Despite impressive gains by Syria and its allies in the fight against terrorism and the Islamic State group, Israel signaled Sunday that it plans to continue launching aggressive strikes on alleged Iranian-allied forces, even as the United States and Russia try to build up a ceasefire in the area.
U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday affirmed joint efforts to stabilize Syria as its civil war wanes, including with the expansion of a July 7 truce in the southwestern triangle bordering Israel and Jordan.
According to a U.S. State Department official, Russia had pledged to work with the so-called “Syrian regime” to remove groups like Lebanon's Hezbollah away from the Golan Heights frontier with Israel.
Israeli occupation forces seized 70 percent of the Golan Heights totaling about 1,300 square kilometers from Syria during its expansionist military campaign in 1967 and later annexed the strategic region in an illegal move backed by the United States.
According to an Israeli official briefed on the arrangement, the deal would prevent Hezbollah and allied forces from approaching the heights from a distance of five to seven kilometers or as far as 30 kilometers, depending on the positions of anti-government radicals. Pro-government fighters and rebel extremists would be kept apart from one another, as well. Moscow did not immediately provide details on the deal.
Israeli authorities have used their significant lobbying powers to prevent Iran, Lebanon’s Hezbollah and other Shia militias from establishing permanent bases in allied Syria, and to keep them away from the occupied Golan as they gain ground while helping Damascus beat back Islamist rebels, including Saudi-backed Wahhabi militants.
Israel has launched several unprovoked acts of aggression against Syrian targets throughout the six-year civil war, including assassinations and assaults on targets such as alleged “arms caches” belonging to Hezbollah. The Lebanese resistance group has fought alongside Syrian forces at the state's invitation for the past few years.
The latest announcement comes as the Israeli alliance with Saudi Arabia continues to warm, with the Saudis allegedly pushing to use the Israelis as a proxy force against Lebanon. Saudi military forces and their allies remain mired in the quagmire of a two-year war on Yemen that has resulted in precious little in terms of military achievements while creating one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world, according to U.N. officials.
Amos Harel, the military commentator for Israeli newspaper Haaretz, has warned that the Saudis appear to be pushing the Israelis and Lebanese toward an escalation of hostilities potentially stemming from “a local incident gone out of control.”
“If Saudi Arabia is deliberately stoking the flames between the sides (Israel and Hezbollah), this becomes a tangible danger.”
Hezbollah was formed in 1985 as a resistance group born out of repression against the Shia Muslim minority in Lebanon. It defines itself through its struggle against Israeli settler-colonialism in Palestine and Lebanon, particularly the 1982 Israeli occupation of South Lebanon which ended in the defeat of Israel and its humiliating withdrawal from the country in 2000.
Hezbollah inflicted a historic second defeat on the Israelis when Tel Aviv launched another campaign against southern Lebanon in 2006, which lasted for 33 days and claimed the lives of more than 1,000 Lebanese civilians and displaced about a million people.
Following weeks of conflict and the Israelis' subsequent retreat, the group declared the war's outcome to be a "Divine Victory" for those resisting aggression. The view that Hezbollah won the conflict was widely supported by observers, including Israeli and Western military experts.
Since then, the former guerilla's force has earned the reputation for being the most capable and battle-hardened non-state military actor in the entire world, with 20,000 full-time and highly trained fighters, 25,000 reservists and well over 100,000 missiles.