IDF troops are preparing for the battle to reach Quneitra, just three kilometers from Israel’s northern border as fighting in the western part of Syria’s Daraa province intensifies.
“IDF troops will protect Israel’s border until the last millimeter,” Captain Tsur Goldman of the 401st Armored Brigade told The Jerusalem Post at a military post on the Syrian border which to the uninformed seemed like any other sunny summer’s day.
Be the first to know –
“The quiet is relative and it’s deceiving,” Goldman said. “It’s quiet here now but we can hear gunfire and see projectiles being fired.”
The Syrian army backed by Iranian Shiite militias and Hezbollah have been pummeling the southwestern province of Dara’a in an offensive aimed at recapturing the strategic areas bordering Jordan and the Golan Heights from rebels.
And Quneitra province is next.
Pointing to tents close to the demilitarized zone Goldman explained that they were logistical tents built by rebel forces in the past two weeks, in anticipation of the regime assault.
The IDF is preparing for the possibility that, due to the offensive, the Syrian army along with the Shi‘ite proxy forces will not respect the 1974 Separation Agreement which, as part of the overall armistice that ended the Yom Kippur War,
That could lead to a military conflict with Israel.
“I want to believe that the Syrian regime would not deploy their troops here against the 1974 agreement,” Goldman said, adding that “the tanks and infantry troops are prepared to deal with the Syrian regime or errant rocket fire” which might fall in Israeli territory due to the fighting.
Errant projectiles have occasionally landed in northern Israel throughout Syria‘s eight-year long civil war, leading the IDF to retaliate against Syrian army positions.
With reports of 70,000 terror group and other Shiite militias playing a key role in the Syrian offensive-wearing Syrian military uniforms- Goldman stressed to the Post that while “I don’t know what the Iranians want to do here, the troops are ready for every scenario and will defend Israel up to the last millimeter.”
Israel believes that Iran’s Revolutionary Guard’s Corps and other Iranian forces have continued to entrench themselves in Syria despite strikes against Iranian targets attributed to Israel.
On Thursday Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman told a Farsi-language radio station that while Israel does not want to go to war with Iran, “we will not tolerate the presence of the Quds forces on Syrian soil, or any attempt to establish Iranian military bases in Syria. We will act in the most determined and decisive manner.”
On Wednesday IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen.Gadi Eisenkot along with IDF Operations Division‘s head Maj. Gen. Aharon Haliva, Planning Division Maj. Gen. Amir Abulafia and the Research Division‘s head Brig. Gen. Dror Shalom received a briefing during a visit to the 366th Division in the Golan Heights.
During the visit to Israel’s northern border Eisenkot also discussed the readiness of the Northern Command with its commander Maj. Gen. Yoel Strick and the 366th Division‘s commander Brig. Gen. Amit Fisher.
“The IDF is monitoring the situation in Syria and is prepared for a variety of scenarios to preserve the security on Israel‘s border,” read a statement given by the IDF‘s Spokesperson‘s Unit.
On Sunday armored and artillery forces were deployed to reinforce troops on the Golan Heights near the border with Syria in light of a situational assessment by the Northern Command,
“You don’t need to be a senior intelligence officer to understand that the situation has changed,” Goldman said.
The United Nations fears that some 285,000-325,000 people have fled since the beginning of the offensive with some 189,000 who have headed towards the border with Israel. According to Goldman a few thousand IDPs are living in tents outside the Syrian town of Jubata al-Khashab over the past year.
During the Post’s visit the IDF was preparing for a night operation where tons of humanitarian aid will be transferred to IDPs along Israel’s border.
Despite unconfirmed reports that Israel and the UN have been in talks to set up safe-zones for Syrians along the border, Israel has made it clear that no Syrian refugee would be granted entry into Israel which will continue providing humanitarian aid.
“We need to be more sensitive to the situation and understand that we are talking about human beings on the other side,” Goldman said explaining that in the last few weeks there has been an almost nightly transfer of aid into Syria and that rebels have never stopped humanitarian aid from coming in from Israel.
The IDF has been providing life-saving humanitarian assistance to Syrians in the Golan Heights as part of Operation Good Neighbors launched in June 2016, providing among other things over 1524 tons of food, 250 tons of clothes, 947,520 liters of fuel, 21 generators, 24,900 palettes of medical equipment and medicine all while maintaining the principle of non-involvement in the Syrian civil war.
Major Dr. Sergei Kotikov, one of the senior IDF officers involved in Operation Good Neighbor, told The Post that the IDF has increased their aid and food to Syrians over the past two weeks as the number of IDP tents have grown with an additional 1,000-1,500 families.
“We don’t know if the situation will deteriorate further but as long as we can give help to civilians we will continue,” Kotikov said stressing that “there is an urgent need to humanitarian aid, much more than before.”
Kotikov told the Post that he is in daily with Syrians who tell him what exactly is needed by the IDPs and what sort of medical attention is needed.
Overnight on Thursday four Syrians injured in the offensive were brought into Israel and transported by the IDF to the Rebecca Sieff Hospital in Safed for treatment.
While the IDF is said to have begun taking precautionary measures out of concern that Shiite militias and Hezbollah forces may exploit Israel’s humanitarian efforts to infiltrate Israel, Kotikov told the Post that he never once met a patient who fought with Iran or Hezbollah.
“I assume that someone who wants to get help from Israel is not someone who would want to fight against Israel,” he said.
“The Syrians are not living in a simple situation and there is no simple and good solution,” Kotikov said. “I asked one 12 year-old patient what he wanted to be when he was older…’I’m not sure I will get older’ was his response.”