Syrian rebel resistance to the Syrian Army advance on Quneitra opposite the Israeli Golan crumbled on Thursday, July 19, in the absence of Israeli military support. The terms of surrender that rebel leaders signed with Syrian army officers obliged them to hand over all their strongholds, including the town of Quneitra. The Syrian army was able to return to the positions held before the 2011 uprising without a shot. Rebels refusing to sign were to be sent with their families north to Idlib province.
Israeli officials and military leaders were dismayed by a message received from Damascus claiming that the 1974 Separation of Forces Accord, which both governments resuscitated this week, allowed Syrian aircraft, including assault helicopters and UAVs, to fly over the buffer zones of the Golan up to the Israel border. Damascus relayed a copy of the accord to Moscow with a warning that any Israeli attempt to shoot down a Syrian overflight would be a breach of the 1974 accord, and its endorsement on July 16 at Helsinki by Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. DEBKAfile revealed on July 17 that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu had partnered the Helsinki deal for the restoration of southern Syria to the Syrian army under Russian oversight.
Israeli officers were handed the Syrian message on Thursday by the UNDOF commander, Maj Gen. Francis Vib-Sanziri of Ghana, who is henceforth responsible for monitoring implementation of the Helsinki deal.
According to DEBKAfile’s military sources, this Syrian message for the first time forbids the Israeli air force and anti-air missile batteries shooting down Syrian aerial vehicles entering the air space over the buffer zones. On July 13, Israel shot down a Syrian drone entering the buffer zone. This is no longer permissible. Israel is even precluded from discovering if the intruder belongs to Iran or Hizballah, leaving both these hostile entities free to fly at will over Israel’s Golan border. Furthermore, Assad may have those flight painted with Syrian air force markings, just as he supplies Syrian military uniforms to disguise Hizballah and pro-Iranian Shiite militiamen.
Our sources reveal that it took the Assad regime no more than four days to renege on Syria’s role in the Helsinki accord. For regaining Quneitra, the Syrian army, led by disguised Hizballah and Shiite troops, was obliged to evacuate the Beit Jinn pocket opposite the IDF’s Hermon outpost. On Monday, July 16, the Syrians pretended to pull back, while actually leaving several hundred troops behind – disguised this time as civilians and farmers.