JERUSALEM: Israel’s army said Wednesday it has uncovered a unit created by Hezbollah across the cease-fire line in the Syrian Golan Heights and led by a commander previously jailed over an attack on US forces.
With President Bashar Assad regaining control of southern Syria with the help of Russia and Hezbollah backer Iran, Israel is concerned a front against it could be established there.
Hezbollah, based in neighboring Lebanon, has also been supporting Assad in Syria’s civil war.
The Shiite group is among Israel’s main enemies and the two fought a war in 2006.
Israel said the new unit had been established without Assad’s knowledge, and some Israeli media reported that part of the aim in publicizing it was in hopes Syria and Russia would move to stop it.
It alleged the new unit, “masterminded” by Hezbollah, had been set up “to eventually control teams of Syrian operatives who will launch attacks against Israel.” “We are not going to allow Hezbollah to establish a terror infrastructure on the Golan capable of striking Israeli civilians,” said Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, Israeli military spokesman.
“We hold the Syrian regime responsible for anything that happens inside Syria aimed at Israel.” The army said the unit was in the establishment and recruitment stage and was not yet operational.
Hezbollah began establishing it in the summer of 2018, it said.
It said it is led by Hezbollah commander Ali Musa Daqduq.
In 2012, Daqduq was released by Iraq due to lack of evidence after being accused of plotting to kill five US soldiers in the Iraqi city of Karbala.
Daqduq was captured in 2007 on suspicion he had helped organise an attack that led to the deaths of the five soldiers.
He was held by American troops until he was handed over to Iraqi officials in December 2011.
Israel says a previous such unit was established in the Syrian Golan under the command of Samir Kantar and Jihad Mughniyeh. Kantar was killed in a 2015 airstrike in Damascus blamed on Israel. Mughniyeh was also killed in an air raid attributed to Israel earlier that year.
According to Israel’s military, the new unit was seeking to revive infrastructure left behind by the former one.
“The field operatives who fill the ranks of the network and act exclusively in Syria are composed of various groups and networks who previously took part in terrorist activity in the Golan Heights under the notorious network of Kantar and Mughniyeh,” the army said.