Israel has given Damascus a final warning that a military response would be forthcoming if its fighter aircraft infringed the airspace over the Golan demilitarized zones, debkafile’s military sources report.. The warning was relayed through the UN Disengagement Observer Force in an effort to contain any spillover of the Syrian civil war across Israel’s border. Ratcheting up border tensions, Damascus was warned to desist from the following actions:
1. Ordnance of any kind must not be allowed to fly across the border, including shells and bullets.
2. Syrian forces entering the demilitarized zones straddling the Israel-Syrian Golan border would get the same treatment as infiltrators crossing into Israel proper. Israel cited the three Syrian tanks which Saturday, Nov. 3, approached the no-go zone in the course of a battle with rebels around the Circassian village of Beer Ajam. This must not be repeated, Damascus was warned.
3. Syrian fighter-bombers and combat helicopters may not infringe the airspace over those zones, and certainly not Israel’s Golan and Galilee skies.
debkafile has covered four days of evolving tension on Israel’s Golan border with Syria in detail.
On Monday, Nov. 5, we reported that Syrian small-arms fire from 1 kilometer over the Golan border hit the jeep of the Golani Brigade’s Patrol Battalion commander on a routine border patrol. There were no injuries. The jeep was badly damaged. debkafile’s military sources: The incident occurred after a gunfight between Syrian troops and rebels over the Golan town of Quneitra ended in the town falling to the rebels.
Israeli air force planes are patrolling the Golan and Galilee skies of northern Israel after the Syrians were observed preparing aircraft and helicopters to fly to the aid of their defeated ground forces in Quneitra.
After the Syrian army’s 90th Brigade was forced to retreat, Damascus is reported by Western sources about to send reinforcements over to the Golan to recover Quneitra. IDF contingents on the Golan and the Israeli-Lebanese border are high alert in case the Syrian combat spills over the border.
On Sunday, Nov. 4, we reported Israeli warplanes flew over the divided Golan in a show of strength and as a deterrent against the Syrian civil war seeping across the border, debkafile’s military and Western intelligence sources report. In Paris, President Francois Hollande vowed Sunday that “France would oppose with all its strength any bid to destabilize Lebanon. Lebanon must be protected.”
He spoke regardless of the 5,000 Lebanese Shiite Hizballah fighters who have poured into Syria from their Beqaa Valley stronghold of al-Harmel to fight Bashar Assad’s war. Our sources reveal that these Lebanese fighters have now advanced 50-60 kilometers deep into southwestern Syria, up to the outskirts of the embattled town of Homs.
On the Golan, further to the east, Israel’s chief of staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz visited the IDF contingent stationed there to reinforce the message broadcast by the IAF.
Hizballah is now openly flaunting the presence of its regular troops in Syria. They are armed with heavy artillery and Chinese WS-1 multiple-launch rocket systems made in Iran. These “Katyushas,” shoot 302mm rockets at targets up to 100 kilometers away and can operate in the rugged mountain terrain of Lebanon, Syria and Israel and in harsh weather conditions, including snow.
Hizballah fighters are reported by our sources to have already used this weapon with deadly effect in a battle with Syrian rebels over the town of Quseir opposite the Lebanese Beqaa Valley. It ended in Hizbalah’s capture of the town.
Coordination is tight: Hizballah forces on the ground get in touch with Iranian command headquarters in Beirut and Damascus to call up Syrian helicopters for air cover.
The Hizballah commander in Syria is Ibrahim Aqil, a veteran of the Hizballah militia and one of the most trusted by Hassan Nasrallah and Tehran.
Aqil took part in the 1983 assault on US Marines Beirut headquarters in which 241 American troops were killed, the highest death toll in a single event after World War II. In the year 2000, Aqil, then commander of the southern Lebanese front against Israel, orchestrated the kidnap from Israeli territory and murder of three Israeli soldiers, Benny Avraham, Adi Avitan and Omar Sawad.
Hizballah’s expeditionary force in Syria has been assigned three missions:
1. To seal off the routes used by the rebels to smuggle fighters and arms from Lebanon into Syria, most of which run through the Beqaa Valley. This mission is near completion.
2. To defend the clusters of Syrian Alawite and Shiite villages in the area of Hizballah control.
3. To provide a strategic reserve force for the Syrian units defending the main hubs of Syrian highways running west to east from the Mediterranean coast to the Syrian-Iraqi border and crisscrossed from north to south by the route running from the Turkish border up to Damascus. Control of these hubs makes it possible for the Syrian army to move military forces between the different warfronts at high speed.