Hezbollah campaign stalls on Syrian Golan Heights

Shiite group and regime forces unable to claim significant achievements against opposition forces in contested region

Avi Issacharoff

Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel's Middle East analyst, fills the same role for Walla, the leading portal in Israel. He is also a guest commentator on many different radio shows and current affairs programs on television. Until 2012, he was a reporter and commentator on Arab affairs for the Haaretz newspaper. He also lectures on modern Palestinian history at Tel Aviv University, and is currently writing a script for an action-drama series for the Israeli satellite Television "YES." Born in Jerusalem, he graduated cum laude from Ben Gurion University with a B.A. in Middle Eastern studies and then earned his M.A. from Tel Aviv University on the same subject, also cum laude. A fluent Arabic speaker, Avi was the Middle East Affairs correspondent for Israeli Public Radio covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and the Arab countries between the years 2003-2006. Avi directed and edited short documentary films on Israeli television programs dealing with the Middle East. In 2002 he won the "best reporter" award for the "Israel Radio” for his coverage of the second intifada. In 2004, together with Amos Harel, he wrote "The Seventh War - How we won and why we lost the war with the Palestinians." A year later the book won an award from the Institute for Strategic Studies for containing the best research on security affairs in Israel. In 2008, Issacharoff and Harel published their second book, entitled "34 Days - The Story of the Second Lebanon War," which won the same prize.

Illustrative: Smoke rises following an explosion in Syria's Quneitra province as Syrian rebels clash with Assad regime forces, seen from the Golan Heights in 2014. (AP/Ariel Schalit, File)
Illustrative: Smoke rises following an explosion in Syria's Quneitra province as Syrian rebels clash with Assad regime forces, seen from the Golan Heights in 2014. (AP/Ariel Schalit, File)

Contrary to reports by Lebanese and Hezbollah-affiliated media outlets regarding a widespread, successful offensive designed to purify the Syrian Golan Heights of rebel forces, it turns out that the military operation carried out by the Assad regime and the Shiite terrorist group has not borne much fruit.

The major operation, which was devised with the assistance of Iranian officials, began about two weeks ago. During the first days of the offensive, Lebanese and Syrian media reported rapid gains by regime and Hezbollah forces in the Syrian Golan Heights, citing the occupation of a large number of villages that had previously been under opposition control.

In reality, however, the military achievements of the operation were poor and there have been no substantive gains in the region. A couple of thousand Syrian army soldiers along with a few hundred Hezbollah fighters indeed did take control of individual villages and several outposts, yet the Syrian opposition — both secular factions and members of the al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front — also managed to capture several villages and outposts.

The situation in the Syrian Golan Heights, in essence, has not changed at all following the operation. Hezbollah first explained that this was due to the difficult weather. However, even after the storms and blizzards passed, the offensive did not pick up. Several battles are still raging across the region, but neither side can claim a decisive advantage yet.

Syrian army troops and Hezbollah fighters are focused on trying to take over the center of the Syrian Golan Heights, near the main road between Damascus and the border town of Quneitra. This move is apparently intended to secure the road to the Syrian capital, and probably has no connection to Israel.

Surprisingly, the Syrian army did not send elite fighters to the combat zone, but rather regular forces that had already been operating in the area. The same is true for the Hezbollah operatives fighting in the Golan Heights: It appears the Shiite organization has not made use of the advanced weaponry in its possession, as it did in other arenas.

The opposition, for its part, has reported no significant losses on either sides of these battles, despite claims that the regime was using chlorine gas against its opponents. In the Syrian Golan Heights there are a significant number of opposition fighters — according to various estimates nearly 10,000 — from a variety of different groups.

Hezbollah has also expanded its military efforts around Aleppo, but made no significant gains in that region either.

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