The assault force consists of a large number of troops from the Syrian army’s 7th Division with many tanks, which the Syrians have been wary hitherto of moving into the battle zone, after being cautioned by Israel via the UN that they would be infringing ceasefire agreements with Israel and risk incurring IDF counteraction.
However, high authority in Damascus appears to be counting on the revulsion and shock, generated around the world by the beheading by ISIS of the American-Jewish journalist Steven Sotloff, deterring Israel from intervening against Syrian forces which are fighting another Al Qaeda offshoot, the Nusra Front.
All in all, say DEBKA’s sources, the decision to embark on a large-scale assault on rebel gains in the Golan means that military priorities have been reshuffled at the highest level of Syrian policy-making. After treating the Golan and Quneitra front as a strategic backwater hitherto, they suddenly occupy center stage in Damascus as a key arena for vanquishing rebel forces.
Israel’s Golan forces and population are in a state of preparedness. Tensions rose palpably Wednesday, when Syrian fighter-bombers flew over Quneitra and dropped Iranian-made barrel-bombs on rebel positions. They acted in defiance of Israel’s threat to send its air force against Syrian jets intruding in the Golan no-flight zone.
This threat followed the first Syria air strike over Quneitra on Aug. 28, against which Israel refrained from interfering. But Damascus was obviously not deterred from launching another air strike over the Golan to support its coming offensive.
Wednesday night, the Security Council called on all UN members who had any influence with Nusra al-Jabha to intercede for the release of the 44 UN Fijian observers the Islamist group is holding hostage since last week. The same resolution also ordered Nusra to immediately return the weapons and vehicles, some of them armored, they had seized from the UN Disengagement and Observer Force.
With the Syrian sword about to fall on their heads, it is doubtful that the Syrian Islamists will heed either of those calls.