Syrian rebel force launches offensive near Golan to clear path to S. Damascus. Israel acts to protect Druze
Jaysh Hermon (the Army of Hermon) Wednesday, June 17, launched a broad offensive on Syrian army forces in the Quneitra and Hermon sectors bordering on Israel. Its objective is to capture the Syrian army’s 68th Brigade headquarters at Khan al-Shih which commands the main Quneitra-Damascus highway. This would clear the rebels’ path to the southern suburbs of Damascus up to Western Ghouta, from which they would encircle the government troops defending the capital.
If the Army of Hermon achieves this goal – and replicates the May success of the rebel Army of Conquest in capturing much of the northern province of Idlib – the Syrian civil war would enter a new phase.
debkafile’s military sources report that this feat could be brought off suddenly or entail protracted combat. Syrian government forces showed no signs of folding at the onset of the fresh onslaught.
Our sources reveal that two new rebel armies have surfaced in recent weeks on the northern and southern warfronts. Their tactics are clearly stage-managed with a view to driving the Syrian army toward Damascus.
debkafile names the hand guiding the northern rebel force as coming from a joint command based in the big Turkish air base of Dyabakir. It is composed pf US, Saudi, Turkish and Qatari officers.
The southern rebel front is managed from US Centcom’s Forward Command in Jordan, which is quartered north of Amman and run jointly by American, Jordanian, Saudi, Qatari and British officers.
This command center collected eight oddly assorted rebel militias to build the Jaysh Hermon. Some were chosen reluctantly out of need despite their undesirable proclivities. Our sources name them as: The Syrian Free Army, the Sayf al-Sham Brigade; the Jesus Christ Brigade (Muslims respect Jesus as one of their prophets); the Nusra Front (Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate); Ahrar al-Sham (an extremist group linked to Nusra and ISIS); and Ajnad al-Sham (whose fighters took part in the battle to conquer Idlib).
The Jordan-based command running the rebel effort provides them with arms, supplies, wages and their military plans of action. Its leverage to prevent them stepping out of line consists of threats to deprive them of arms or cut their wages.
In the past week, a group of these militias captured parts of Al-Thala near the Jabal Druze capital of Suweida. The threat facing the half a million Druze inhabitants suddenly topped Israel’s agenda as pressure built up from its Druze citizens to intercede. It was then that the Jordan-based command warned the rebel militias that they would lose half their monthly wage if they did not back off.
The penalty worked. And the wild rumors of a Druze massacre at the village of Khader were dispelled.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gady Eisenkott have taken personal charge of the Syrian Druze situation and are keeping a close watch on events on the other side of the border. They are holding their breath for the Jordan command to stay in control of the rebel militias, so that no Druze comes to harm in the course of the fighting in areas around their villages and close to the Israeli border. Keeping them safe is vital if Israel is to avoid a mass Druze stampeded on its border.
However, there is no guarantee that unprofessional militias like the Hermon Army, each governed by its own ideals and methods, will be disciplined enough to stick to any rules.
Israel’s leaders are therefore braced for nasty shocks. They will no doubt breathe a sigh of relief when – and if – the rebel coalition scoops up the territory between Quneitra and Mt. Hermon and heads up the main road to Damascus, away from its borders and the Druze mountain, without causing harm. But if the rebel offensive is stalled, their Jaish Hermon breaks up and out-of-control militias go it alone, Israel may have to contend with a very tough problem.