in Israeli memories are Hamas attempts just five months ago to hit the airport and Jerusalem with rockets fired from the Gaza Strip on the orders of the Iranian general Gen. Hassan Shateri aka Hossam Khosh-Nevis. This Iranian officer was killed in January in Syria in unknown circumstances.
No one in US and Israeli security circles is seriously suggesting that Iranian leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Syrian ruler Bashar Assad or Hizballah’s Hassan Nasrallah are planning to hit the Israeli airport with rockets on March 20. But neither is any responsible official prepared to expose the president to the slightest risk.
After all, in the more than 120,000 square kilometers of the Damascus-Baghdad-Amman triangle and the 62,000 square kilometers of the Sinai Peninsula, it may be possible to find a jihadist commander willing to act on an order from al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zuwahiri to avenge the death of Osama bin Laden in on May 2 two years ago in Pakistan at the hands of American commandos.
Both groups of security experts appreciate that Zuwahiri has the motive for punishing the US president for ordering his death and, for the first time, the capacity to reach him from al Qaeda-controlled territory with surface missiles loaded with poison chemicals.
Even if their weapon did not touch President Obama, it would be enough for one to explode on an Israeli or Jordanian air field at the time of his arrival for the terrorist organization to chalk up a major strategic feat.