The IDF launched an unannounced military-air exercise in northen Israel Monday April 18. It will also be held in the Jordan valley, strategically located south of the Golan Heights and the Sea of Galilee. Despite the official explanation that the drills are part of the IDF’s training schedule for 2016, it is difficult not to see it as a follow-up to the Cabinet meeting on the Golan the previous day, including Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu’s declaration that “Israel will never withdraw from the Golan.”
Just as the Cabinet meeting was an “emergency” one, the exercise is not part of standard training, as an IDF statement claimed, but rather part of the overall picture of the war in Syria on the other side of the northeastern border.
The drill is mainly intended to prevent a possible attack by ISIS, Syrian, Iranian or Hizballah forces aimed at torpedoing Netanyahu’s discussions in Moscow with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday, April 21.
DEBKAfile’s military sources report that the IDF exercise shows only half of the military picture in the area.
On the other side of the border, in the triangular pocket where the Israeli, Syrian and Jordanian borders meet, heavy fighting has been underway for several days between Syrian rebels and forces of the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigades and the al-Muthanna organization, which have both sworn allegiance to ISIS. The battles are taking place across from Israel’s Hamat Gader, south of the Sea of Galilee, which is the reason why the exercise is also being held in the Jordan Valley.
On Sunday, the leader and commander of Al-Muthanna was killed during the fighting. The goal of the rebel attack is to capture the Syrian villages in the territory held by ISIS, which threatens the Galilee and the Golan communities of Tel Katzir, Shaar Hagolan and Masada. Sources in Kuwait reported last week that Jordanian special forces and Israeli drones marked in the colors of the Jordanian air force are participating in the battles. The developments on the ground indicate that the goal of the attacking forces is to uproot ISIS from the Israeli and Jordanian border areas.
DEBKAfile’s sources provided the following exclusive details on April 17:
The Israeli cabinet holds its weekly session Sunday April 17, on the Golan. Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu will visit Moscow on Thursday, April 21 to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin and to launch the most important battle of his political career, and one of Israel’s most decisive contests of the last 10 years: the battle over the future of the Golan Heights.
DEBKAfile’s intelligence sources and its sources in Moscow report exclusively that Israel’s top political leaders and military commanders were stunned and shocked last weekend when they found out that US President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin have agreed to support the return of the Golan to Syria. The two presidents gave their top diplomats, Secretary of State John Kerry and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, the green light to include such a clause in a proposal being drafted at the Geneva conference on ending the Syrian civil war.
Israel captured the Golan from the Syrian army 49 years ago, during the Six-Day War in 1967 after the Syrian army invaded Israel.
In 1981, during the tenure of then Prime Minister Menachem Begin, Israel passed a law defining the Golan as a territory under Israeli sovereignty. However, it did not state that the area belongs to Israel.’
While Israel was preparing for a diplomatic battle over the future of Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, Obama and Putin decided to deal a diplomatic blow to Israel and Netanyahu’s government on an unexpected issue, the Golan.
It is part of an endeavor by the two powers to use their diplomatic and military cooperation regarding Syria to impose agreements on neighboring countries, such as Israel, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Jordan.
For example, Washington and Moscow are trying to impose an agreement regarding the granting of independence to Syrian Kurds, despite Ankara’s adamant opposition. The two presidents are also pressuring Riyadh and Amman to accept the continuation of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s rule, at least for the immediate future.
DEBKAfile’s sources report that just like the other diplomatic or military steps initiated by Obama and Putin in Syria, such as those for Assad’s eventual removal from power, the two powers see a resolution of the Golan issue as a gradual process that may take a long time, perhaps even years. But as far as they are concerned, Israel will have to withdraw from the Golan at the end of that process.
It should be noted that Prime Minister Netanyahu is not traveling to Washington to discuss the Golan issue with Obama. The frequent trips by the prime minister, senior officials and top IDF brass to Moscow in recent months show where the winds are blowing in the Middle East.
However, Moscow is not Washington, and Israel has no lobby in the Russian capital defending its interests.
It should be made very clear that the frequent trips by senior Israeli officials to Moscow have not created an Israeli policy that can influence Putin or other senior members of the Russian leadership. Putin has made occasional concessions to Israel on matters of minimal strategic importance, but on diplomatic and military steps regarding Syria and Iran he has shown little consideration of Jerusalem’s stance.
It should also be noted that there has been no basis for the enthusiasm over the Russian intervention in Syria shown by Netanyahu, Israeli ministers and senior IDF officers.
All of the calls by a number of Russia experts, mainly those of DEBKAfile, for extreme caution in ties with Putin have fallen on deaf ears among the political leadership in Jerusalem and the IDF command in Tel Aviv.
Amid these developments, three regional actors are very pleased by Washington and Moscow’s agreement to demand Israeli withdrawal from the Golan: Syrian President Assad, the Iranian leadership in Tehran and Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah.
Now, they do not need to risk a military confrontation with Israel over the Golan because Obama and Putin have essentially agreed to do the dirty work for them.