Israel stepping up airstrikes against Syrian troops in recent weeks

As Israel attempts to prevent Hezbollah from establishing itself near the Golan, Syrian soldiers have increasingly become the target of its military operations.
Syrian Air Defense Corps soldiers Ali Ma’an Houla, Husein Abdullah and Abdul Shehebeir killed in Israeli airstrikes.

In recent weeks the Israeli military has targeted the Syrian Armed Forces in its “war between the wars” campaign of attempting to thwart the establishment of Hezbollah and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in southern Syria.

On Dec. 30, the IDF began targeting Syrian troops with airstrikes in the city of al-Zabadani, located near the Lebanon-Syria border.

The Syrian state-controlled news organization SANA reported the airstrikes caused “material losses” and a “martyred soldier.” The report of a “martyred soldier” was later proven true when pro-Syrian groups published martyr posters of Sharaf Ali Ma’an Houla, a Lieutenant in the Air Defense Corps.

Eight days later on Jan. 6, the IDF renewed operations against Syrian forces in the village of al-Dur, located south of Damascus. Citing a military source, SANA reported Israel’s attack came from the “direction of the occupied Syrian Golan” against “some targets in the south.”

However, the SANA report failed to mention that a Syrian air defense unit located south of Damascus was attacked which resulted in the deaths of two Syrian soldiers, Abdul Shehebeir and Husein Abdullah.

The recent targeting of Syrian positions has not come without overt warnings from Israel.

Over the last several weeks, the Israeli military has expanded a campaign of dropping leaflets in southern Syria near the Golan Heights. The leaflets warned villagers not to aid Hezbollah or risk becoming a target of the IDF.

“Hezbollah is like cancer, they snatch you in secret and in public, they deceive you with money and fake slogans said by Soleimani, Nasrallah, and Khamanei until you have sanctified them. Hezbollah is preparing Hadar village [Syrian village near the Golan] to be their place like the Shiite villages in south Lebanon. Anybody who deals with Hezbollah is a target,” one leaflet warned.

Other leaflets warned Syrian soldiers that money provided to them by Hezbollah is not worth risking their lives.

“To the elements of the Syrian Army: Hezbollah wants to make Syria a battlefield for it against Israel at your expense. Hezbollah destroyed Lebanon and southern Lebanon, and is now destroying Syria and southern Syria. Hezbollah and especially the southern leadership (Haji Hashem) are doing the impossible to entice you to work with them. The value of the money that you get from them is not equal to the value of your life for you and your families, we will not allow your cooperation with them to continue,” an IDF leaflet dropped on Jan. 7 stated.

It is reasonable to conclude that the increased warnings by Israel and the targeting of Syrian soldiers are connected. Israel is demonstrating that Syrian soldiers will not be spared as it attempts to thwart the establishment of Iranian-led groups near the Golan and the transfer of precision guided munitions to Hezbollah in Lebanon.

With its stepped up airstrikes and leaflet campaign near the Golan Heights, it is highly probable that Israel will be launching more military operations in the coming days or weeks in Syria.

Joe Truzman is a contributor to FDD's Long War Journal.

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