Syria-Israel Border Nearly Entirely Under Rebel Control, Says Senior Israeli Officer

Al-Qaida-affiliated Nusra Front, moderate Free Syrian Army and jihadists have pushed back Assad's forces.

Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen
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Syrian government forces battle rebel fighters, near the Quneitra border crossing, September 1, 2014.
Syrian government forces battle rebel fighters, near the Quneitra border crossing, September 1, 2014. Credit: AFP
Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen

The Syrian-Israeli border is now almost entirely controlled by Syrian rebels, a senior Israel Defense Forces officer serving in the Golan Heights said on Tuesday.

This means the Nusra Front, a rebel organization affiliated with Al-Qaida, is now along the border. Nevertheless, the Northern Command doesn’t think it currently has any intention of attacking Israel, the officer said at a briefing for reporters.

The fighting in the area is still continuing, and the rebels are now attacking the village of Ahmadiyya. “If they capture Ahmadiyya, then the decisive majority of the Golan Heights will be in the hands of various rebel groups,” the officer said.

The IDF estimates that around 1,500 to 2,000 armed rebels from three different groups are now across the border from Israel. These groups are the Free Syrian Army, the Nusra Front and a coalition of forces interested in setting up an Islamist state in Syria that the defense establishment refers to as the Muslim Brotherhood rebels. All three groups are well armed, possessing antitank missiles, artillery batteries and even tanks that were either captured from the Syrian Army or brought by deserters from the army.

So far, the officer said, there is no sign of the Islamic State anywhere within 50 kilometers of the Israeli border; that group is currently busy expanding its territory in Iraq and other parts of Syria. “But they might show up later on,” he noted.

Last week, the Nusra Front besieged two UN Disengagement Observer Force outposts near the border and kidnapped 43 Fijian peacekeepers near the Quneitra border crossing. But the Northern Command believes this was a spontaneous local initiative rather than an operation planned in advance. The officer said the IDF did what it could to help UNDOF, but was not involved in rescuing a group of Filipino peacekeepers on Saturday.

UNDOF peacekeepers were stationed along the border under the cease-fire agreement that ended the 1973 Yom Kippur War. The IDF would prefer that they remain there, but in light of recent events, there’s no guarantee this will happen.

“We want the UN to remain, but it doesn’t affect Israel’s security,” the officer added.

The Syrian drone that Israel shot down over the Golan on Sunday was operated by the Assad regime’s forces, the officer said. It was there to collect information on the ongoing fighting between the rebels and the regime, and apparently crossed by the border by accident, he added.

“We’re at the height of another change on the Golan Heights front,” he said. “The story of the Nusra Front on the border doesn’t surprise us; it’s happened, and we’re dealing with this issue. We’re preparing ourselves for the day when we have to deal with this gang.”

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