Hezbollah and Syrian army forces have reportedly launched an assault on a besieged Syrian rebels’ stronghold some 11 kilometers (6.8 miles) from Israel’s border, even as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that Israel will not accept Iranian proxies on its frontier.
Rebels groups have reported heavy bombardments and artillery fire on their positions, and the Syrian army claimed it had encircled Mughr al Meer at the foot of Mount Hermon, the elevated area that commands the Golan Heights.
The rebels holed up in those areas have been ordered by surrounding regime forces to surrender or face defeat, Reuters reported Tuesday night.
“They were given 72 hours to surrender with fighters to go to [rebel-held] Idlib or those who want to stay have to reach a settlement,” a Free Syrian Army official said.
According to Hadashot news, Assad’s forces and Hezbollah were also eyeing an advance on Beit Jinn. The Beit Jinn area is the last significant rebel-held enclave southwest of Damascus.
Fierce fighting has been reported in the area in recent days, and Hezbollah has said the rebels intend to surrender and talks have begun on the terms.
Suhaib al Ruhail, an official from the Liwa al Furqan rebel group operating in the area, told Reuters on Monday that “the Iran-backed militias are trying to consolidate their sphere of influence all the way from southwest of Damascus to the Israeli border.”
Thousands of Shiite fighters are up against several hundred rebels including those of the Free Syrian Army, a loosely affiliated group of militias, some of which have been receiving military aid and weapons from Western countries, including the US.
Rebels still hold other areas in central and southern Quneitra on the Golan Heights.
Netanyahu on Wednesday stressed that Israel would not allow Iranian proxies to establish a stronghold in Syria.
“We will act to prevent the production of accurate and lethal weapons aimed at us,” he said, speaking at a graduation ceremony for new IAF pilots.
The prime minister also addressed the status of the air force at the Wednesday ceremony, which he said is currently “at its peak.” He added that Israel has the best planes in the world, capable of hitting distant targets, apparently referring to Israel’s newly acquired F-35 stealth jets.
Israel is concerned that Iran will increase its reach into Syria via Iran-backed militias and in particular, the powerful Hezbollah. Jerusalem fears the Iranian presence in that area would serve as a springboard for terrorist groups to attack Israel in the future
In September, a Hezbollah commander said the group has 10,000 fighters in southern Syria ready to confront Israel. Israel last fought a full-scale war with Hezbollah in 2006’s Second Lebanon War, and tensions have remained high even as the northern border has been relatively quiet.
Led by Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah is believed to have an arsenal of between 100,000 and 150,000 short-, medium- and long-range missiles and a fighting force of some 50,000 soldiers, including reservists.
It is seen by the IDF as its main threat, representing the standard by which the Israeli army measures its preparedness.
Senior defense officials on Sunday warned cabinet ministers against another round of fighting against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, Channel 2 News reported Tuesday night. In their assessment of the current worrisome situation in Gaza, the same official noted that the accumulation of recent events has been reminiscent of the state of things in Gaza just before the 2014 war. They suggested that Gaza is so volatile at the moment, that although Hamas is not interested in war, events on the ground could force them in that direction.
This assessment is based on a combination of factors: the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, resulting from the collapse of sewage and water systems and electric supply being limited to four hours a day; a particularly high rate of unemployment and the Hamas government’s failure to transfer salaries to its officials for several months; and the flow of funds from Qatar has also stopped; then there’s the disappointment of Gaza residents, who had expected a reconciliation agreement between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority – but not much is happening in that area so far.
And if all of the above is not enough to challenge the rule of law in Gaza, the defense senior officials added to the escalation President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, against which Hamas may feel obligated to take action or risk being left behind by smaller terror groups.
For now, Hamas is acting to curb the rogue factions firing the rockets at Israel – because each time they shoot, Israel punishes Hamas severely. However, each time Hamas acts against the jihadists, it harms its own reputation as a dedicated Islamic group – another reason to go to war, to defend its honor.
Finally, Israel’s clear technical ability to discover and destroy the Hamas terror tunnels has cut off an entire strategic option for Hamas, which may conclude that now may be its last chance to hurt Israel, before it is entirely caged in by its far superior foe.
The cabinet was unanimous in accepting the fact that things inside the Gaza Strip are so bad, Israel may pay a price should Gaza gets out of control – and its options to realistically relieve the crisis are very limited.
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