Israeli military bulldozers backed by tanks have crossed into the demilitarized zone dividing the Israeli and Syrian Golan borders. They are building a line of fortifications and anti-tank trenches 300-500 meters inside the DMZ.
This is the first time in the six-year Syrian war that the IDF has openly operated on the Syrian side of the border. The force has not so far run into opposition- or indeed any word of protest – or even mention – by Assad regime officials in Damascus.
The sole reference to Israeli military movements in the DMZ has come from a small Syrian rebel group which described them.
DEBKAfile’s military sources report that the IDF operation was still going forward Wednesday, July 12, on a patch of terrain facing the Israeli Golan village of Ein Zivan, on the one hand, and the Syrian town of Quneitra, on the other.
The enclave splitting the Golan between Syria and Israel is defined in the 1974 armistice agreements as a demilitarized zone under the military control of the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) and Syrian civilian administration. It is bounded by two strips of land around 10km deep where each side is permitted to maintain diluted military strength. No ground-to-air missiles may be deployed inside a 25km radius from the DMZ.
It was agreed that Syrian nationals forced by the October 1973 war and its aftermath to leave their homes would be able to return. Ruined Quneitra was later handed back to Syria against a commitment by its government to repopulate the town and ban terrorist activity and infiltrations of Israel from the Golan sector.
Both commitments were given orally to the US government.
However, the Syrian war as it unfolded in the last two years turned the deal on its head. The UN observers abandoned their posts, leaving behind a void that was partly filled by Syrian troops and a motley assortment of rebel groups.
But the DMZ was left mostly unoccupied as both Israel and Syria tried to preserve at least the semblance of the deal intact. However, Assad’s allies Iran and Hizballah have repeatedly attempted to plant a forward military and terrorist presence opposite Israel’s Golan defense lines – with avowed hostile intent.
The silence from Damascus on Israel’s military steps on the Golan may be no more than a respite as the Syrian ruler waits for Tehran’s endorsement of joint Syrian-Iranian-Hizballah counteraction.
Our sources add that IDF military steps on the ground were accompanied by unusual Israeli Air Force movements over Syria and Lebanon, and elevated preparedness on the 10th anniversary this week of the Lebanon war fought between Hizballah and Israel.
It was noted that Hizballah refrained from celebrating the occasion and omitted its customary boasts of a “great victory” – thereby intensifying the sense in Israeli military circles that Iran’s Lebanese proxy may be cooking up a surprise operation.