Today in the Golan Heights, other than some wrecked armor hulks, nothing brings to mind the pockmarked landscape of the past. Grasslands now support cattle ranches and vineyards flourish against a backdrop of Israeli armor units.
Yet, the Golan Heights were the scene of some of the most bloody fighting during the 1967 Six-Day War and the 1973 Yom Kippur war. In these wars, the Syrians lost massive amounts of men and armored vehicles against Israel. Syria lost most of the Heights in the ’67 war. In 1973, it deployed over 28,000 troops, 1,400 tanks, and 600 artillery pieces that attacked using Soviet-style tactics. It faced 3,000 Israeli troops, 180 tanks, and 60 pieces of artillery.
Syria wants the Heights back. The Iranian regime has vowed to make it happen.
The Syrian side of the border is a powder keg with conflicting factions competing and at times fighting against each other. The forces of President Bashar Assad, which are heavily backed by Russia, a group of anti-Assad rebels, and Iranian proxy militias, including Hezbollah, are all vying for control of the Syrian side of the Golan Heights. Sometimes, the fire crosses into the Israeli border.
The Israeli Air Force frequently conducts airstrikes against any Iranian forces, including Hezbollah. It has frequently stated that any Iranian presence will not be tolerated along the Israeli borders.
The Israelis have a tacit understanding with the Russians that the Israeli Air Force (IAF) will not target Syrian air defenses and radar installations if they are not engaging their aircraft. This is why Syria’s modern S-400 air defense system, which is monitored by and partially staffed with Russian advisors, has not been engaging or been fired upon by the IAF.
The Russians also do not want the Iranians on the Golan because it upsets their influence with the Assad regime. Since 2018, when Hezbollah fighters began streaming into the Golan, Israel closed its medical facilities that were assisting civilians victims of the civil war.
Israel and Russia came to an agreement to allow Syrian troops along the border to quell the violence inside of Syria. Nevertheless, the Assad regime has continued to court Hezbollah. General Ali Ahmad Asa’ad, commander of the Syrian Army 1st Corps openly visited Hezbollah’s positions.
Syria and Iran are employing “duplicate command” structures in some Syrian military units whereby Iranian proxy forces are dressed in Syrian Army uniforms operating alongside Syrian soldiers, while Hezbollah fighters coordinate their activities. Israel is aware of that.
Israeli media is reporting that Iran has been trying to counter Russian influence within the Assad regime. It has been increasing its efforts to embed itself within the Syrian military and especially the 7th Division of the 1st Corps that is stationed along the Golan.
It is from within the 7th Division that Iran is building a”Golan File” — a network of terror cells along the Israeli border. Iran’s plan also includes establishing branches of Hezbollah’s southern command to lay the groundwork for a second front against Israel in a future war.
Last week, the Syrian media reported that IAF aircraft dropped leaflets over the Syrian side of the Golan warning military forces and civilians that anyone who assists Hezbollah in acts of aggression towards Israel would be targeted by the IDF.
“While Hezbollah sits comfortably in Lebanon, they have put you on the front line. Be warned,” the leaflets said.
The Israeli government has officially declared that the government of Syria is responsible for any group’s actions, regardless of affiliation, that take place in Syria.
In light of several Arab countries normalizing their relations with Israel, Assad, in an interview on Russian television, said that peace talks with Israel would only happen when the Jewish state is ready “to return the occupied Syrian land.” He denied that any negotiations were being conducted with Israel.
Meanwhile, Iran’s judiciary chief, Ebrahim Raisi, told Syria’s ambassador to Iran that Teheran supports Syrian’s “resistance” to retake the Golan Heights: “I am convinced that the resistance of the Syrian people and the resistance movement and all the mujahideen forces in the region, from Hezbollah to Hamas, will bring victory and will lead to growing eternal misery and hatred for the United States.”