IDf Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Einskot (L) tours the Golan Heights with senior IDF commanders, December 30, 2015.
(photo credit: IDF SPOKESMAN’S UNIT)
The IDF is preparing for the possibility that Russian air strikes will push Islamic State, currently 40 km. away from the Israeli border, toward the Golan Heights in the coming months.
Additionally, the IDF’s 210 Habashan Division, which defends the Golan Heights, is also closely watching Shuhada Yarmuk, an Islamic State-affiliated militia made up of some 600 members, armed with tanks, mortars and other weaponry.
Both Islamic State and Shuhada Yarmuk are fighting al-Qaida’s Nusra Front in Syria, and given the ongoing battles between them, as well as with the Syrian regime, there is no likely immediate threat of an attack by the array of global jihadists in the area.
There are a few thousand Nusra Front members on the Syrian Golan Heights, including near Mount Hermon.
The jihadi-Salafi forces had attempted in recent months to move toward the Lebanese border, but were blocked by a Hezbollah offensive aimed at defending the Shi’ite organization’s home turf from their approach.
Similarly, attempts by Syrian jihadists to seize the Quneitra-Damascus road have failed since Russia’s air campaign to save President Bashar Assad’s regime began – the same air campaign that may result in Islamic State retreating southward, toward Israel.
Intelligence-gathering activities within the IDF’s Northern Command have increased dramatically to keep up with all of the recent events and track the capabilities and intentions of every armed group in southern Syria.
Security sources have described the intelligence task as very challenging.
According to intelligence assessments, the foreign elements in Nusra Front, which make up some 15 percent of the organization, are more keen to attack Israel, while the majority – local Syrian members – resisted the idea, due to their connection to the land, family members in the area and reluctance to open yet another front. It remains unclear whether this reluctance is sufficient to prevent a Nusra Front attack on Israel in the future.
To that end, the IDF’s 210 Division is preparing its responses to a host of incidents, from strategic terrorist attacks such as attempts to get bomb-laden vehicles into Israel, to rocket fire, to cross-border infiltration attempts.
Shuhada Yarmuk, described by security sources as “Shuha- Daesh,” referencing its connection to Islamic State, is located 10 to 15 km. from the Israeli border, and is under close Israeli monitoring. The organization rules over some 40,000 Syrians, and though it is affiliated with Islamic State, it maintains some autonomy as well.
The radical Islamist organization lost its leader in a Nusra Front twin suicide bomb attack on its headquarters in recent weeks, but receives assistance from Islamic State when needed, including funds and weapons.
In retaliation, the organization blew up a vehicle containing a Nusra Front commander just 400 meters from the Israeli border on the northern Golan Heights.
Additionally, security sources said they are prepared for the possibility of a return to the northern Golan area by Syrian regime military forces in the coming months, due to Russian and Iranian support, creating a situation in which the northern Golan is bordered by Assad loyalist forces and the southern Golan is bordered by Salafi-jihadi organizations.
As part of the IDF’s preparations, field commanders have been given greater autonomy to make real-time decisions during potential cross-border incidents, the border fence has been beefed up with a new layer, mounds have been dug, and an array of border intelligence sensors feed control rooms around the clock.
Separately, security sources said they are taking very seriously the recent threats by Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah to avenge the killing of terrorist Samir Kuntar in Damascus, while adding that Nasrallah is also taking into account Israeli counter-threats to respond forcefully to any attack.