- Published: Wednesday, October 21, 2015 - 8:51 AM
- Tags: al-AssadAleppoAli Jafarias-Safir; Hezbollah ;IsraelGolan HeightsIranKuneitraRussiaSyria
The Iranian news site Fars News reported this weekend that the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari, had said that currently 100,000 Syrian volunteers have been enlisted to the Russian-led P4+1 coalition forces that will soon launch a major offensive against rebel groups in western and northern Syria.
“Martyred Brigadier General Hamadani played an important role in convincing the Syrian officials, including President Bashar al-Assad, of the importance of organizing people as the only way to save Syria,” Al-Jafari said on Iranian state TV.
“Today, we are witnessing the organization of 100,000 Syrian people to fight against insecurities and Brigadier General Hamadani played an effective role in this regard,” he added.
General Hamadani was one of two Iranian top generals who were killed in battle in Syria at the beginning of this month.
If the Fars report is true, it will have ramifications for the situation on the ground. Last week, Western Journalism reported that thousands of Iranian and other foreign Shiite fighters were amassing for the anticipated ground offensive in the Latakia area where Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s Alawite minority is living.
There have also been reports on the increase of sorties by the Russian air force that aim to weaken rebel positions ahead of the ground offensive and the arrival of Cuban troops and more Russian planes, naval vessels and advanced weaponry in Syria.
Sources in Syria have already reported new offensive moves by regime forces and their allies. In northeast Aleppo, for example, rebel forces abandoned their positions after an assault by regime forces supported by Russian airplanes. A commander of the rebels blamed the losses on a total lack of coordination between the various groups and a lack of air support by the Americans.
Iranian sources said that the p4+1 coalition won back over 20 regions in the area of Aleppo over the last week. Aleppo is important because it has electricity plants, and it is home to the besieged Koerse airbase.
Another area where regime forces regained territory is Dara’a.
The Independent in Great Britain now says that Assad’s army is “back on its feet” again and is “fiercer than ever” because of the Russian intervention. But the Iranians and Hezbollah are the parties who profit most from the turning tide in the Syrian war.
A month ago, Hezbollah seemed to be on the ropes after it had lost 1,200 fighters since the Shiite group fir interfered in the Syrian war. The ‘Party of God’ had to recruit new fighters outside the Shiite community in Lebanon to reinforce its troops.
But now, Lebanese media report that Hezbollah is the driving force behind an offensive that aims to bring the strategically important Kuneitra Province in southwest Syria under Shiite (read: Iranian) control. NOW Lebanon, citing Lebanese and Syrian news sites, reported that Hezbollah and regime forces have reversed a rebel offensive in northern Kuneitra and have regained lost territory in the region over the last two weeks.
Hezbollah fighters are already along the border with Israel on the Golan Heights and have seized the so-called UN Hill opposite the Druze town of Magdal Shams on the Israeli Golan Heights. They have taken control of the strategically important mountain to release pressure on the Syrian city of al-Baath that houses an important military base, and are now expected to advance in the direction of the town of Kuneitra opposite the observation point on the Israeli Golan Heights.
Israel has repeatedly made clear that it won’t allow Hezbollah to set up camp in the vicinity of the border on the Golan Heights. The government in Jerusalem sees Hezbollah as a much greater threat than Al Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra, currently in control of the border area. The IDF has repeatedly taken action against any attempt by Iran and Hezbollah to change the military balance in the area.
But it has now become clear that the Russian intervention will be a game-changer for Israel as well. Lebanese and Israeli media reported over the weekend that Russia prevents Israeli airplanes from entering Syrian airspace.
The Hezbollah-affiliated newspaper As-Safir quoted unnamed Lebanese diplomats who reported that Israeli fighter jets were told by the Russian command in Syria not to enter Syrian airspace. As-Safir quoted one official who said that Russian jets had blocked the route of IAF planes while they were flying over the north of Lebanon.
“Russian aircraft immediately blocked the Israeli Jets’ path while they flew above the Akkar region in northern Lebanon. The Russians immediately sent a clear warning to the Israelis that entering Syrian airspace would be a pretext for opening fire,” the Lebanese diplomat was quoted as saying. As-Safir claimed that the IAF jets quickly adjusted their path and stayed away from Syrian airspace.
If the report is true, it means that Russia has delivered a serious blow to the Israeli strategy regarding Hezbollah and Iran. Israel needs the IAF when it wants to prevent Iran from altering the strategic balance on the Golan Heights.
Until recently, Israeli planes flew freely through Syrian airspace to collect intelligence and to attack convoys with sophisticated weapons bound for Hezbollah in Lebanon. The IAF was also instrumental in blocking Hezbollah and Iran from approaching the border between Syria and Israel.
Now, Israel can do almost nothing to control the situation on the other side of the border. The Russians and the Iranians show every day that they have effectively taken control over western and northern Syria and will do the same in the Kuneitra area.
This situation could have been avoided if the U.S. had intervened in Syria in the way Putin now does. TheRussian and Iranian media are having a field day pointing this out and are ridiculing the U.S. strategy in Syria, and Iranian officials do the same.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, for example, called the war effort in Syria and Iraq by the U.S. led coalition against ISIS a failure and said that a lack of political resolve caused the U.S. to fail.
The Russians even provoked the U.S. coalition last week when Russian warplanes approached two U.S. fighter jets in Syrian airspace and forced them to change their route.
The incident underlined how rapidly and dramatically the situation in Syria has changed over the last month. This change could have grave consequences for the future of the entire Middle East, and especially for Israel, which probably will have to cope with a new Iranian front on its northern border.