Israel Blames Rocket Fire on Pro-Iran Militia in Syria
Tensions with Hizbullah heat up Jewish state’s border with Lebanon
Israel has accused Syria-based forces loyal to Iran of firing several rockets toward Israeli territory on Monday. The rockets fell short and landed on Syrian soil.
“The rockets were launched from the outskirts of Damascus by Shi’ite militia operatives operating under the Iranian Quds Force,” an Israeli military statement said, referring to a section of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps responsible for extraterritorial military and clandestine operations.
Israeli journalist-turned-political-analyst Eli Nissan told The Media Line that powerful Iranian general Qasem Soleimani, who commands the Quds Force, was behind the attack, “one of many rounds” of confrontation between the Islamic Republic and the Jewish state that are bound to take place.
“We will be witnessing an escalation in attacks against Iran because pro-Iranian militias are working at the behest of Soleimani, and they are responsible for firing rockets at Israel today,” Nissan said on Monday.
The night before, unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, struck Iran-backed militias in and around the Syrian town of Albu Kamal, close to the border with Iraq. A British-based watchdog, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said 18 militia members were killed in the strike.
Nissan argues that tensions will continue to escalate as long as Iran increases its military presence in Syria and Lebanon.
“I think Iran is determined to position and entrench itself in the region against Israel, and Israel is insisting that there will be no Iranian military presence near it,” he said.
He added that as long as the Syrian government allowed Iran and Hizbullah, Tehran’s Lebanese proxy, to maintain boots on Syrian soil, Israel would continue its operations.
“Those who bear responsibility are the ones harboring these militias in Syria,” Nissan explained. “It’s [Syrian President] Bashar al-Assad [who is doing so], and in the end, he and his regime will pay the price.”
No one has claimed responsibility for the Sunday-night raid, but Israel has conducted hundreds of military operations inside Syria against Iranian and Hizbullah positions, and has always said it would block Iran or any pro-Tehran militia from establishing bases there.
An Israeli military spokeswoman declined to comment on the raid when asked by The Media Line whether Israel had been behind the attack.
Since mid-July, five arms warehouses and training camps in Iraq belonging to the Popular Mobilization Forces – an umbrella organization for some 40 pro-Iran militias made up mostly of Shi’ites − have been targeted. The organization has blamed both Israel and the US. There has been no comment from Jerusalem.
Dr. Hassan Marhig, a lecturer on Syria at Galilee College in Nazareth, told The Media Line that Israel was attempting to convince global powers to support its measures.
“Israel wants to impose new equations [in Syria]. These equations are based on deterrence,” he said, adding that the Jewish state was “sending messages to all actors in Syria, especially Russia and the United States, and explicitly asking them to work together to get Iran and Hizbullah out of Syria.”
Marhig contends that Moscow has yet to respond favorably.
“The Russian position is consistent with the Syrian position, and… Assad clarified this by saying that the Iranian presence in Syria came at the request of Damascus, and therefore it’s not up for discussion with anyone,” he explained.
In another sign of heightened tensions, Hizbullah said on Monday that it had downed an Israeli UAV outside the town of Ramyah, near the Israeli border. The Israeli military confirmed that the drone “fell inside southern Lebanon during routine operations.”
Hizbullah and Israel exchanged cross-border fire after an August 25 drone attack against the Lebanese Shi’ite group’s stronghold in southern Beirut.
“These repeated Israeli attacks on Syria, Lebanon and Iraq may provoke [Syria, Iran and Hizbullah] to directly respond within Israeli territory,” Marhig warned.
“Israel’s actions could lead to a catastrophic war that affects all parties, but the great powers [Russia and the US] realize that the political, military and regional climate are unprepared for such a war,” he added, “so we may see limited tactical escalation in an effort to impose new equations and new rules of engagement.”