US-backed Syrian rebel militias advance on Quneitra, key to controlling Golan

DEBKAfile Exclusive Report, May 13, 2014,

Nine Syrian rebel militias were advancing on the main Syrian Golan town Quneitra (pop: 20,000) Tuesday, May 13, to wrest it from the Syrian army, thereby removing one of its last points of access to the Israeli border. They have dubbed their offensive “Levant of the Prophet.

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and senior commanders visited the Golan Tuesday, May 13, to survey the rebel offensive. For the third day running, Israel has kept the Quneitra crossing into the Syrian sector closed as a military zone. The off-limits area includes parts of the enclave’s Rtes 98 and 91 and Kibbutz Ei Zivan.

“Syrian rebels have pushed the Assad’s military into a corner,” the defense minister commented. “To the east, we are seeing destruction and death, and sometimes, the injured come to us for medical treatment. To the West, we see the Golan Heights flourishing.”

DEBKAfile’s military sources report that the nine militias, spearheaded by the Syrian Revolutionaries’ Front, have been moving north from the Jordanian-Israeli-Syrian border junction. Their first target is the capture of the Quneitra-Ein Zivan crossing as a direct bridge to Israel; its second force, to take Quneitra the town.
The rebel militiamen are taking care to hug the Israeli border fence on their way north, reckoning that the Syrian tanks and light artillery units scattered in the sector would not attack them for fear of shells or rockets straying across into Israel. This would prompt instant reprisals

And indeed, ranged opposite the Syrian forces, are IDF positions of the newly-created 210th territorial Bashan Division. They are armed with Tamuz (Spike) anti-tank missiles of two types: The Spike-SR which has a range of 1.5 km and Spike-MRs which can hit targets at a distance of 2.5 km. Both carry tandem warheads designed to destroy Syrian tanks or artillery by piercing their reactive armor with a hollow charge guided by electro-optical means.

The Israeli positions are under orders not to obstruct rebel movements, but rather take care of their wounded.

While Israeli has formally adopted a position of non-intervention in the more than three-year Syrian war, things are rather different in practice.

Israel allows the SFR to operate on its Golan threshold, because this rebel militia is unofficially backed by the United States, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, according to DEBKAfile’s sources.

DEBKAfile’s intelligence sources reveal that the commander of the Syrian rebel “Levant of the Prophet” operation is Col. Ziyad Hariri, who defected from the Syrian army after serving as an infantry brigade chief. The field commander is Capt. Abu Khaidar.

The operation’s overall commander is the SFR chief, Jamal Maarouf, who operates out of a command center in the Idlib province of northern Syria. But when there is danger, he withdraws across the border to South Turkey.

Maarouf is a pious Muslim who has three wives. He has gone to great lengths to enlist only native Syrians and no foreigners to the SRF and is flatly opposed to al Qaeda’s participation in the war on the Assad regime.

Our military and intelligence sources add that nothing is ever clear-cut in any aspect of the Syrian conflict – whether the state of combat, the identity of commanders or the makeup of the various fighting forces. Although it is presumed that there are no members of Jabhat a-Nusra, the Syrian affiliate of al Qaeda, in Maarouf’s militia, a certain number of radical Jordanian Salafis with apparent ties to al Qaeda seem to have infiltrated the militia.

The IDF is letting this go without response. Neither is it entirely clear up to what point this force is backed by American, Saudi and Jordanian intelligence agencies.

All that can be said with certainty is that if this rebel force, whatever its composition, succeeds in wresting Quneitra from the Syria army, Syrian and Hizballah loyalist forces will have lost their presence on the Syrian Golan and southern Syria up to the town of Deraa.

Should Bashar Assad or Hassan Nasrallah wish to attack Israel, they will have to go round to the north and strike from the Hermon range or the Shebaa farms in southern Lebanon.

Tuesday night, Syria filed a complaint with the UN accusing Israel of aiding the rebel war on the Syrian army in the Golan.

After overrunning the small Golan town of al-Kahtaniyya Monday, the rebels dropped flyers over Quneitra to advise inhabitants to leave their homes by Tuesday morning to escape the coming general offensive. Thousands of people were seen fleeing the town Tuesday, just ahead of the fighting.

May 14, 2014 | Comments »

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