Hezbollah’s role near Golan in spotlight after reported airstrike

On Wednesday morning, the media in Iran and the Gulf highlighted a story claiming that Israel carried out an airstrike near the Golan Heights in a village called Hurriya near Quneitra. The incident comes in the context of growing tensions along the Syrian border, which have become part of a cycle dating back more than a year.

Let’s review first what the regional Arabic media are saying. Most quote the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights or Syrian state news agency SANA. RT in Russia asserts that the airstrike hit an apparently empty school. It says that recent strikes also targeted “military points in the governorate” and that Israeli “helicopters launched missiles at points on the border near Quneitra on August 4.” In addition, the report says Israel used anti-tank missiles in July fired from helicopters to “target three points on the border.” In the August incident vehicles were damaged, and in July, two Syria soldiers were wounded.

Al-Ain media in the Gulf noted that groups “loyal” to Hezbollah and Iran were present in the area. “The countryside of Quneitra is witnessing a large presence of militias loyal to Hezbollah and Iran, and the region has witnessed repeated attacks on them over the years.” SANA in Damascus accused Israel of striking a “school.”

Details of the strike were not clear on Wednesday morning but it is the latest rise in tensions in the area. Iran’s Tasnim News Agency also reported the strike without much elaboration.

The incident comes in the wake of a year of tensions. In August 2019, Israel says, it struck a “killer drone” team near the Golan. In January 2019 Israel’s former chief of staff also said Israel had hit 1,000 Iranian targets in Syria. The August 2019 airstrike led to major tensions with Hezbollah and an attempted retaliation by the group.

In February a Hezbollah member was killed near Al-Khader, not far from the Golan. In April 2020 Hezbollah cut holes in the fence along the Lebanese border in retaliation for what it says was a drone strike against one of its vehicles in Syria. In July a Hezbollah member was killed in an airstrike in Syria, and the group once again vowed retaliation. An incident then occurred near Mount Dov on July 27.

The Hezbollah member Mashour Zidan who was killed in southern Syria in July was a member of a Golan-based Hezbollah cell, according to reports.
Four terrorists planting bombs in Syria near the Golan were killed on August 3. Syrian army outposts were struck in that incident also, as well as on July 24. A vehicle was also struck in March after cross-border fire, and in May helicopters struck an Iranian-linked target, according to foreign reports. A drone was also shot down over the Golan on August 7.

Most recently the IDF released footage on October 14 of an operation inside the border zone near the Golan. Special forces entered the demilitarized zone and destroyed two “enemy outposts.”

All of these incidents appear to point to a rising tempo of tensions. Foreign media reports indicate that the Hezbollah and pro-Iranian presence has grown. Whether the incident on the night of October 20-21 is linked to this is unclear, and the reports only hint that Hezbollah or pro-Iranian elements were affected.

The incident comes as the Assad regime continues to demand the return of the Golan in exchange for peace, and as Washington is in discussions with Syria that involve the US wanting Austin Tice released. Syria wants the US to leave the Tanf base in Syria near Jordan.

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