A double layer of US and Israeli warplanes is cruising 24/7 over the southwestern Syrian battlefields ready to go into action if shared red lines are crossed. DEBKAfile’s military sources report that US F/A-18E and F/A-18F Super Hornets are monitoring the fighting around Daraa and the Jordanian and Israeli Golan border regions. They have flown in to support Israel’s overflights from the USS Harry Truman, which is deployed in the eastern Mediterranean.
The IDF has prepared for three scenarios in the event of Russian-backed Syrian and Hizballah forces seizing control of the Daraa region and the Jordanian border – whether by force or in negotiation with the rebel defenders:
- A possible deal with the Daraa rebels being replicated for Quneitra on the Israeli border.
- Daraa’s possible conquest by Syrian-Hizballah forces, with the help of massive Russian air strikes – which increased on Thursday to 100 sorties – being repeated as the tactic for seizing Quneitra.
- A possible assault on Quneitra coming from the southeast of the Golan and starting in the town of Nawa, as predicted by US CENTCOM and IDF strategists. They postulate a Syrian-Hizballah assault force, after completing its capture of Daraa, turning west towards Quentra and splitting into two heads: One will turn west toward Yarmuk and the Syrian-Jordanian-Israeli border junction. There, they will try and take the pocket held by Khalid ibn Walid Army, which pledged allegiance to ISIS. The other head will approach Quneitra from the north. If the first contingent defeats the ISIS force, the two will join up on the hills overlooking Israel’s Hamat Gader and Sea of Galilee. Their defeat of the rebels in Quneitra would bring a Syrian-Hizballah force right up to the central Golan borderline.
In the course of the fighting, the IDF could be faced with three possible quandaries:
- Russian and Syrian warplanes, which has so far kept their distance from Israel’s borders, may drop bombs on rebel-held Quneitra. How will the Israeli air force and anti-air batteries then respond? and against which targets?
- Will the Syrian soldiers entering the Quneitra region bring with them the Hizballah and pro-Iranian Shiite militias taking part in the battle for Daraa? Israel has made its intention of countering this move clear in messages to the US and through the Russians to Damascus.
- What happens if the Syrian army moves into the Golan demilitarized zone set up by the Israel-Syrian ceasefire accord in 1974 and monitored by UNDOF? Both the US and Israel would not accept this.
All these eventualities were explored on Wednesday, July 4, when the IDF Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Gady Eisenkott toured the Golan to inspect the readiness of Israel’s positions for a flare-up of hostilities, shortly after he returned from Washington and talks with top US army chiefs. Eisenkott visited the Bashan Division and conferred with field commanders on the state of the Syrian war and the Northern Command’s preparedness for an escalation. He was accompanied by OC Northern Command Maj. Gen. Yoel Strick and the Bashan commander Brig. Gen. Amit Fisher.
Indirect communications are reported between Israeli and Syrian officers via UNDOF regarding local problems related to the Syrian refugees encamped on Israel’s Golan border and cared for by the IDF. Our sources report that around 12,000 are gathered at present outside the Syrian village of Barika, 1,200 meters from the IDF’s Tel Fares positions.