Hezbollah has recruited dozens to hundreds of men to fight Israel from villages on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights, and local people have begun gathering intelligence for the effort, Israeli defense officials said Wednesday.
The fighters, who receive monthly wages, have explosives, small arms including submachine guns, and anti-tank missiles.
The operation, known as the Golan File, is being run by Hezbollah commanders in Beirut. It has been kept a secret from Syrian President Bashar Assad, Israeli intelligence sources say.
Israel has thus far put a serious dent in the Iranians’ attempts to establish themselves in Syria and upgrade the accuracy of Hezbollah’s missiles, but Tehran and its affiliated Shi’ite militias are apparently still seeking ways to gain a toehold along the border.
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In May 2013, at the height of Syria’s civil war, Assad let Shi’ite forces reach the Golan and initiate minor confrontations with Israel; in this way, Assad could divert attention from other events in Syria. Hezbollah also ramped up its presence near the Israeli border.
According to Hezbollah official media, in January 2015 an Israeli helicopter fired missiles at a car in the Syrian province of Quneitra near Israel; one of the people killed was Jihad Mughniyeh, Hezbollah’s chief in the Golan.
In December 2015, Hezbollah said Samir Kuntar, another leader of the group's efforts in the Golan, was killed in an Israeli airstrike on a Damascus suburb.
Hezbollah members were a significant force in the Syrian civil war, except for in the Golan and nearby. Assad regained sovereignty in the area and in much of Syria.
In June the IDF spotted prominent Hezbollah members returning to the Golan; Hezbollah leaders tried to hide these efforts from the Syrian government, which does not want the border to heat up. Hezbollah also strove to keep the Kremlin’s attention away.
Hezbollah’s leaders now send orders to operatives near Damascus, who pass on instructions to members of the group in the Golan. An intelligence source in the Northern Command said it’s possible to gauge the importance Hezbollah attaches to the project by its budgeting, despite the group’s economic difficulties.
The head of the Golan File is Abu Hussein Sajid, a Beirut-based operative familiar to intelligence sources. Sajid joined Hezbollah in 1983 and served in operational roles while Israeli forces were deployed in the security zone in southern Lebanon.
In 2006 he went to Iraq and led Hezbollah’s Iraqi division. In March 2007 he was captured by the Americans but was released by the Iraqi government in 2012.
Sajid, also known as Ali Mussa Daqduq, was held in Iraq over his role in the killing of five U.S. military personnel.
After his return to Lebanon, he was named responsible for training special Hezbollah forces. Last summer he was sent by the organization to Syria to advance the Golan File efforts.
The IDF has documented Golan File fighters operating at Syrian bases, some in Syrian army uniforms. This lets Hezbollah patrol near the border to follow IDF activity and identify potential targets.
Intelligence sources say Hezbollah’s next planned move is to transfer weapons to the border area such as rockets, but the group is believed to be having a hard time finding ways to achieve this amid fears Israel would destroy the rockets.