Releasing video footage, IDF accuses Syria of helping Hezbollah set up on Golan

In tacit threat, the military warns Damascus that it will bear responsibility for any attacks that emanate from within its borders

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

The Israel Defense Forces on Friday accused the Syrian army of helping the Hezbollah terror group establish a permanent military presence on the Golan Heights, releasing video footage showing a senior Syrian officer visiting the region.

“Even during the coronavirus period, the new commander of the Syrian army’s 1st Division, Lua’a Ali Ahmad Asa’ad, continues to help and allow the Hezbollah terror group establish a front on the Golan Heights,” the IDF said in a statement.

The Israeli military released video footage from the border from one of its surveillance cameras, showing Asa’ad and a number of other army officers walking around an unidentified area along the border.

“In the clip, the new division commander is seen on a patrol of the front, including passing through areas known to be used by Hezbollah, with the head of Hezbollah’s southern command, Hajj Hashem,” the IDF said.

In a tacit threat, the military added that the Syrian regime would “be held responsible for all enemy activities emanating from its territory.”

“Consider this a warning,” the IDF added.

The military refused to comment on when and where exactly the footage was filmed.

Israel has long maintained that it would not accept the establishment of a permanent military presence in Syria by Hezbollah or Iran, which backs the Lebanese terror group.

Earlier last month, the IDF accused the Hezbollah terror group and the Syrian army of being behind an attempted sniper attack against Israeli soldiers in the Golan Heights earlier this month, which was thwarted by an Israeli strike on the suspects’ car.

The military said at the time that in the months preceding the incident Israeli troops saw Hezbollah fighters and Syrian soldiers preparing for an attack, filming the border area with smartphones and professional cameras and measuring wind speed from different locations in the supposedly demilitarized buffer zone between the two countries — in what the IDF said appeared to be efforts to identify a target and improve snipers’ accuracy.

The IDF said that on March 2 fighters were seen preparing to carry out the attack from a car.

“When there was an operational opportunity, the car being used by the cell was attacked by an IDF helicopter,” the military said.

Pictures purportedly from the scene showed a burning white truck that appeared to be completely destroyed in the strike.

“The IDF has been conducting a longstanding campaign against the Hezbollah terror group’s efforts to establish a front on the Golan Heights and is taking a variety of steps to thwart its attempts to carry out terror attacks against the State of Israel,” the military said.

Though Syrian media has reported on several alleged Israeli strikes against Hezbollah in the Golan Heights, Israeli officials had largely refused to comment on the matter until last month’s incident.

At the time, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor said the vehicle that was bombed by the IDF helicopter belonged to members of a militia loyal to Syrian dictator Bashar Assad.

A vehicle that was reportedly struck by an Israeli missile strike in Syria, near the Golan border with Israel, on March 2, 2020. (Courtesy)

Videos from the scene shared on social media showed a helicopter firing flares and then a missile.

Syrian state-run news agency SANA claimed that Israeli forces fired a missile at a civilian vehicle “in the suburbs of Quneitra.”

Though Israeli officials generally refrain from taking responsibility for specific strikes in Syria, they have acknowledged conducting hundreds to thousands of raids in the country since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011. These have overwhelmingly been directed against Iran and its proxies, notably the Lebanese Hezbollah terror group, but the IDF has also carried out strikes on Syrian air defenses when those batteries have fired at Israeli jets.

An agreement with Russia was supposed to push Iranian and Tehran-backed militias, including Hezbollah, dozens of kilometers away from the border.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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