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(PJM Exclusive) Watching Syria’s Civil War from the Israeli Border

From the Golan, you can literally watch Syria burn.

by
Patrick Poole

Bio

September 17, 2013 - 12:02 am

Last week I took the opportunity to travel to the Golan Heights with Israeli strategic intelligence analyst Avi Melamed (listen to my podcast with Avi from last week) to get an up-close view of the Syrian civil war from the Israel/Syria border in the Golan.

There were only modest security concerns, although mortars and sniper fire have been known to cross the border in the conflict. The day after our visit, three mortars inadvertently landed not far from our observation point.

We traveled along the south end of the Sea of Galilee and entered the Golan on the very south end of the area along the border with Jordan, where the Golan is divided by the Yarmouk River:

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We would travel to the northern edge of the Golan near Mount Hermon, eventually stopping at the formerly Syrian Druze village of Masaade (not to be confused with the ancient Jewish fort of Masada by the Dead Sea).

Needless to say, there is considerable Israeli military presence in the Golan. We witnessed a number of IDF tanks practicing at various points along the way. One of the more interesting sites was a drone base with two sizable drones parked outside their hangars:

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Along the border fence line there are a number of IDF posts doing direct and signals surveillance, and several optimal locations for a good view of what’s happening on the Syrian side of the border. Last November, Avi did a short video from one location:

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But as we arrived at that site we found it now closed by the IDF due to security concerns:

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Avi related that during one briefing he gave recently at this location with a small group, a gang of motorcycles appeared on the other side of the fence with armed riders, at which point they made a hasty retreat.

As we drove to another observation point, we could see thick black smoke coming from an engagement in the Beer Ajam area. The smoke never subsided, but increased while we were there.

After arriving at the other observation point, we could clearly see over the border. A giant Syrian flag was visible in Khan Arnabah a few hundred meters away:

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For some perspective, Khan Arnabah is only 25 miles from Damascus. The Damascus suburbs are visible in the distance to the north east.

We were there only a few minutes before another engagement erupted directly across from us near Qahtaniah, with smoke visible along the road:

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This particular area in the Quneitra Governate has been a hotspot of activity between the Syrian Islamic Front and the Free Syrian Army against the 9th and 61st divisions of the Syrian army.

Not much later, we saw a running engagement in Khan Arnabah that appeared to spread out over several blocks of the city:

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Then, the engagement we had been watching earlier in Qahtaniah began to spread with another engagement a few hundred meters away on the same road, directly south:

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All the while, the heavy black smoke was visible over the hill in the area of Beer Ajam:

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Trying to get a better view of that action was a bit problematic, as everything except the road in that area was mined:

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In the 20 minutes we were at that location, we observed three separate engagements just in this limited area on a random day.

There were concerns that we might be spotted, so we drove further north in the Golan, past the UN crossing in Quneitra to the Druze villages.

It was hard to make much of the short time we were there with a front row seat to the Syrian civil war, but it was evident that considerable activity was taking place immediately beside the contested Israel/Syria border in the Golan. There are concerns that if the Syrian Islamic Front — or even hardcore Salafist groups like Jabhat al-Nusra — were to take and hold that area, it could serve as a long-term platform for launching attacks targeting Israel (as already happens in the north with Hezbollah in Lebanon, and in the south with Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Gaza). With the war already spilling into Turkey and Lebanon, an incident in this area could lead to Israel being dragged into the conflict. This area of the Golan saw some of the fiercest fighting exactly 40 years ago during the Yom Kippur War, the remnants of which are still visible.

The situation in Syria has risen to the level of a low-grade regional war. But if it ever becomes a full-fledged regional war — or even a world war — this area of the Golan Hights would unquestionably be Ground Zero for an expansion of the conflict.

Patrick Poole is a national security and terrorism correspondent for PJMedia. Follow me on Twitter.

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All Comments   (14)
All Comments   (14)
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The only thing Israel cannot stand is to be ignored. Syria's Assad has his hands full fighting this Civil War and isn't interested in widening the conflict beyond his borders. The problem for Israel is they want Assad gone or diminished in capability to be a danger to Israeli security. Unfortunately, that isn't about to happen with Russian military assistance. So Israel remains frustrated at the possibility that a vengeful Assad will emerged stronger in this post civil war. That will not be good for Israel considering Assad isn't about to forget Israel's air strikes against Syria sovereign territory. No wonder Israel was the primary instigator for US air strikes against Syria.
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
And you know all this how? Sounds like a far lefty troll.
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
Mike, you're absolutely right. From his using the phrase "Syrian sovereign territory" to, frankly, all the details of his fantasy, Eddie doesn't know what he's talking about. It's so full of holes (forget the point of view, I just mean silly suppositions), that I'm not even going to bother rebutting it as clearly, the other commenters who know better also aren't bothering with him either.
29 weeks ago
29 weeks ago Link To Comment
Yo,
Them Al Qaeda/Shia/Islamist rebels are pretty smart....gettin us to intervene in the civil war like that....makin their own Sarin with the help of the CIA, ..and us havin the "smartest president ever" and the NSA/CIA that sees and hears everything.
I didn't realize how dumb I was.
/s
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
Perhaps this was the reason for Obama, Kerry and the war hawks rush to war before the UN report?

From NoQuarterUSA:

UN Set to Release Report on Chemical Casualties in Syria

By Larry Johnson on September 16, 2013 at 8:21 AM in Current Affairs

If you are hoping for a damning indictment of Bashir Assad and the Syrian military in today’s UN report on the chemical casualties that the Obama folks insisted was a deliberate Sarin gas attack by the Syrian Government, be prepared to be disappointed. The chemical that was used was not military grade Sarin. The Syrian Government uses a binary weapon. What does that mean? You must mix two separate substances together in order to create the nerve agent.

The incident of 21 August was not a persistent, highly lethal military weapon. It was, most likely, a chemical obtained by and/or produced by one of the rebel groups seeking to oust Assad. This was a pre-planned attack by one of the rebel groups who, with the assistance of outside intelligence organizations, were hoping to create an incident that would bring the United States into the fray.

The CIA apparently was not the “brains” behind this effort, but the CIA was witting of the plan. In other words, the CIA knew early on that Assad was not responsible for ordering a chemical weapon attack on rebel positions. But the US was on board for using the incident as a pretext to launch military strikes inside Syria in a bid to weaken Assad and bolster the rebels.

Only one little problem.

The rebel group favored by the Obama Administration and Republican war hawks is a failed organization and incapable of mounting an effective military challenge to Assad. Assad and his military, over the course of the last month, have dramatically shifted the tide of war against the Islamic rebels seeking to impose their vision of Sharia law in Syria. Those elements include strong supporters of Al Qaeda. They are ultra radicals incapable of tolerating other religions.

Obama and his cheerleaders have the lipstick out and are busy painting the Syria pig to appear to be a masterpiece of Global Diplomacy. But the fact is otherwise. The Russians are imposing their will and ensuring that the government of Bashir Assad will stay in power. Vladimir Putin has defanged the Obama effort to provoke a war with Iran on behalf of the Saudis and Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu. Iran’s position in the region is more secure now as a result of the Russian initiative.

Pay close attention to the spin out of the White House today. Should be entertaining.

--

30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
remove the picture of the military facility.
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
Just an ordinary, low level continuing day of slaughter in the part of the world that worships human slaughter as a religious imperative.

I dunno, Assad "only" slaughtered 1,400 or so with chemical weapons in one day, which makes him sort of a piker (his daddy butchered about 20,000 in one day in one town). And actually, Assad made a very persuasive case that his chemical weapons only killed terrorists (implicitly agreeing with the self-evident proposition that almost almost muslims are by definitions terrorists or terrorist supporters).
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
Well, now I understand the case for intervention in Syria a little better.

On the other hand, I have every confidence the IDF can take care of its own, no?

Certainly US intervention that was designed to be ineffective, will be, so I can't see the case for war on that basis.

D
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
remove picture of military facility.
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
Two tales from the past:

In 1971, traveling with a group along the Jordan River, I was allowed to photograph Jordan as seen from one IDF observation post, but the lady soldier had me wait until she'd turned her (non-standard) binoculars so I couldn't photograph through them. I guess they didn't want to show not only what they were looking at but how well they could see.

Then in 1984, as I was touring into the Golan I spotted a sophisticated signal interception array through the bus window. As I started to photograph, the guide gestured me not to do so.

So either this particular facility isn't considered "sensitive" or the Israelis are getting sloppy. But in these days of drones and Google Earth, it's increasingly hard to keep anything above ground secret.
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
Not sure how they stop someone photographing from inside a vehicle with what is probably a cell phone. Not sure this pic gives away secrets, but I do agree with Menachem that it should have been left out.
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
Report filed.
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
Why? Doesn't look like there was any effort to disguise it. I'm pretty sure the Syrians have high-technology surveillance systems known as "eyes", which would have also seen this ...

30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
BenYakov is being a nudge. I found it in 10 minutes on Google Earth.
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
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