Iran-backed militia in Syria says it’s ‘fully prepared’ to battle Israel
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Iran-backed militia in Syria says it’s ‘fully prepared’ to battle Israel

With its 10,000 men reportedly controlled by Quds force head Qassem Soleimani, recently formed 'Golan Liberation Brigade' says it will fight Jewish state if Damascus asks

Dov Lieber is The Times of Israel's Arab affairs correspondent.

Members of the Iranian-backed militia Golan Liberation Brigades appear in a video announcing the group's formation in March 2017. (YouTube)
Members of the Iranian-backed militia Golan Liberation Brigades appear in a video announcing the group's formation in March 2017. (YouTube)

The head of a large Iranian-backed Iraqi militia that has been fighting in Syria said his group was “fully prepared” to fight Israel if Damascus asked it to.

Sheikh Akram al-Ka’abi, the leader of Iraq’s Hezbollah al-Nujaba, told the Lebanese news network Al Mayadeen Friday night his group would participate in a Damascus-led attack on Israel’s Golan Heights.

“We are fully prepared to participate in any war with the Syrian Arab Army to liberate the Golan if the Syrian state agrees or requests so,” Ka’abi said.

He said this would be done through the militia’s newest branch, the Golan Liberation Brigade, which was formed in March of this year.

Hezbollah al-Nujaba is reportedly controlled by Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) elite foreign operations unit, the Qods Force.

Sheikh Akram al-Ka’abi, leader of Iraq’s Hezbollah al-Nujaba, speaks to the Lebanese news network Al Mayadeen on November 24, 2017. (Screenshot Al Mayadeen)

Ka’abi, who controls a reported 10,000 men in Syria, also said his group was prepared to defend the Lebanese terror group and fellow Iranian proxy Hezbollah from any Israeli attack.

According to the spokesperson, Hezbollah al-Nujaba, the Golan Liberation Brigade comprises of special forces fighters and has advanced weaponry.

When the formation of the brigade was announced, the group released a dramatic video, showing its soldiers marching in formation behind the banner “Israel will be destroyed.”

Israel has raised alarm bells over Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Iranian military activity in southern Syria and has vowed to protect the country from any provocation, including reportedly bombing advanced weapons transfers.

Israel conquered the Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 war. Syria, and extended Israeli law to the Heights in 1981. Most of the international community does not recognize Israel’s control over the territory.

Iran’s leaders routinely call for the demise of Israel. Iran funds, trains and arms terror groups in Gaza, the West Bank and Lebanon.

Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman last week urged lawmakers to boost military spending by over $1 billion over the next three years, citing shifting developments in Syria and elsewhere challenging Israel’s security.

The defense minister identified three areas of particular concern: the massive Russian presence in Syria; the influx of precise weapons into the region — not only to Hezbollah, but to other terror groups as well; and a “dramatic acceleration” in the activities of the Iranian military industry.

Hadashot news (formerly Channel 2) reported Sunday night that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Syrian President Bashar Assad that Israel will intervene militarily in the Syrian civil war if Assad gives formal permission to Iran to establish a military presence in Syria.

Satellite image of alleged Iranian base in Syria from October 2017 (Airbus, Digital Globe and McKenzie Intelligence Services/BBC)

Earlier this month, the BBC, citing a Western security official, reported that Iran was setting up a permanent base on a site used by the Syrian army near el-Kiswah, 14 kilometers (8 miles) south of Damascus and 50 kilometers (30 miles) from the Israeli border.

The TV report came days after Netanyahu was quoted telling French President Emmanuel Macron in a phone call that Israel sees Iranian activity in Syria as “a target” for its forces, and may carry out strikes against Iranian objectives if its security needs require it.

According to a transcript of their November 19 phone call reported by Israel’s Channel 10 TV, Netanyahu told the French leader that “from now on, Israel sees Iran’s activities in Syria as a target. We will not hesitate to act, if our security needs require us to do so.”

File: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, waves as he stands next to French President Emmanuel Macron, right, upon his arrival at the Elysee Palace, in Paris, on July 15, 2017 (AFP Photo/Geoffroy Van Der Hasselt)

Macron reportedly attempted to reassure the Israeli leader and dissuade him from “hasty” action.

But Netanyahu was adamant, reportedly saying: “The goal must be to minimize Iran’s influence, not only in Lebanon but also in Syria… Israel has tried up until now not to intervene in what is going on in Syria. But after the victory over Islamic State, the situation has changed because the pro-Iranian forces have taken control… From now on, Israel sees Iran’s activities in Syria as a target. We will not hesitate to act, if our security needs require us to do so.”

Judah Ari Gross and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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