syrian troops 88.
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Fearing a harsh Israeli response, Syrian military forces stationed along the border with the Golan Heights are under orders to prevent al-Qaida and Global Jihad cells from launching anti-Israel attacks from within Syrian soil, a senior IDF officer told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.
While Israel's northern border with Syria was quiet, IDF units stationed in the Golan Heights were on constant high alert, with the main potential threat coming from Global Jihad cells stationed in Syria, the officer said. But President Bashar Assad was interested in keeping the border quiet and preferred to let the Southern Lebanon-based Hizbullah to carry out his terror attacks against Israel, he said.
"It would be suicidal for Assad to allow terror groups to attack Israel from over the border," the officer said. "The Syrian troops prevent the terror groups from even getting close to the border and do not allow them to launch attacks from within Syria."
The decision not to allow terror groups to use Syria to launch attacks was evident in the capture two weeks ago of an al-Qaida cell outside Damascus on its way to reportedly attack US forces in Iraq, Northern Command sources said. While the sources said it was premature to declare that Assad was cracking down on terror, the cell's capture possibly indicated an attempt by the Syrian leader to decrease US and international pressure placed on him since the murder of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri.
"Things change in Syria on almost a daily basis," a Northern Command source said. "But it could be that Assad is trying to grow closer to the US and to do that he knows that he needs to stop Syrian-based terror groups from going to Iraq to attack American troops."
The IDF's current and greatest threat along the northern border, the senior officer said, came from Global Jihad cells swarming throughout Syria. "These terrorists don't have any rules," the officer said. "This is a terror organization that makes no account of its actions and fires in all directions without thinking of the consequences."
Assad, the officer said, was not the only neighbor of Israel currently facing off against al-Qaida and Global Jihad terror cells. In December, an al-Qaida cell operating in Southern Lebanon fired Katyusha rockets at Kiryat Shmona, prompting Hizbullah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah to immediately deny his organization's involvement in the attack.
"Just like Assad, Nasrallah also doesn't want al-Qaida operating in southern Lebanon," the officer said. "Al-Qaida has no restraints and jeopardizes Hizbullah's diplomatic goals and attempts to remain the supreme leader of Southern Lebanon."
But while Assad might be preventing terror groups from launching attacks against Israel from within Syria, he was, according to the officer, transferring weaponry to Hizbullah as well as funds to Islamic Jihad based in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
While senior Northern Command officers had recently warned that Assad might fire missiles at Israel if he felt threatened by the US over the continued UN investigation into the murder of Hariri, the officer told the Post on Thursday that Israel would respond harshly and could easily knock out any opposing Syrian military force.
"We are much stronger than Syria," he said. "If they were to attack us it would be like committing suicide."