The capture Wednesday of the Quneitra crossing on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights takes Islamist rebels one step closer to controlling southern Syria and the country’s central airport in Damascus, said Maj. Gen. (res) Yaakov Amidror, a former national security adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
A linkage between the rebel position in Dara’a and the Quneitra crossing on the Golan Heights “would be very significant,” Amidror said in a conference call Wednesday afternoon, because, although the Islamist forces would still have to fight through Jabal Druze, they could then “threaten Damascus International, which would put huge pressure on the regime.”
Amidror noted that, from an Israeli perspective, the seizure of the crossing had no bearing on the Hezbollah-Assad link and said that Israel cannot get involved in the conflict beyond its three red lines, which have been drawn to mandate Israeli intervention in the case of cross-border fire, the transfer of strategic weapons to Hezbollah, and the proliferation of chemical arms.
“We should not do the dirty job of the Assad regime,” he said.
Syrian rebels, including the al-Qaeda-affiliated Al-Nusra Front, seized control of the Syrian crossing with the Golan Heights on Wednesday, a monitoring group said.
“Al-Nusra Front and other rebel groups took the Quneitra crossing, and heavy fighting with the Syrian army is continuing in the surrounding area,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based NGO.
The Syrian opposition groups themselves later announced the “liberation” of the Quneitra border crossing with Israel.
An Israeli officer was moderately wounded by spillover fire from the conflict. He was evacuated to a hospital in stable condition. The Israeli army responded with artillery fire.
An Israeli expert on jihadist terror groups said al-Nusra consisted of several thousand fighters and that beyond the personal rivalry between the leaders of the Islamic State and al-Nusra, Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi and Ayman al-Zawahiri, respectively, the two are also separated by ideology. Yoram Schweitzer, the head of the INSS think tank’s program on terrorism and low-intensity conflict, said al-Nusra, consisting of mostly Syrian fighters, was “more pragmatic” and willing to work with secular rebels. The group, he said, had also set up community charity systems, similar to Hamas, which differs from, say, Islamic Jihad in this regard.
Amidror noted that the fact that an al-Qaeda offshoot had seized control of the crossing, placing it directly at Israel’s gates, underscored that Israel was situated “literally at the front of the West” in its rivalry with radical Islam.
History, he said, has proven that these battles start with the Jews but do not end with them. “This will not stop on the frontiers of Israel,” he said of the extremists in Gaza and the Golan Heights. The West, he added, “will have to face them near home, sooner or later.”
Spencer Ho contributed to this report.