Following Israel's aerials strikes in the Damascus area in early May 2013, Syria announced that it considered the move a declaration of war and that it reserved the right to respond in the time and place of its choosing. In the weeks since the attack, Bashar Al-Assad's regime has been threatening to open the Golan to resistance against Israel aimed at "liberating the occupied Golan," which would put an end to 40 years of relative quiet on this front.
Syria's allies – chiefly Hizbullah and Iran – announced that they would support resistance in the Golan, and Hizbullah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, whose organization is fighting in Syria alongside the regime forces, stressed that his organization would provide this resistance with all the material and moral support it required.
Alongside these threats by officials, the Arab media has reported that regiments and brigades, both Syrian and non-Syrian, are being established to wage "popular resistance" against Israel in the Golan – although the intention is clearly to wage armed guerilla warfare like that of Hizbullah. Moreover, it was reported that the Syrian regime has given Palestinian factions a green light to operate against Israel from the Golan. Some Palestinian resistance factions, such as Ahmad Jibril's Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command (PFLP-GC) and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), welcomed this development. The Syria-based Palestinian group "Free Palestine Movement" even took responsibility for firing mortars at the Golan on May 15, 2013.
Conversely, elements that do not support the Assad regime, including Hamas, whose relations with the Assad regime have deteriorated since the start of the Syrian uprising, rejected the notion of resistance in the Golan. Hamas officials, who support the uprising against Assad's regime, stressed that their movement carries out resistance only within the borders of Palestine itself and that it does not intend to join the resistance in the Golan. Others, such as the Lebanese March 14 Forces, claimed that the idea of resistance in the Golan was nothing but an attempt to divert attention away from the massacre being perpetrated in Syria by Assad and his allies.
It should be noted that the option of establishing resistance forces in the Golan that would operate to liberate it from "the Israeli occupation" has been a topic of public debate in Syria in the past. This issue was especially salient in 2006-7, in statements by Syrian officials threatening to employ resistance and guerilla warfare to liberate the Golan, in government press articles, and in reports published in Syria claiming that Syrian resistance organizations were being established in the Golan.
This report reviews articles in the Arab and Iranian press about the possibility of opening a new front against Israel in the Golan, including threats by the Syrian regime and its allies, as well as reports about resistance forces that are being formed there, and criticism of this development.
Bashar Al-Assad: "The Golan Will Become A Resistance Front"Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad stated that the response to the Israeli attacks in Syria would be resistance action in the Golan. In his meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi on May 7, 2013, Assad warned that "the Golan will become a resistance front." Elie Chalhoub, a columnist for the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar, which is close to the Syrian regime, reported that Assad, in response to criticism of his failure to respond to the Israeli attacks on Syria, had said: "Syria could easily please its people and its allies by firing a few missiles at Israel," but that this would have been merely a tactical response to the Israeli aggression, while "we desire strategic revenge by opening the gates of resistance and turning all of Syria into a resistance state... much like Hizbullah, for the sake of Syria and the coming generations..."
In an emergency meeting held by the Syrian government on May 5, 2013 following the Israeli attack, the government determined that "this aggression opens the door to all options," and added: "It is always Syria's right and even duty to defend the homeland, the state, and the people from any attack – internal or external – by all ways and means." Syrian Information Minister 'Omran Al-Zu'bi said at a political conference in Damascus that "Israel should know that Syrian skies and land are not a promenade... We are a people that does not forget to respond to aggression... The Golan is Syrian land and Syria has the right to operate there as its owner."
Syrian mufti Ahmad Badr Al-Din Hassoun expressed desire to join the resistance in the Golan. During his first visit to southern Lebanon, organized by Hizbullah, the mufti said: "We await the opening of all fronts. I pray that if the Golan front is opened, we [clerics] will be the first to enter it."
Syrian press close to Assad and his allies also published articles in favor of resistance in the Golan. In an article titled "Syria – From Defense To Liberating The Golan," Hamid Hilmi Zadeh – an Iranian columnist for the Syrian daily Al-Watan, which is close to the Syrian regime – wrote that "popular resistance in the [Golan] region would be much quicker and more painful compared to [the resistance] in southern Lebanon," and that resistance militias operating in the Golan would receive substantial resources from the Syrian army, including precision missiles.
Muhammad Sadeq Al-Husseini, a columnist close to the Iranian and Syrian regimes, wrote in the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar: "The Syrian leadership has decided to provide unlimited high-quality strategic aid to the Lebanese Islamic resistance [i.e. Hizbullah] and to place all the resources of the Syrian army at the disposal of the Hizbullah leadership... and to open the gate of jihad [against Israel] from Syrian land to Arabs and Muslims who desire it, and turn the Golan into 'the land of resistance…'"
Reports In Syria On Establishment Of Brigades For Resistance In The GolanIn addition to threats by regime officials, it was reported that brigades were being established in Syria to wage resistance in the Golan. The Popular Front for Change and Liberation, which is part of the current Syrian government and calls itself "a national opposition," announced its intention to establish "The Popular Liberation Front Brigades" that will work to liberate "all usurped lands, chiefly the occupied Golan." A military headquarters was established in order to carry out the mission, and the front called on all Syrian citizens to join its ranks.
Fighters of the Popular Liberation Front Brigades (image: Facebook.com/aljabha.
Al-Mayadeen TV, which is close to the Syrian regime, cited Syrian sources as saying that "anti-Israel popular resistance brigades were being established and would operate from the Golan."
Iranian Officials: Resistance Forces Are Being Established In Syria; Liberation Of The Golan Is PossibleOfficials of the Iranian regime, which supports the Assad regime and assists it also in fighting the rebels, repeatedly state that Iran will not leave Syria alone and will not let it fall in the campaign against the U.S. and its allies. Thus, for example, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi told Assad during their meeting in Damascus on May 7, 2013: "We are with you and we will not allow Syria to fall into the hands of Israel, the U.S., or the men of takfir [i.e. the Islamists fighting the Syrian regime]."
Much like in Syria, officials in the Iranian army and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) also noted that resistance forces were being established in Syria in order to operate in the Golan and said that its liberation was possible and might even happen in the coming months. Iranian Chief-of-Staff Hassan Firouzabadi said on May 11, 2013 that "according to a strategic decision by Assad, popular resistance [forces] are being established throughout Syria, similar to Hizbullah." Mohammad Reza Naqdi, the commander of the Basij in the IRGC, said in a similar vein that, after the 1982 Lebanon war, Hizbullah appeared; after the attacks on Palestine, the Palestinian resistance was born; and today in Syria we are witnessing the establishment of a military force in response to aggression and plots against this country. According to him, it is this resistance that will liberate Jerusalem.
On May 18, 2013, Iranian Deputy Chief-of-Staff Masoud Jazayeri told Hizbullah's Al-Manar TV: "From a security and military perspective, I should say that the liberation of the Golan is not impossible; it can happen... In the next few months, we will witness fundamental changes in the region... some of which will pass through the Golan, Allah willing."
Anti-Iranian Arab papers reported that the Iranian regime was assisting the Syrian regime in opening the Golan front. The London daily Al-Hayat reported on May 15, 2013, citing a knowledgeable source in Iran, that "the Iranian authorities have managed to convince Assad to give Hizbullah an unlimited role and to place all the capabilities of the Syrian regime at the disposal of Hizbullah's leadership if it decides to open a front against Israel in the Golan..." The Lebanese daily Al-Mustaqbal reported on May 17, 2013 that Iranian Supreme Leader 'Ali Khamenei had "recently appointed Qasem Soleimani [the commander of the Qods Force in the IRGC] to oversee the struggle against Israel via Syrian land." The daily cited political sources in Baghdad who said that Iran sees the Israeli attack on Syria as a chance to destabilize the Middle East and employ "the groups loyal to it to stir up trouble in the Golan or [carry out] military actions against Israeli forces, in order to divert pressure away from Assad and try to rally popular support for him."
Hassan Nasrallah: Hizbullah Will Assist The Syrian Resistance In The GolanHizbullah, which has been fighting in Syria alongside Assad's forces, announced it would assist the Syrian resistance against Israel. In a May 9, 2013 speech, Hizbullah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah announced that, following the Israeli attacks in the Damascus area, Syria decided to provide Hizbullah with high-quality "game-changing" weapons that it has not heretofore provided, in order to deter the Israeli enemy. According to him, Hizbullah will hold these weapons and will not hesitate to use them "in order to defend the people, the country, and the holy sites." Nasrallah said: "Just as Syria stood by the Lebanese people and supported its popular resistance, morally and materially, until it succeeded in liberating southern Lebanon, we in the Lebanese resistance announce that we will stand by the Syrian popular resistance and provide it with material and moral support, coordination, and cooperation in order to liberate the Syrian Golan."
Nasrallah delivering his speech (image: Al-Manar TV)
Lebanese Daily Al-Akhbar Predicts Attrition War In Golan; It's Time To Learn Names Of Targets In The GolanThe Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar, which is close to Hizbullah and the Syrian regime, published articles stating that the resistance front has now expanded to include the Golan and warned against an imminent military confrontation. In an editorial dated May 18, 2013, Ibrahim Al-Amin, head of Al-Akhbar's board of directors, wrote that one "mistake" by Israel vis-à-vis the resistance axis would lead to a total military confrontation whose purpose would be "to change the face of the region." Al-Amin added: "We must understand... that the front of active resistance against the enemy has expanded [to include the Golan]. Those who like to document [facts] must familiarize themselves in detail with the geography of the occupied Golan and grow accustomed to the names of the towns, sites, and centers of commerce, industry, and tourism [there], and prepare [to learn] different facts."
Another article published the same day in Al-Akbar claimed that the Syrian regime had "taken a strategic decision to open the Golan front, which meant nothing less than a war of attrition in which Israel would not have the upper hand." The article included a map of the Golan with various sites marked, such as the town of Katzrin, the Ski resort on Mt. Hermon and an IDF listening post.
The map attached to the article in Al-Akhbar
Criticism Of Nasrallah's Statements In LebanonNasrallah's statements regarding Hizbullah's support of the resistance in the Golan triggered harsh and even mocking responses from various elements in Lebanon, mainly from the March 14 Forces, who claimed that the organization had neither the authority nor the right to make such a decision, that it was endangering Lebanon's peace and stability, and that Hizbullah and Assad's talk of opening the Golan front was meant to divert attention from the massacres in Syria.
Thus, for example, Samir Geagea, head of the Lebanese Forces Party, attacked Nasrallah: "If you knew that popular resistance in the Golan was able to liberate it, why did you wait 40 years to start? You waited because you know better than anyone that this popular resistance will go nowhere. And if you indeed knew [that this resistance] would bring about results and did nothing then you are a traitor... Now they are [suddenly] thinking of popular resistance to liberate the Golan... in order [to portray] the [Syrian] regime as a pioneer of pan- Arabism and Arab unity and as the only [element] fighting against Israel. [Another goal is] to divert people's attention away from the events in Syria and to continue killing the Syrian people..."
The daily Al-Mustaqbal, which is owned by Sa'd Al-Hariri, head of the Al-Mustaqbal faction and the March 14 Forces, published many articles harshly attacking Nasrallah's statements. The articles claimed that these statements are further proof that Hizbullah is an Iranian organization, not a Lebanese one. They also expressed fear for Lebanon's fate and claimed Hizbullah is turning the Lebanese people into hostages with its foolhardy moves.
Lebanese President Michel Suleiman criticized Nasrallah indirectly by saying that Lebanon should adhere to its neutrality and not interfere in the affairs of other countries. According to him, "what protects Lebanon is the strategic vision [that he presented during the National Dialogue], according to which Hizbullah's weapons would be given over to the [Lebanese] army in order to defend Lebanon against Israeli aggression [taking place] only on Lebanese soil..." Surprisingly, Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel 'Aoun, known as an ally of Hizbullah, also objected to Hizbullah's intervention in the Golan.
Syrian Regime Gives Palestinian Factions Green Light To Operate Against Israel From GolanOn May 5, 2013, Syria's state television reported, citing a regime source, that the regime had "permitted the Palestinian factions to carry out operations from the Golan." This announcement triggered disagreements among the Palestinian factions regarding whether to answer the call and join the Golan resistance.
The Popular Front for the Liberation Of Palestine – General Command (PFLP-GC), led by Ahmad Jibril, announced that it intends to establish combat units that will attempt to restore the territories Israel occupied, chiefly the Golan Heights, after Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and Hizbullah announced they would support such actions. In a communiqué it issued, the organization stated that "the doors are open to Syrian citizens who wish to volunteer for the resistance units." The organization stressed that its "fidayeen are prepared to carry out military action against the Zionist occupation and the settlers for the liberation of Palestine from the river to the sea." The organization demanded that the Palestinian factions "take the initiative and operate in concert to establish a joint war room that would coordinate the resistance actions in the Golan Heights..." and called to open all fronts against Israel to the members of the resistance in order to liberate Palestine.
PLO Executive Committee member and Popular Front deputy secretary-general 'Abd Al-Rahim Malouh urged Syria to respond to the Israeli attack and "not wait 40 years before retaliating." He called to open the Golan and all the borders to operations against Israel, and attacked Hamas for refusing to support Syria – especially, he said, since it formed new alliances with the Arab states and started trying to open channels of dialogue with the West.
On May 16, 2013, it was reported that the "'Abd Al-Qader Al-Husseini Brigades," the military arm of the Free Palestine Movement – a Syria-based Palestinian movement headed by Yasser Qashlaq – had taken responsibility for firing mortars from Syria into the Golan on May 15, 2013. A communiqué issued by the group stated that the operation had been carried out on the occasion of Nakba Day, which occurred on that date. The group also issued a video allegedly documenting the firing.
Hamas Official: We Will Not Fight In The Golan; Jihad Against Assad's Regime Takes Precedence Over Resistance Against IsraelConversely, Hamas, whose relations with the Assad regime have deteriorated since the start of the Syrian uprising, and whose leaders have on more than one occasion lambasted this regime for attacking its own people, clarified that the movement had no intention of heeding the call to wage resistance against Israel in the Golan. Hamas's representative in Lebanon, 'Ali Baraka, said in response to this call that Hamas carried out resistance only in Palestine. He said: "We condemn the Zionist aggression against Syria or against any Arab country [and believe that] Syria has the right to oppose aggression. [However,] though we in Hamas have not abandoned the resistance and will not abandon it, and though we are fighting for the land of Palestine, our resistance is [confined to] Palestinian territory. Our policy is to refrain from fighting outside [its] borders."
Yousuf Rizka, an advisor to Hamas prime minister Isma'il Haniya, published an article in which he mocked the Syrian regime for deciding to open up the Golan to resistance after 40 years of occupation and while he himself is bombarding his people: "It's strange that the Syrian regime is so 'courageous' when it comes to [attacking] its people and bombarding them with planes and mortars, but when Israel attacks it and destroys its military and civilian facilities and makes it a laughing stock in the eyes of the world, it puffs itself up with false pride and announces that it reserves the right to retaliate in the time and place of its choosing... Yesterday the Syrian regime announced... the launching of popular resistance. From now on, there is a presidential authorization for the popular resistance to shift itself to the Golan... Tomorrow popular resistance convoys will march on the occupied Golan and occupied Palestine... But where is the Syrian people that [is supposed to] carry out [this] popular resistance? Isn't this the same people that is wandering [homeless] inside and outside Syria? Isn't it the people that is being bombarded by the regime's planes day and night?..."
'Abdallah Barghouti of Hamas, who is imprisoned in Israel, announced that, were he free, he would have joined the jihad fighters against the Syrian regime, because this cause is now closer to his heart than the resistance against Israel. He added that "if the Syrian regime disappeared, so would the regime of the Zionist enemy," because the Syrian regime has prevented the resistance fighters from reaching the Golan. Hence, once it is ousted, they will be able to liberate the Golan as well as Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa.
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