The Syrian war that has been raging since 2011 is “not ours, but we are preparing ourselves for the day the situation will change,” a senior IDF officer, based on the Golan Heights, said on Sunday.
Israel can deploy major firepower to the area, including air force and artillery, if needed “within minutes,” the source – from the 210th territorial Habashan Division – said.
“The Golani Reconnaissance Battalion is here. Every sector would be glad to have [the members of this battalion] as their guarantors. There are infantry divisions and armored divisions for when we feel there’s a need to have a bigger presence,” he said.
At this time, however, he said, the Syrian Army is not looking to begin a fight with Israel.
“We are making every effort so that this does not become our war. We study the area and monitor it day and night.
I’m not trying to influence this war. I repeat, it’s not our war,” he added.
Most of the cross-border fire into Israel over the past month has been stray fire, the officer noted.
“We can differentiate between stray fire and deliberate attacks. Sometimes, we will respond to stray fire. The response will not necessarily be immediate. Our intention is to respond correctly, not quickly. If there is an immediate danger, we will respond immediately. The aim is for the war to stay there,” he said.
Every field command level is authorized to respond if it identifies an immediate danger.
In other cases, the division commander and OC Northern Command decide together whether to launch a response to incidents.
The IDF will attack a Syrian Army position in response to cross-border fire “only if it believes the position is tied to the fire. We would never attack a position for no reason,” the officer said.
“The Syrian Air Force is not violating the demilitarization agreement. The Israel Air Force knows a certain line which, if crossed by the Syrian Air Force, authorizes Israel to attack it,” he added.
“I don’t differentiate between the rebels and the regime. I respond when there is a need and when we identify a danger. When I detect fighting in the border area, I move my forces.”
In recent days, he said, they had maintained the orchards in Ein Zivan in place of civilian farmers, because of the events in Quneitra. Soldiers from the Golan Division worked the harvest.
“I also plan to do this to calm the residents. We are not going backward at all. For Israel, the situation is good,” the source stated. “I don’t see us evacuating communities.
We came here to live, not to evacuate, despite the threats that are here. This will never be Switzerland. The goal of the IDF division is to focus on life here,” he said.
Casting a wider look at events in Syria, the officer said, “We are witnessing the collapse of the Sykes-Picot Agreement throughout the whole of the Middle East, particularly in Iraq and Syria. Iraq and Syria are moving back in time. This is their story, not ours, but we are on the borders, and there are implications.”
Mapping out the sides of the Syrian war, he noted that, on the side of the Assad regime, first there is the Syrian military, which has shrunk significantly since the start of the civil war in 2011 and which suffers from low motivation among soldiers.
“But there is no significant harm to the regime’s tanks or air force,” he noted, arguing that, in any case, the Syrian military has never had a high quality air force. “This is an army that knows how to function.
[But] its draft is partial.
It is three-quarters of what it was in 2011.”
Next are Assad loyalist paramilitaries called the Committees for the Defense of the Homeland, a fairly new organization set up on the basis of what was once known as the Shabiha. These are youths who defend the villages. Since being set up in 2012, its ranks have grown to 90,000 members.
“These forces are less moral than the Syrian Army. They do the dirty job for the regime. Its main loyalty is to the regime. It links up to military forces. They are based on regional formations, but members can also wander from one location to another,” the source explained.
The third component, he noted, are Syria’s intelligence services, who safeguard the regime’s domestic capabilities, and lastly, there is Hezbollah, which has sent a few thousand members to fight shoulder-to-shoulder with Assad’s soldiers, in areas where Hezbollah has a vested interest.
“There is no Hezbollah presence on the Syrian border [with Israel]. These are people who physically fight the rebels. The radical axis – Hezbollah, Iran and the Assad regime – cooperate down to the lowest tactical level in order to defeat the rebels,” he said.
On the other side of the divide are a myriad of rebel forces that are unified only by their hatred for the Assad regime. These include the Sunni-dominated Free Syrian Army, a nationalist Syrian organization seeking to found a free, secular Syrian state. The FSA is struggling to establish a strong leadership, and the West is trying to help it, with little success.
“The humanitarian aid we are providing is primarily to this population,” the source said, adding, “We’ve treated almost 1,300 Syrians. During the winter, we send Syrian civilians warm clothing. This is a moral and basic matter for us as human beings. We can’t stand on the side and watch people being slaughtered and not at least extend a hand.
Medical patients are not questioned by us. When they are released [from the hospital], they get a basket of medicines they will need for the future.
We want our neighbors on the other side to develop positive feelings for us. We will bring in a wounded Syrian if he arrives at the fence.”
Next are Syrian nationalist Islamists, who want to set up a Muslim Brotherhood-run nation-state, while the third element forming the rebel forces are Jabhat al-Nusra, the Syrian branch of al-Qaida, which moved to Syria from Iraq after the US withdrawal.
It is seeking to cancel old borders separating Syria from Lebanon and Iraq, and set up an Islamic state that eventually will encompass the entire world.
Jabhat al-Nusra is also fighting Hezbollah in Lebanon, and in July and August they took over significant locations in the Quneitra area, near the Israeli border, he noted.
Lastly, the officer said, there is Islamic State, which has seized eastern Syria from Jabhat al-Nusra and taken over large swaths of Iraq and, while not present on the border with Israel, could show up “tomorrow.”
Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra are similar in their fundamental nature, he said, arguing that “the difference is in their methodologies...
Jabhat al-Nusra wants Islamic State weakened.”
Near the border with Israel, rebels have taken control of Ahatinia, Tel Kudna and Tel Ahmar. Additionally, the Assad regime’s 61st brigade has collapsed, the officer noted, and rebels have taken over its area of operations, primarily old Quneitra.
“There is almost no regime presence on the border with Israel, with the exception of the Khader area,” he said.
“One pattern we have seen is rebel groups seizing areas, going on to take additional areas, and leaving former regions unguarded, only for other organizations to move in. Jabhat al-Nusra is dominant on the border now. It is cooperating with other organizations in order to defeat the Assad military,” he continued.
Addressing the decision by the United Nations Disengagement and Observation Force to leave the border area after a string of kidnappings by jihadist rebels, the source said their departure does not affect Israeli security.
“It’s hard to know where the sector is going. We are monitoring everything that moves here, trying to organize ourselves in accordance with these movements. As time goes by, there will be a stronger and more dominant side here. It could be that this element will be more extreme in the future as a result,” he assessed.