When Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon informed a Knesset panel Monday, June 3, that Syrian rebels still occupied four Damascus districts, debkafile’s intelligence sources reported that the battle for the Syrian capital was all but over. Barring small pockets of resistance, Bashar Assad’s army had virtually regained control of the city in an epic victory. From those pockets, the rebels can’t do much more than fire sporadically. They can no longer launch raids, or pose threats to the city center, the airport or the big Syrian air base nearby.
The Russian and Iranian transports constantly bringing replenishments for keeping the Syrian army fighting can again land at Damascus airport after months of rebel siege.
The rebels fell back in Damascus after being outflanked in a pincer movement in Damascus’s eastern outskirts executed by the Syrian army’s 4th and 3rd Divisions and a “Fuji” commando unit . Most of the rebels were pushed outside the city.
debkafile’s military sources report that, as of Tuesday, June 4, Assad’s army controls all the capital’s road connections and its western districts. It has also cleared opposition forces out of areas west of Damascus through the Zabadni region and up to the Lebanese border.
To the northwest, Hizballah and Syrian units have tightened their siege on the rebels holding out in the northern sector of al Qusayr; other units have completed their takeover of the countryside around the town of Hama; and a third combined Syrian-Hizballah force has taken up positions around Aleppo.
Senior IDF officers criticized the defense minister’s briefing on Syria Monday to the Knesset Foreign and Defense Committee in which he estimated that Bashar Assad controlled only 40 percent of Syrian territory as misleading. They said he had drawn on a flawed intelligence assessment and were concerned that the armed forces were acting on the basis of inaccurate intelligence. Erroneous assessments, they feared, must lead to faulty decision-making. They cited two instances:
1. On May 5, the massive Israeli bombardment of Iranian weapons stored near Damascus for Hizballah, turned out a month later to have done more harm than good. It gave Bashar Assad a boost instead of weakening his resolve.
2. Israel has laid itself open to unpleasant surprises by its focused watch on military movements in Syria especially around Damascus to ascertain that advanced missiles and chemical weapons don’t reach Hizballah. Missed, for instance, was the major movement by Hizballah militia units towards the Syrian-Israeli border. Our military sources report a Hizballah force is currently deployed outside Deraa, capital of the southern Syrian province of Horan. Reinforcements are streaming in from Lebanon. The Hizballah force and Syrian units are getting ready to move in on the rural Horan and reach the Israeli border nearby through the Syrian Golan.
Their coming offensive, which could be only days away, will find Israeli face to face for the first time with Hizballah units equipped with heavy arms and missiles on the move along the Syrian-Israeli border and manning positions opposite Israel’s Golan outposts and villages.
The early calculus that the Syrian battlefield would erode Hizballah’s strength held Israel back from obstructing the flow of Hizballah military strength into Syria. It has been proven wrong.
Instead of growing weaker, Iran’s Lebanese proxy is poised to open another warfront and force the IDF to adapt to a new military challenge from the Syrian Golan.
Unlike its previous wars against Israel, this time Hizballah will not confront Israel alone. On May 30, when the Syrian ruler spoke of “popular” demands to mount “resistance” operations against Israel from the Golan, he didn’t mention Hizballah because he was referring to demands coming from inside Syria.