The Golan Heights have seen major changes in the last few months, most of all in the increased presence of al-Qaeda and Global Jihad terrorists in the Jamla area, IDF Golan Division commander Arik Chen said in a special report on the Syrian conflict aired Friday on Channel 2.
Chen said the terrorists gathering around Jamla, who were affiliated mostly with the al-Qaeda and Global Jihad organizations, had established themselves in the Golan Heights with the aim of securing the Quneitra area — and the border zone with Israel — for rebels fighting to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Syrian troops backed by Hezbollah fighters pressed on Friday with their offensive in the country’s opposition heartland, taking two small villages near a strategic town that was captured by the government this week.
Following Wednesday’s capture of Qusair, Assad’s forces faced little resistance Friday as they took control of the central villages of Salhiyeh and Masoudiyeh, just north of Qusair. On Thursday, the rebels also lost control of the nearby village of Dabaa.
However, the Israeli military is still wary of rebel presence in the area.
“Obviously, at the end of the day this [fighting] can and will be directed towards us,” Chen said. He added that the insurgents have tanks and hold regular training exercises before beginning their offensives against Assad’s troops.
“Their aim is to connect the Bir Ajam region to the Jubata area,” both in the vicinity of the border, he said.
According to Chen, the new reality in the north has also forced Israel to change its military strategy. It was no longer gathering intelligence on the Syrian military only, but investigating every movement and occurrence along the border.
“Everything is investigated,” said Chen, from animals grazing near the fence to people and vehicles.
He added that new fences, similar to the ones demarcating Israel’s border with Egypt, were also being built along the northern border.
He said, however, that Israel had no intention of escalating the conflict or causing friction on the northern front. Israel, he stressed, wasn’t looking to fight the Syrian army.
Instead, the IDF was operating on a smaller scale, going on the offensive when danger was present, when fire was directed against it or when its freedom of movement along the border fence was impeded.
“Then, we can operate in a localized way,” said Chen.
Israel’s greatest challenge along its northern border, concluded Channel 2 military reporter Roni Daniel, is not Assad’s army but the jihadi insurgents gathering there, some of whom are likely to be plotting terrorist attacks on Israel.
Also Friday, Channel 2 quoted Hezbollah’s al-Manar TV as saying that in the aftermath of Assad’s offensive on the rebel stronghold of Qusair, weapons bearing Hebrew letters were found in the town.
AP contributed to this report.