News / Middle East

    Israel Strengthens Syria Border With Eye on Hezbollah

    A United Nations vehicle drives into a base near the Quneitra border crossing between Israel and Syria, in the Golan Heights, June 7, 2013. A United Nations vehicle drives into a base near the Quneitra border crossing between Israel and Syria, in the Golan Heights, June 7, 2013.
    x
    A United Nations vehicle drives into a base near the Quneitra border crossing between Israel and Syria, in the Golan Heights, June 7, 2013.
    A United Nations vehicle drives into a base near the Quneitra border crossing between Israel and Syria, in the Golan Heights, June 7, 2013.
    Reuters
    Israel is bolstering its forces on the once-quiet frontier with Syria where it believes Lebanese Hezbollah militants are preparing for the day when they could fight Israel.

    Syria's civil war has brought an end to decades of calm on the Golan Heights, a strip of land which Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war. Battles between rebels fighting against President Bashar al-Assad's forces in Syrian villages nearby are being watched intensely by Israel's military.

    Hezbollah, which is also backed by Iran, has sent thousands of its own fighters to combat Syrian rebels, according to Israeli and Western estimates.

    Israel last fought Hezbollah in a 2006 Lebanon war and still closely monitors the Lebanese border. Israel says Hezbollah has tens of thousands of rockets in its south Lebanon stronghold.

    The Jewish state is worried Hezbollah is making initial preparations for future confrontation with it on a new front with Syria and is accruing valuable combat experience on the Syrian battlefield.

    An Israeli source said the group is gathering intelligence on Israel's deployment on the strategic Golan plateau.

    “It is not at an alarming level now but we understand their intentions,” said the source, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the security and political situation in the area.

    Hezbollah's leader, Hassan Nasrallah, threatened in May to turn the Golan into a new front against Israel.

    “Since Nasrallah's threat, more [Israeli] army companies have been sent up, more tanks,” an Israeli military source at the Booster military outpost on the Golan. “Hezbollah has an intelligence presence [in the Golan] that we know of.”

    Hot spot

    Booster is about 2 km (1 mile) from a disengagement line set after Israel and Syria fought on the Golan in 1973 and Israeli tanks have just moved back into the position for the first time since then.

    Daytime is peaceful on the rocky outcrop that gives a turret-top view of Syrian villages below, with birdsong echoing across sun-scorched fields. That changes at nightfall.

    “Every night there is fighting [in the villages across the frontier], explosions and shooting all through the night. This is the hottest spot on the Golan Heights,” Shilo said. “As far as we're concerned, any bullet that crosses over is intentional.”

    A U.N. observer force monitors the area of separation between Syrian and Israeli forces, a narrow strip of land running 70 km (45 miles) from Mount Hermon on the Lebanese border to the Yarmouk River frontier with Jordan.

    The observers have been caught in the middle of fighting between Syrian troops and rebels. Stray shells and bullets have landed on the Israeli-controlled side of the Golan, and Israeli troops have fired into Syria in response.

    The rebels have detained peacekeepers on several different occasions before releasing them. Japan and Croatia have withdrawn troops due to the violence as has Austria with the gap being filled by soldiers from Fiji.

    Among the rebels fighting the Syrian army are jihadi and Qaeda-linked groups, which Israel says are also a future threat to the Jewish state.

    “We know they are busy now but once it ends they will turn their guns on us,” said the military source.

    “We have learnt our lessons from Sinai,” the source said, referring to the Egyptian peninsula where Islamist militants have launched attacks on Egyptian soldiers and across the border at Israel amid deepening turmoil in Egypt.

    “We're not waiting for an attack [from Syria]. We're building the border fence, we have sent up tanks, more regiments, field intelligence... and increased observations.”

    Surveillance

    Israel is particularly worried that Hezbollah will get hold of advanced weapon systems or chemical arms in Syria. Israel has struck inside Syria at least three times in the past few months against what it believed to be anti-aircraft and advanced ground missiles destined for the group.

    Foreign forces destroyed advanced Russian anti-ship missiles in Syria last week, rebels said on Tuesday - a disclosure that appeared to point to an Israeli raid. Israel has not confirmed or denied involvement.

    The army has also deployed a high-tech surveillance system along the Syria front, which immediately zeroes in on any suspicious movements approaching Israeli-held territory.

    “It is critical for us to know who is sitting there - if it's an Islamist jihadi or a rebel who just wants to defend his family,” the military source said.

    In June, the Syrian army and Hezbollah captured the strategic Syrian town Qusair from rebel forces.

    Israel watched closely and last month held a military drill that simulated taking over a northern Israeli town of Safed in preparation for possible conflict.

    Israeli military sources on the Israel-Lebanon border said that despite its deep involvement in Syria, Hezbollah has not loosened its grip on the border area in south Lebanon.

    “Hezbollah's legitimacy in the Arab world is cracking over its involvement in Syria,” said one source on the Lebanon border. “But on the other hand, if they come under a lot of pressure they could chose to ignite the border.”

    Israeli commanders have noticed that Hezbollah had taken down some of its flags, as well as those of Iran, that once hung proudly in the border villages, a sign it could be worried about its image.

    You May Like

    Chechen Suspected in Istanbul Attack, but Questions Remain

    Turkish sources say North Caucasus militants involved in bombing at Ataturk airport, but name of at least one alleged attacker raises doubts

    With Johnson Out, Can a New ‘Margaret Thatcher’ Save Britain?

    Contest to replace David Cameron as Britain’s prime minister started in earnest Thursday with top candidates outlining strategy to deal with Brexit fallout

    US Finds Progress Slow Against Human Trafficking in Africa

    Africa continues to be a major source and destination for human trafficking of all kinds -- from forced labor to sexual slavery, says State Department report

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Clinton Leads Trump, But Many Voters Don't Like Eitheri
    X
    Jim Malone
    June 29, 2016 6:16 PM
    In the U.S. presidential race, most recent polls show Democrat Hillary Clinton with a steady lead over Republican Donald Trump as both presumptive party nominees prepare for their party conventions next month. Trump’s disapproval ratings have risen in some recent surveys, but Clinton also suffers from high negative ratings, suggesting both candidates have a lot of work to do to improve their images before the November election. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Clinton Leads Trump, But Many Voters Don't Like Either

    In the U.S. presidential race, most recent polls show Democrat Hillary Clinton with a steady lead over Republican Donald Trump as both presumptive party nominees prepare for their party conventions next month. Trump’s disapproval ratings have risen in some recent surveys, but Clinton also suffers from high negative ratings, suggesting both candidates have a lot of work to do to improve their images before the November election. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Slow Rebuilding Amid Boko Haram Destruction in Nigeria’s Northeast

    Military operations have chased Boko Haram out of towns and cities in Nigeria’s northeast since early last year. But it is only recently that people have begun returning to their homes in Adamawa state, near the border with Cameroon, to try to rebuild their lives. For VOA, Chris Stein traveled to the area and has this report.
    Video

    Video New US Ambassador to Somalia Faces Heavy Challenges

    The new U.S. envoy to Somalia, who was sworn into office Monday, will be the first American ambassador to that nation in 25 years. He will take up his post as Somalia faces a number of crucial issues, including insecurity, an upcoming election, and the potential closure of the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya. VOA’s Jill Craig asked Somalis living in Kenya’s capital city Nairobi how they feel about the U.S. finally installing a new ambassador.
    Video

    Video At National Zoo, Captivating Animal Sculptures Illustrate Tragedy of Ocean Pollution

    The National Zoo in Washington, D.C., is home to about 1,800 animals, representing 300 species. But throughout the summer, visitors can also see other kinds of creatures there. They are larger-than-life animal sculptures that speak volumes about a global issue — the massive plastic pollution in our oceans. VOA's June Soh takes us to the zoo's special exhibit, called Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea.
    Video

    Video Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roar

    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Melting Pot of Immigrants Working to Restore US Capitol Dome

    The American Iron Works company is one of the firms working to renovate the iconic U.S. Capitol Dome. The company employs immigrants of many different cultural and national backgrounds. VOA’s Arman Tarjimanyan has more.
    Video

    Video Testing Bamboo as Building Material

    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Orphanage in Iraqi City Houses Kids Who Lost their Parents to Attacks by IS

    An orphanage in Iraqi Kurdistan has become home to scores of Yazidi children who lost their parents after Islamic State militants took over Sinjar in Iraq’s Nineveh Province in 2014. Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by the U.S. airstrikes have since recaptured Sinjar but the need for the care provided by the orphanage continues. VOA’s Kawa Omar filed this report narrated by Rob Raffaele.
    Video

    Video Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmark

    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Brexit Resounds in US Presidential Contest

    Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is resounding in America’s presidential race. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump sees Britain’s move as an affirmation of his campaign’s core messages, while Democrat Hillary Clinton sees the episode as further evidence that Trump is unfit to be president.
    Video

    Video NASA Juno Spacecraft, Nearing Jupiter, to Shed Light on Gas Giant

    After a five-year journey, the spacecraft Juno is nearing its destination, the giant planet Jupiter, where it will enter orbit and start sending data back July 4th. As Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, the craft will pierce the veil of Jupiter's dense cloud cover to reveal its mysteries.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora