by Wafiq Qanso, Al-Akhbar English
The Agreement on Disengagement signed by Syria and Israel in 1974 is not worth much anymore, in light of the changes on the ground in southern Syria. However, the assassination of Hezbollah resistance fighters in the Syrian city of Quneitra last Sunday, appears to publicize the resistance’s activities in the Golan Heights. Long strides have been made in preparing the ground, the support base, and a trained and ready force, in the past year. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad announced this decision, and Hezbollah’s Secretary-General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah followed suit. The launch of resistance activities in the Golan Heights ends the phase of a confined war and of partial resistance, and ushers in a stage of comprehensive and strategic resistance.
Investigations are still underway to establish if the airstrike that killed six Hezbollah fighters was the result of a military mistake — i.e the martyrs moved in an area visible to Israel — or a topical intelligence operation. Irrespective of the potency of the strike against the resistance, the two most important strategic outcomes of this attack are that it has turned the Golan Heights into a resistance area and united it with South Lebanon in the resistance effort.
The attack on Quneitra was accompanied by noteworthy developments. The most important ones are:
– In its official obituary for the six martyrs, Hezbollah did not employ the phrase “martyred while performing their jihadist duty,” which was used in all other obituaries for their fighters in Syria. This is a clear sign that the six fighters were killed in a confrontation with Israel, which proves the veracity of Hezbollah’s argument that the war it is fighting in Syria is a war with Israel and its allies, without neglecting the takfiri danger. This is a point that the party will benefit from later, on both moral and operational levels.
– The attack proved that Israel is intervening directly in the Golan Heights, contrary to reports that it is engaged in only indirect intervention, logistical and informational support, treating the wounded and participating in some bombing operations.
– Expanding what Israel calls its northern front to include the Golan Heights, as well as South Lebanon, once again proves the veracity of Hezbollah’s logic and its keenness not to allow Israel or the takfiris to separate the two fronts.
– The attack provided the resistance with the justification to continue to work with the Syrians — an effort that is already underway, and which has seen a great amount of progress — and prepare a support base and operational environment in Syria to launch a resistance movement in the Golan Heights. This attack will accelerate the process.
The question of Hezbollah’s retaliation to the airstrike is a foregone conclusion. The discussion is only about the place and the time, which is not supposed to be too far in the future. Although Hezbollah does not operate based on the logic of tribal revenge, a painful military response is inevitable for many reasons related to the morale of the resistance movement’s supporters, and the fact that this was an intentional and public assassination of its cadres. But the most basic and important reason is Israel’s attempt to change the recognized rules of engagement and impose new ones. The response therefore will be clear and unambiguous.
If Hezbollah’s announcement of the Labbouneh operation in August 2013 took months and its announcement of the Shebaa operation in October 2014 took hours, it is not unlikely that the announcement of this coming strike will be simultaneous with its execution.
Therefore, the time, place and nature of the response is being discussed by the leadership of the resistance. It is a decision that takes several factors into consideration, including the condition of the resistance movement itself, the circumstances of the Syrian army, the internal Lebanese situation, regional realities, the possibility of an Israeli response to Hezbollah’s retaliation, and the possibility of escalating to a broad war.
Hezbollah is prepared to confront any kind of escalation. However, the initial assessment indicates that Israel might be forced to swallow this retaliation no matter how harsh it is, primarily, due to US considerations regarding the nuclear talks between Washington and Tehran. This does not preclude the continuation of the war involving “strikes under the radar” that is going on between the two sides. Indeed we might find proof of Israeli efforts to calm the situation in its statement yesterday that the Quneitra attack was not aimed at assassinating the general in Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, Mohammed Ali Allahdadi, and that they saw this as “a limited tactical operation” within this context.
Informed Syrian sources told Al-Akhbar that the commander of the Quds Force in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, General Qassem Soleimani, stopped in Damascus about 10 days ago on his way to Beirut to meet the leadership of the resistance. The visit coincided with reports of Iranian diplomats saying that there was major progress in the nuclear talks, and that Washington had informed its allies in Riyadh and Tel Aviv of this. Regardless of US intentions, they are interested in reaching a major regional agreement, as well as coordinating with Tehran against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) at least in Iraq, and conducting preliminary talks about the general outline of a political solution in Syria. Thus, the US will not allow the Israelis to drag the region into an all-out war that destroys this achievement, which Barack Obama has been working towards since his first term.
On the military level, Tel Aviv has realized — in light of what Nasrallah recently said about Hezbollah’s arsenal — that the war with the resistance movement will not be a walk in the park, given the tens of thousands of precise and advanced missiles it has, and that no electoral project inside Israel could withstand it. Politically speaking, it is not in Israel’s interest to wage a war that restores Hezbollah’s stature in the Arab world and takes the conflict in the region back to its core (Arab-Israeli conflict), in light of the sectarian tensions, which are convenient for the Zionist state.
By attacking Syrian territories, Israel provided the resistance with the justification to retaliate from the Syrian front, without neglecting other fronts. Not to mention that Lebanese parties would be more accepting of a response from Syria, as it may spare Lebanon its own repercussions, and does not subvert the climate of communication and dialogue with other political parties.