‘Assad, Hezbollah and Iran are training local militias to combat Israel’
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‘Assad, Hezbollah and Iran are training local militias to combat Israel’

Shiite fighters on the Golan ‘will not stop at Syria,’ an opposition commander tells The Times of Israel

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Illustrative: Civilians and members of the armed forces carry the flag draped coffin of Iranian Revolutionary Guard Brig. Gen. Mohammad Ali Allahdadi during his funeral ceremony outside the Guard compound in Tehran, Iran, January 21, 2015 (photo credit: AP/Vahid Salemi)
Illustrative: Civilians and members of the armed forces carry the flag draped coffin of Iranian Revolutionary Guard Brig. Gen. Mohammad Ali Allahdadi during his funeral ceremony outside the Guard compound in Tehran, Iran, January 21, 2015 (photo credit: AP/Vahid Salemi)

The Free Syria Army has been monitoring Iranian, Lebanese, and even Russian soldiers on the border with Israel, a Syrian opposition field commander told The Times of Israel on Wednesday, as his forces plan a siege on the government-held regional capital of Quneitra.

In a rare Skype interview from Amman, Jordan, where he is currently on leave, a battalion commander who spoke on condition of anonymity said that Mughniyeh, General Mohammad Ali Allahdadi and the 10 others killed by an apparent Israeli airstrike on Sunday were likely touring the Quneitra area, in part, to raise the morale of Shiite soldiers fighting alongside the Assad regime.

But “they also may have been there to plan something which we do not know of,” he allowed. “They may have received new weaponry.”

Despite the widespread presence of his men on the ground, the comments of the Free Syrian Army commander revealed how little his forces know about the movements and preparations of Hezbollah and the Iranians in the area.

The Free Syrian Army regularly monitors the radio communications of pro-Assad fighters on the Golan Heights, picking up conversations in Lebanese-accented Arabic, Persian, and even Russian. A Russian commander was captured by the Islamist group Al-Nusra Front during the battle of Al-Hamidiyah, when the Quneitra border crossing was seized from the Assad regime last August, he said. All pro-Assad fighters in the area currently operate under “Shiite” command, whether Lebanese or Iranian. Russia and Iran are staunch allies of Bashar Assad.

Shiite fighters trained by the Assad regime, Iran and Hezbollah under the title “National Defense Forces” are present in the towns of Deir al-‘Adas, Kanaker and Deir Maker west of Quneitra, where they are defending the road to Damascus with rocket propelled-grenades, mortars, and heat-guided anti-tank missiles.

“Our pressure has intensified against the Assad regime,” the rebel commander said, noting that his troops were preparing to besiege the city of Quneitra, held by the regime, but were forced to delay the attack due to a massive snowstorm.

Lebanese news agency El-Nashra reported on Wednesday that Iran and Hezbollah, in coordination with the Assad regime, were preparing “a large strategic plan” for Quneitra. The plan included engaging the IDF along the 150-kilometer (93-mile) Israeli border with Syria and Lebanon, and training local militias on the Syrian Golan to combat Israel.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and Jihad Mughniyeh (photo credit: @khamenei_ir, Twitter)
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and Jihad Mughniyeh (photo credit: @khamenei_ir, Twitter)

“The calculations of Hezbollah and Iran for the region go beyond merely a tactical, limited response to the Israeli air assassination in Quneitra,” read the report in El-Nashra. “The rules of the game dominating the area only yesterday will change.”

The rebel commander opined that the Shiite forces indeed intended to engage Israel more significantly than in the past, making Israeli cooperation with moderate opposition forces on the Syrian Golan more urgent than ever before.

“You have a historic opportunity to win the Syrian people, which has been disillusioned by the entire world,” he said, addressing the Israeli public. “We want to fight alongside you. The Shiites will not stop in Syria; they have a much larger project that endangers you as well as us.”

The Syrian commander also implored Israel to establish a system for transferring into Israel Syrian opposition fighters injured in battle.

“At the moment the entry of patients is sporadic and dependent on individuals. We want it to be public and established, so that the Syrian public knows that Israel is the only state that receives Syrian patients unconditionally.”

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