Less than a week after Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu warned Vladimir Putin in Sochi that Israel had red lines against a permanent Iranian military presence in Syria – certainly near its borders, Moscow put the prime minister’s warning to the test.
DEBKAfile reports exclusively from its military and intelligence sources that on Saturday and Sunday, (Aug.26-27) ,Russian forces installed Iranian Revolutionary Guards and Hizballah officers at a joint “administration center” they had set up in the town of Quneitra.
Surveillance spotters saw them moving around 2 km from the Golan border, the closest hostile Iranian and Hizballah troops have ever come to Israel’s border with Syria.
They were brought over from their base at Khan Arnaba, 6km east of the Golan.
Our sources report that the “administration center” is a military-civil body established by the Russians for managing the Quneitra de-escalation zone, one of four President Donald Trump and Putin agreed to establish in Syria, when they met in Hamburg on July 7.
Israel repeatedly and vehemently objected to this arrangement on its border, but Moscow and Washington turned a deaf ear. They assured Israel that it had nothing to fear, since Russian monitors would be in control there and no one else.
During July, Russian forces began landing on the Syrian Golan, then setting up their command center and running ten observation posts along the Syrian-Israeli border.
But all of a sudden on Saturday, everything changed.
Russian officers in civvies were seen driving Iranian and Hizballah officers, also in civilian garb, into the town of Quneitra and settling them in the building that houses the “administration center.” To mask this incursion as a purely civil event, the Russians also brought the former Syrian governors of Quneitra and of the Jordanian border town of Daraa along for the ride.
For at least four years, various local Syrian rebels have been supported by Israel with medical and logistical aid.
However, immediately on arrival, the Russian, Iranian and Hizballah officers contacted those militia chiefs through Skype, and gave them three options:
1. Play along with their Quneitra “administrative center” and do as they are told, in return for which they would be guaranteed Russian and Syrian army protection as well as regular supplies of food, water and medical care.
They would naturally be obliged to cut their ties with Israel.
2. Voluntarily disband and turn in their weapons to the Syrian army.
3. If they rejected 1. and 2., they would be free to move to another Syrian location of their choice with safe conduct guarantees for them and their families.
Our sources stress that no matter which of the three options the Golan rebel chiefs choose, Israel has lost its security buffer on its Golan border with Syria and received Iranian and Hizballah forces in its place, under Russian auspices.