In a desolate corner of southern Syria called Lajat, Iranian Al Qods Brigades and Hizballah instructors have been busy for four months secretly whipping into shape a new militia of 4,000-5,000 fighting men for consignment to the Israeli and Jordanian borders. This is disclosed by DEBKA Weekly’s military and counter-terrorism sources.
For the project, fathered by Al Qods chief Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, Tehran established a big training camp in Lajat, the largest lava field in southern Syria. It spans some 900 sq. kms, about 50km southeast of Damascus and rises 600-700m above sea level. Its tallest volcano is 1,159m high.
Lajat was chosen because it is empty of people and out of sight of human activity, while also adjoining Israel in the west and the foothills of Jabal Druze bordering Jordan to the south. The clandestine training facility has accommodation for 500 people – military instructors and recruits. They are enlisted in local towns and villages and transferred to Lajat after screening and medical checkups. The camp has shooting ranges for automatic weapons, heavy machine guns, heavy mortars and anti-tank and anti-air rockets.
After a three-month course, graduates are issued with Syrian military uniforms and transferred to one of three Syrian army bases: the 7th Infantry Division in Izra, the 5th Mechanized Division headquartered at the Al0Kiswah base south of Damascus, or the 7th Mechanized Division based in Qatana west of Damascus. Each base houses an Al Qods Brigades command center, to which Hizballah officers are attached. These centers manage the trainees’ assignments. Around 2,000 have graduated so far. Their first duties are to patrol areas opposite Israel’s Golan border and the northern frontier of Jordan, familiarize themselves with the terrain of their coming assignments and conduct reconnaissance over those borders.
The Revolutionary Guards Corps gives each trainee a generous monthly wage of $250, $100 more than the earnings of members of the other pro-Iranian militias operating in Syria and Iraq. DEBKA Weekly reveals the three differences which account for this bonus:
- The recruits are all Sunni Muslim, whereas all other Iranian recruits and militiamen in Syria are Shiites. They are not asked to convert their religion, since Tehran wants to use them as models for its campaign to bring Shiites and Sunnis together to fight for Islam.
- They all come with military training, having been picked by Soleimani’s headhunters from among Syrians who served in former rebel militias that were trained and deployed by the US, Israel and Jordan.
- They were all drawn from Sunni families who are native to southern Syria. It is therefore presumed that Iran and Hizballah have pressed whole Sunni Syrian families and clans into loyal service in Syria’s southern borderlands. They are drawn to play ball by the promise of a livelihood for their sons.
Damascus, Tehran and Hizballah view the graduates of the Lajat project as the future force for manning Syria’s forward lines against the Israeli army on the Golan and the Jordanian army’s border guard forces.
Our sources note that this project is a total betrayal of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s pledges to President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Putin asked the US and Israel not to hinder the Russian-Syrian drive in April and May to capture southern Syria from Syrian rebel forces. In return, he offered his personal guarantee to keep Iranian and Hizballah forces out of the border areas and post Russian military police to monitor their demilitarization. That guarantee has gone by the board.