Why Russia deployed military posts on borders of occupied Golan Heights

A watchtower belonging to United Nations peacekeeping forces next to the Quneitra crossing near the ceasefire line between Israel and Syria in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights - March 25, 2019 (Reuters)

A watchtower belonging to United Nations peacekeeping forces next to the Quneitra crossing near the ceasefire line between Israel and Syria in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights - March 25, 2019 (Reuters)

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Enab Baladi – Baraa Khattab

The Russian Ministry of Defense deployed two new points in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights on January 3 to monitor the ceasefire between Syria and Israel.

The Deputy Head of the Russian Center for Reconciliation (affiliated with the Ministry of Defense), Admiral Vadim Kulit, said that his country had established two military points in southern Syria against the backdrop of increasing provocations in the demilitarized zone.

According to the Russian news agency (TASS), units from the Russian military police were stationed at the new points to “monitor the ceasefire.”

Enab Baladi‘s correspondent in Quneitra reported that the military posts were located in the villages of Mualaqah and Ghadir al-Bustan south of Quneitra.

After an absence of more than a year, Russia resumed its military patrols in southern Syria at the beginning of November 2023, as a Russian military patrol traveled south of Quneitra between Mualaqah and Ghadir al-Bustan, near the Safra company belonging to the 90th Brigade south of the governorate belonging to the regime’s army.

Enab Baladi‘s correspondent in Quneitra reported at the time that a Russian patrol went out on a tour near the borders with the occupied territories and conducted a round inside Safra company.

The Russian patrols had completely disappeared from the region for more than a year after Russia evacuated the Red Hills military position north of the governorate in mid-2021 and has not returned to the area since then.

Israel occupied the Golan Heights in 1967, and the Syrian forces were not allowed to enter the buffer zone as per the 1973 ceasefire agreement.

Over the past years, the Syrian regime accused Israel of supporting opposition factions on the borders of the occupied Golan, especially in the Quneitra countryside and its adjacent areas.

In 2018, the regime regained control of southern Syria with Russian support, known at the time as the “settlement agreement,” which led to the withdrawal of heavy weapons from opposition factions and relocated those who rejected the “settlement” towards the last opposition stronghold in northwest Syria.

During the same period, the regime forces returned to their positions near the borders with the occupied Golan Heights, while Russia positioned itself in areas of the Quneitra and Daraa governorates, then withdrew from them with the onset of its war in Ukraine.

The Goal

Dr. Nasr al-Yousef, an expert on Russian affairs, told Enab Baladi that the purpose of these two points can be summarized by monitoring the provocative operations between Syria and Israel “because Israel claims that there are actions by the Syrian side that cannot be ignored, and conversely the Syrian side says it is under constant targeting by Israel.”

Al-Yousef believes that by placing these points, Russia tries to play the role of a judge and mediator between the two sides, such that these points would only serve a monitoring role.

He added that the current situation in Syria is suitable for Russia because the raging war between Israel and Gaza has distracted the West from what is happening in Ukraine. He stated, “But Russia does not want the war to expand further so as not to extend to Syria because the presence of the regime’s president is a good thing for it, and maintaining the status quo at this stage is in its interest,” and Russia will try to prevent heating up the region between Israel and Syria through these points.

Gradual escalation

Russia’s withdrawal from southern Syria opened the door for Iranian militias to infiltrate the area, making it vulnerable to repeated targeting by Israel, which bombed the area frequently, targeting individuals in these militias.

Mustafa al-Nuaimi, a researcher specializing in Iranian affairs, told Enab Baladi, “We are witnessing a scene of gradual escalation by both the Iranian and Israeli sides.”

Al-Nuaimi sees that the Russian side is trying to reposition itself to ward off any attempt by the Israeli side to advance on this front on the ground by at least keeping the Iranian militias away from the southern area adjacent to the Golan.

He added that this measure will not deter those militias because they will return dressed as the Syrian regime’s forces to the area, and the previous scenario of conveying deterrent messages through paper leaflets that Israeli planes drop in the area will be back, which threaten the leaders of Hezbollah and Quds Force militias and other Iranian-loyal militias. Moreover, the Israeli side does not trust Russia to have the ground military capacity to control the area to a depth of 45 kilometers, and therefore, al-Nuaimi expects the scenario of postponing the battle rather than canceling it.

He continued that if Iran positioned itself near the military points, Israel would direct air strikes at it, which in one way or another would contribute to the collapse of any post-agreement concluded after the establishment of these Russian military points, which al-Nuaimi sees as merely a military protocol that prevents the Israeli side from directing strikes at the Iranian positioning in the southern region of Syria, “but its repercussions will be more significant if those militias remain after this repositioning.”

Since the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) launched the “Al-Aqsa Flood” operation in the Gaza Strip environs on October 7, 2023, and Hezbollah ignited the southern Lebanese front, the southern front in Syria with Israel has seen repeated rocket launches towards Israeli settlements in the occupied Golan.

Israeli Air Force and artillery continued to respond to these rockets by targeting their sources in southern Syria, some of which went further by repeatedly bombing military positions for the regime forces in the governorates of Daraa, Quneitra, and As-Suwayda in response to the launch of these rockets.

In 2020, the Israeli Alma Center issued a report talking about an Iranian intelligence unit named “Golan File” working to build infrastructures for a “terror cell” in southern Syria on behalf of Lebanese Hezbollah.

The report indicated that the purpose of this activity is to gather information and carry out security operations against Israel, with unit members and operators being local Syrian residents who know the area well and can blend in with the local population.

Israel violates borders

Since mid-2022, Israeli military vehicles have been working on constructing and paving a road inside Syrian territory, according to what was reported by Enab Baladi‘s correspondent in the Quneitra governorate and monitored by Israeli reporters during different periods, the latest of which in November 2022, when the Israeli Kan 11 channel broadcasted a report that included recorded footage from inside the Syrian territory.

Israeli Defense Forces entered the Syrian territory in mid-2022 with a military force consisting of six Merkava tanks and two military bulldozers accompanied by a number of soldiers to monitor the borders and vehicles to build a road named “Sofa 53”.

Enab Baladi‘s correspondent in Quneitra reported that Israeli vehicles continue to work on paving the road to this day, and the depth of work inside the Syrian territory is at least about 100 meters, reaching one kilometer in some areas.

 

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