Yochanan Visser is an independent journalist/analyst who worked for many years as Middle East correspondent for Western Journalism.com in Arizona and was a frequent publicist for the main Dutch paper De Volkskrant. He authoreda book in the Dutch language about the cognitive war against Israel and now lives in Gush Etzion. He writes a twice weekly analysis of current issues for Arutz Sheva.
As the Iranian-backed Syrian army and Shiite militias approach the Syrian Golan Heights and the Israeli border, Iranian officials and commanders now openly speak about the next phase in the Syrian war: The destruction of Israel.
Over the weekend the pro-Assad coalition reached a surrender agreement with the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and other rebel groups which, since the outset of the civil war in 2011, had been in control of most of the area along the Jordan border in the Daraa province in southwest Syria.
This happened after heavy bombardments by the Russian and Syrian air force at the end of an offensive which started in the middle of June and which has killed more than 150 people, while some 320.000 civilians have been displaced.
The negotiated surrender was brokered by Russia and included the handover of all heavy weapons and the forced transfer of FSA members and other rebels to the predominantly Sunni Arab province Idlib in northern Syria.
Soldiers of the pro-Assad coalition finally retained control most of the observation posts along the Jordanian border as well as the Nassib border crossing 15 kilometers away from Daraa city.
Assad’s forces are now in control of two thirds of the Daraa province and are reportedly gearing up for an offensive to ‘liberate’ the Kuneitra province, while laying siege on Daraa city where the upring against Assad began in 2011.
An offensive in Kuneitra could easily lead to a confrontation with the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) which are closely following events in southern Syria and have recently sent reinforcements to the Golan Heights.
The predominantly Islamist rebel groups along the Israeli border on the Golan Heights and in the area of the Yarmouk basin along the south Syrian-Jordanian border are not part of the Russian-brokered surrender agreement.
The remaining rebel groups in southwest Daraa have reportedly formed a new coalition named Southern Army ahead of the confrontation with the Syrian army and its allies. The new ‘army’, however, lacks outside support and is not in the possession of missiles and other heavy weaponry.
This could be the reason the new ‘army’ immediately signaled it was interested in a negotiated surrender similar to the deal in eastern Daraa, according to local sources who were interviewed by Fars News in Iran.
Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (formerly Jabhat al-Nusra) and Islamic State affiliate Jaish Khalid bin al-Waleed, who control most of the Yarmouk basin and the Syrian Golan Heights, have vowed they will fight until death.
Iran and Hezbollah call the surrender of the FSA and other rebel groups in Daraa a “heavy defeat” for the “Zionist regime” and claim Israel has already confessed to its failure to provide sufficient support to the “terrorists” in the area along the Jordanian and Israeli border.
“The plots of the US and the Zionist regime of Israel in Syria are against achievements of the Axis of Resistance and are doomed to fail,” according to Ali Da’moush the chairman of Hezbollah’s Executive Council.
The Iranian axis in Syria also accuses Israel of “collaborating” with the “militants” on the Syrian Golan Heights - meaning the alleged delivery of weapons, the transfer of humanitarian aid to civilians along the Israeli border and the treatment of wounded Syrians in Israeli hospitals.
Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, the foreign affairs adviser of the speaker of the Iranian parliament, even threatened Israel and claimed Israel was trying to take over Syria and said this is was the reason Iran won’t leave the war-torn country.
“The Zionist regime tries to gain dominance over Syria after Daesh (ISIS), but resistance forces and military advisers from the Islamic Republic of Iran will continue their presence alongside Syria to counter terrorism, Amir-Abdollahian claimed during meeting with Salah al-Zawawi, the PA ambassador to Iran.
“The Syrian people will not allow the country to be turned into the hotbed of Zionist terrorists once again,” the Iranian official added.
Amir-Abdollahian’s comments came after Hossein Salami, the deputy commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps vowed an “Islamic army in Syria” was ready to destroy “the evil regime” of Israel.
“Today an international Islamic army has been formed in Syria, and the voices of the Muslims are heard near the Golan,” The IRGC commander said. “Orders are awaited, so that… the eradication of the evil regime will land and the life of this regime will be ended for good. The life of the Zionist regime was never in danger as it is now,” he claimed.
The Iranian commander admitted Iran was building up “Hezbollah’s tremendous might” in Lebanon and claimed the terrorist organization would be able to “break the Zionist regime” alone with its “100,000 missiles aimed at Israel.”
Israel was “a threat to the entire Muslim world” according to Salami, who lied about the first large confrontation between the Iranians in Syria and the Israeli air force (IAF) on May 10th, when the IAF destroyed much of Syria’s air defenses and a significant number of Iranian bases and weapon depots in Syria.
Salami claimed Israel had done nothing when “dozens” of Iranian missiles were launched at the Israeli Golan Heights - but failed to reach their targets.
Iranian-backed Shiite militias are involved in the current offensive to regain control over southern Syria by Assad’s forces and Hezbollah terrorists have been spotted wearing Syrian army uniforms while the Lebanese terror organization’s elite Radwan unit is also involved in the current offensive in southern Syria.
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has already indicated Israel will not tolerate a violation of the 1974 Separation of Forces Agreement with Syria which effectively secured a forty-year-during calm between Israel and Syria after the Yom Kippur War
In addition, Israel continues to conduct airstrikes against Iranian targets in Syria while the IDF last week introduced a zero tolerance strategy on the Golan Heights.
On Sunday night the IAF reportedly again targeted the T-4 base, an IRGC controlled base in the Homs province in northwest Syria while the IDF immediately responded to what seemed to be an errant mortar shell which landed on the Israeli Golan Heights on Friday.