Shi'ite militia groups in Syria are the ones likely to carry out a strike on Israel on behalf of Iran, giving Tehran the ability to deny its role in the attack, according to leading regional experts.
Israel is bracing for a barrage of missiles to be launched towards military positions along its northern front from Syrian territory, masterminded by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, as revenge for alleged Israeli strikes on Iranian bases there.
While Hezbollah and the IRGC are the only groups who have the weapons and know-how to launch the strike, it is believed that the attack will be launched by one of the many Shi'ite groups stationed in Syria and active in the civil war there.
According to Aymenn al-Tamimi, research fellow at the Middle East Forum, there are several key candidates who might launch the missile barrage backed by Iran.
"The Syrian civil war has led to the expansion of the IRGC's network of regional clients,” Tamimi told The Jerusalem Post
, adding that there are therefore “a variety of groups that could possibly strike Israel on its behalf, such as one of the many new 'Syrian Hezbollah' groups integrated into the registers of the Syrian armed forces, or one of the Iraqi groups that emerged during the war, like Harakat al-Nujaba' and its 'Golan Liberation Brigade.'"
Another possible group, Tamimi said, is a Palestinian group linked to Hezbollah and the IRGC such as “Force of Return,” who are currently fighting on the side of the Bashar Assad regime in the Yarmouk camp outside Damascus
"But it still remains the case that Lebanon's Hezbollah, which maintains some bases in Syria, is the most likely and capable of carrying out an attack,” Tamimi said.
According to Michael Horowitz, senior regional analyst at Middle-East-based geopolitical consultancy Le Beck, having Hezbollah carry out the attack would go against Tehran's plans, which are said to include trying to avoid a full-fledged war with Israel.
“This would defeat the purpose of using Shi'ite militias, which in my opinion, was meant to enable Iran to respond without actually provoking an escalation,” Horowitz told The Post
According to intelligence, Iran, which is reported to be very determined to carry out an attack, has claimed to be in the advanced planning stages and may soon execute the retaliatory attack that it had vowed to carry out in retaliation for an alleged Israeli airstrike against the T-4 airbase near Homs, used by the IRGC two months ago.
14 killed in alleged Israeli airstrike on Syrian airbase, April 10, 2018 (Reuters)
Israel is reported to have uncovered involvement by Hezbollah commanders and senior operatives from Shi'ite militias in the planning of the retaliatory strike, and it is believed that these militias, along with experts from Hezbollah under the command of the IRGC’s Quds Force Commander Iran’s Major General Qassem Soleimani, will launch the attack in the form of precision-guided missiles or armed drones from a base in Syria.
“The idea is to use heavy Iranian missiles, including the Fateh-110, under the command and with the advisory work of Hezbollah but without an IRGC presence,” Channel 10 said on Sunday night, adding that Hezbollah members from Lebanon have been brought to Syria to train Shi'ite militia members for the attack.
While military officials have briefed mayors across the country on the latest developments, the heads of local councils in northern Israel have told their residents that there are no special instructions or precautions.
In recent months, Israel has identified and released to the media pictures of a number of air bases throughout Syria that they said are being used by Iranian forces. It is believed to be an effort to deter Iran from carrying out strikes on Israel, as those bases would likely be targeted by Jerusalem in response to any such attack.
According to Horowitz, “Israel chose to publish such threats to send the message that it will see any attack coming from an Iranian-backed group as one actually coming from Iran, and thus will respond in kind.”
Tensions have risen dramatically between the two arch-enemies, and in late April, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon told the UN Security Council said that there are “over 80,000 extremists from all over the Middle East who are members of Shia militias in Syria under Iranian control.”
Israeli officials have been warning against Iranian entrenchment in the Golan Heights, an area of key strategic importance for the Jewish State, stressing that it is a red line for Jerusalem. Officials have also stated that the northern border is no longer considered as two separate entities, but as one continuous front.
In February, OC Northern Command Maj.-Gen. Amit Fisher warned not only of the Iranian entrenchment across the border, but the return of Syrian troops to an area which was relatively quiet for nearly six years while under the control of rebels.
"We must prepare ourselves operationally and in terms of intelligence for the growing threat: The return of the Syrian army and Iranian forces, Hezbollah and others.”
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