Smoke rises following an explosion on the Syrian side near the Quneitra border crossing between the Golan Heights and Syria, August 29, 2014..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Al-Nusra Front fighters are unlikely to target Israel soon, a senior army officer said on Tuesday.
Members of the Al-Nusra Front, who account for a third of the 2,000 rebels who took control of the Quneitra region in Syria last week, poured into the Syrian part of the Golan Heights recently after being pushed away from eastern Syria by rivals from Islamic State, thereby upsetting the balance of rebel groups that had dominated the Quneitra region and Deraa.
“Now we see them deployed along the Israeli border, but we don’t think they’re about to target Israel,” the officer said. “I don’t see the Al-Nusra Front having an interest in attacking us now. But to say that I understand their minds – I can’t say that.”
Rather, attacking the Syrian regime, and fighting other rebel groups, soon will form the main focus of jihadi fighters, he argued.
“They conquered old Quneitra and the border crossing together with other rebels. Nearly all of the border between Syria and Israel is under the control of a variety rebel groups,” the officer said.
The Al-Nusra Front is now “dominant” in Quneitra but is interspersed among rebels affiliated to the Muslim Brotherhood and secular rebels from the Free Syrian Army, he continued, adding that there is no presence of Islamic State cells in Quneitra or within 50 kilometers of the Israeli border.
Fighting between rebels and the regime will continue in the coming days and rebel groups likely will succeed in taking the nearby village of Ahmedia, currently under the control of the Assad regime, the source assessed.
“Al-Nusra has said its war is against the Syrian regime but that when they are done the Jews’ turn will come. We are preparing,” the officer said.
The decision by Nusra Front fighters to take dozens of Fijian UN peacekeepers hostage in Quneitra is likely a “local initiative,” he believes, adding that the peacekeepers are being relatively well treated and are not in danger.
Filipino peacekeepers, who came under siege in Quneitra and exchanged fire with rebels before fleeing to Israel, are expected to leave for the Philippines soon.
“We provided all the assistance we could to the United Nations Disengagement and Observation Force (UNDOF),” the source stated, but stressed that no Israeli soldier crossed the border into Syria.
“We are not surprised at all by these developments. We know the agenda of the Al-Nusra Front and are preparing ourselves. This includes a new border barrier, field intelligence and force deployment for the day we will have to deal with them. We will make every effort to push that day back as far as possible,” he said.
The IDF is monitoring battles on the Syrian Golan “very closely,” he added.
On the other side of the Syrian war is the Assad military, Hezbollah and an assortment of militias called the Committees for the Defense of the Homeland, which fight as one coherent formation under a central command, although Hezbollah also operates with some independence.
The rebels, by contrast, “are one big mess,” according to the officer. He described four types of rebels: Secular Sunnis who are fighting for a secular, moderate Syrian state (the Free Syrian Army); nationalist Muslim Brotherhood rebels who are fighting for a Syrian state that will enforce Islamic law; the Al-Nusra Front, which is a branch of al-Qaida in Syria fighting for a caliphate; and the Islamic State, which also is fighting for a caliphate but views al-Qaida as being too moderate.
There are no ideological differences between the Al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State, he said.
All the rebels groups are armed with a large range of weapons including light arms, explosives, mortars, artillery, armored personnel carriers, and tanks. Some include ex-Syrian soldiers in their ranks who know how to operate the weapons.