GOLAN HEIGHTS – If Israel does not vacate the Golan Heights within months, a guerrilla organization allegedly formed in Syria will soon launch “resistance operations” against Israeli positions and Jewish communities in the Golan, an official from Syrian President Bashar Assad’s Baath party told WND in an exclusive interview.
“If in the coming months an agreement is not forged between Israel and Syria [for an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan], the Committees will begin attacks,” said the official, who spoke on condition his name be withheld during an in-person interview with WND and with the G. Gordon Liddy national radio show.
The official was referring to the Committees for the Liberation of the Golan Heights, a Hezbollah-like guerrilla organization Baath party sources claim was formed in Syria to attack Israeli positions in the Golan.
The Baath official told WND Syria learned from Hezbollah’s military campaign against Israel that “fighting” is more effective than peace negotiations with regard to gaining territory.
Hezbollah claims its goal is to liberate the Shebaa Farms, a small, 12-square-mile bloc situated between Syria, Lebanon and Israel. The cease-fire resolution accepted by Israel to end its military campaign in Lebanon this past summer calls for negotiations leading to Israel’s relinquishing of the Shebaa Farms.
The Baath official told WND Syria’s new Committees for the Liberation of the Golan Heights was formed this past June and that the group consists of Syrian volunteers, many from the Syrian border with Turkey and from Palestinian refugee camps near Damascus. He said Syria held registration for volunteers to join the Committees in June.
The official said attacks by the Committees may include the infiltration of Jewish communities in the Golan, rocket attacks against Israeli positions or raids of Golan-based Israeli military installations. He said all attacks would be launched from the Syrian side of the border.
The Golan Heights is strategic mountainous territory captured by the Jewish state after Syria used the terrain to attack Israel in 1967 and again in 1973. The Heights looks down on major Syrian and Israeli population centers, but there are a few areas where the Israeli and Syrian sides are level.
Military officials here long have maintained returning the Golan Heights to Syria would grant Damascus the ability to mount an effective ground invasion of the Jewish state.
The Heights has a population of about 35,000 – approximately 18,000 Jewish residents and 17,000 Arabs, mostly Druze. The Arab residents retain their Syrian citizenship, but under Israeli law they can also sue for Israeli citizenship. About a dozen officials from Assad’s Baath party live and operate in the Golan.
WND first reported in June on the alleged formation of the Front for the Liberation of the Golan.
One month later, a man identified as the leader of the Front gave an interview to state-run Iranian television.
Israel is taking the information seriously. Amos Yadlin, head of the IDF’s intelligence branch, told the Knesset in October that Syria is indeed in the early stages of forming a Hezbollah-like group.
Israeli warning: Syria preparing its army for war
The Baath official’s claim of possible attacks against Israel follows a warning yesterday by the intelligence branch of the Israeli Defense Forces that Syria is preparing its army for war against the Jewish state.
Brigadier General Yossi Baidatz, head of the IDF’s intelligence research division, said the Syrian army has been placed on high alert for attacks. He said Assad ordered increased production of long-range missiles and instructed the Syrian military to position antitank missiles closer to the Syrian border with Israel.
But Baidatz said while Assad is preparing for war, “on the other hand, he is not ruling out the possibility of reaching a political settlement with Israel.”
IDF holds military exercises near Syrian border
In response to the information, senior military officials say the IDF is preparing for a possible breakout of hostilities by the summer.
Israeli military positions in the Golan have been put on heightened alert, according to military sources. Border fences and checkpoints have been fortified. Golan residents say they noticed the placement of additional IDF positions the past two months.
WND has learned special units, including reserve and reconnaissance branches, held a series of live training exercises in the Golan the past few weeks. Large numbers of reservists have been called up and have been practicing key scenarios for war.
The IDF also recently asked Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s government to approve contracts for the production of more Israeli tanks and to postpone an earlier decision to shorten military service terms here for reserve units, according to military officials.
The military prepared an assessment, recently presented to Olmert’s security cabinet, that war could breakout within months, military officials said.
The officials said the assessments, compiled by the general staff of the IDF, are based on intelligence information and what they said is the ongoing estimate by Syria and Hezbollah that military confrontations achieve results.
They said Hezbollah considered itself victorious against Israeli troops in Lebanon in July and August.
Explained a military official: “While Hezbollah took some major hits, the group’s rocket infrastructure is still intact; they are capable of firing more rockets into Israel. The war ended without Hezbollah having to return [Eldad] Regev and [Ehud] Goldwasser, (the two soldiers it kidnapped in July, originally prompting the confrontations).”
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, because he was not authorized to talk to the media, said a cease-fire imposed in August by the United Nations “achieved a political win for Hezbollah.”
“It recognized Hezbollah’s claims to the Shebaa Farms and called for future negotiations. It also restricts Israel’s ability to stop Hezbollah from rearming and regrouping, which is what they are currently doing,” the military official said.
Military officials here said the past few weeks Syria and Iran have been smuggling weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon. They said the smuggling is taking place in front of a contingent of international troops stationed in Lebanon.
“Israeli overflights have detected the weapons smuggling,” said an Israeli intelligence official. “We’ve shared the information with the U.N. and yet nothing is being done about it. Hezbollah is openly re-establishing itself in south Lebanon,” an Israel military intelligence official told WND.
Assad: ‘War with Israel coming’
The IDF actions come amid statements by top officials in Damascus saying Syria is preparing for a war against Israel. The officials, including Assad, claimed the Jewish state would attack Syria first.
“We must remain ready at all times. We have begun preparations within the framework of our options,” Assad told the Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Anba last month. He gave a series of interviews to other media outlets making the same statements.
Assad said Israel could attack Syria “at any moment” and that Israeli leaders have abandoned the peace process and are seeking a war.
Last month, in a rare visit to the Israeli controlled Golan Heights, Syria’s information minister, Mohsen Bilal, delivered what amounted to a pep speech to Golan residents, telling them Damascus would use “resistance” to liberate the strategic territory if a “political solution” does not ensure Israel vacates the Golan Heights within the next few months.
“If in the next coming months there will not be a political solution, military resistance will be the only solution for Syrians,” announced Bilal, shouting on a loudspeaker from the Syrian border just feet from a fence that separates the Israeli controlled sections of the Golan from Syria.
‘Damascus prepping public for war’
Security officials here told WND there have been indications Syria is seeking to launch a provocation. Besides Assad’s statements, the officials say state-run Syrian media have been broadcasting regular warlike messages unseen since the 1973 Yom Kippur War, in which Syria and Egypt launched invasions from the Golan and the Sinai desert.
“The tone [in Syria] is one of preparing the public for a war,” said a senior security official.
He said any Syrian provocation would likely be coordinated with Iran. Tehran and Damascus, which both support Hezbollah, have signed several military pacts.
Reuven Erlich, a Syrian expert and director of the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center at Israel’s Center for Special Studies, told WND Assad’s threats “are to be taken seriously.”
“Assad’s support for terrorism, for the insurgency in Iraq, for Hezbollah and his alliance with Iran are all indication of the direction in which Syria is headed. Assad needs to demonstrate he is willing to sue for peace, but everything seems to indicate the opposite. Especially following the war in Lebanon,” Erlich said.
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