by Seth J. Frantzman
Hezbollah and Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias are concentrating in an area dubbed the “triangle of death” near the Golan Heights as the Syrian regime prepares its major post-Ramadan offensive.
Syrian rebel sources claim up to 500 Iranian-backed militia and members of Hezbollah changed uniforms and are digging in near the Golan in preparation for a major offensive.
The offensive is designed to defeat the rebels in southern Syria and has raised concerns in Jerusalem, Washington, Moscow and Amman as a potential crisis looms. This comes as Israel continues warning the Syrian regime to remove Iranian forces from the country.
On Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that he had reiterated Israel’s demand that Iran withdraw from all of Syria in conversations with Russian President Vladimir Putin and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo over the weekend.
With the defeat of Syrian rebels in Damascus, the regime has begun to concentrate forces along its long front line that stretches from the environs of the southern Damascus countryside down to Daraa near the Jordanian border. This front line ranges from 10 kilometers to just one kilometer from the Golan.
According to foreign reports, Israel previously stressed to Moscow and Washington that Iranian forces must be kept 40-60 km. (25-37 mi.) from the Golan border. However, Syrian rebels have accused the Iranian forces and Iranian-backed militias, such as thousands of Shi’ites recruited from Pakistan and Afghanistan, of changing uniform and pretending to be regime soldiers. Bassam Jaara, a commentator on the conflict, asserted on June 15 that there were suspicious movements of Iranian-backed forces north of Daraa.
In the lead up to the end of Ramadan, which is traditionally considered to be a joyous and peaceful time, the regime escalated shelling in the “triangle of death” area, not far from Quneitra and Daraa.
The villages of Akraba, Kafr Shams and Alhara were struck with shells fired by the regime, according to a report at Orient.net. Rebel activists told the Arabic-language website that Iranian-backed militias and Hezbollah carried out the attacks.
The latest reports strengthen Syrian rebel claims that various militias had “changed their uniforms to those of the sectarian Tigers Militia,” a regime unit. These allegedly included members of the Quds Brigade, which is Palestinian, and Abu al-Fadl Abbas, a Shi’ite unit, as well as Hezbollah.
“These militias use the weapons of the regime and have settled in fortified positions along the triangle of death,” the report said, adding that 500 members of these Iranian-backed forces have moved into the positions not far from the Golan.
“Abu Zein Khalid, the military commander of the Southern Front [rebels] told Orient that the Iranian militias met in the area of the triangle of death and wore the dress [uniform] of the regime.”
A source close to the Syrian rebels said the claims were accurate. “Yes, it is right and more details will emerge today,” the source said. “In short the regime forces are crowding into the area of north Daraa in this triangle of death area because the offensive will include Quneitra.” Any regime movement toward Quneitra, the Syrian rebel-held area along the Golan, would be highly sensitive to Israel and risk spillover conflict or the flight of refugees from the shelling.
Seth J. Frantzman
Follow Middle East and Terrorism on Twitter
Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.