Israel is bracing for a barrage of missiles to be launched toward military positions along its northern front from Syria by Shi’ite militias trained and funded by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Iran is reportedly very determined to carry out an attack. Intelligence reports have indicated such an attack is in the advanced planning stages and might soon be executed as Iran vowed to do in retaliation for an alleged Israeli air strike against the T4 airbase near Homs used by the IRGC two months ago.
Israel has allegedly uncovered involvement by Hezbollah commanders and senior operatives from Shi’ite militias in the planning of the retaliatory strike.
It is believed these militias, along with experts from Hezbollah under the command of the IRGC’s Quds Force Commander Maj.-Gen. Qassem Soleimani, will launch precision-guided missiles or armed drones from a base in Syria.
“The idea is to use heavy Iranian missiles, including the Fateh-110 under the command and with the advisory work of Hezbollah but without an IRGC presence,” Channel 10 reported on Sunday night, adding that Hezbollah members from Lebanon have been brought to Syria to train Shi’ite militia members for the attack.
While military officials have briefed mayors across the country on the latest developments, the heads of local councils in northern Israel have told residents there have been no special instructions or precautions issued.
While Hezbollah and the IRGC are the only groups that have the weapons and know-how to launch such an attack, it is believed the missiles will be launched by one of the many Shi’ite militia groups deployed in Syria to give Tehran the ability to deny their role.
According to Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi, a research fellow at the Middle East Forum, there are several key candidates who might launch the missile barrage for Iran.
“The Syrian civil war has led to the expansion of the IRGC’s network of regional clients,” Tamimi told The Jerusalem Post.
“[There are] a variety of groups that could possibly strike Israel on its behalf, such as one of the many new ‘Syrian Hezbollah’ groups integrated into the registers of the Syrian armed forces, or one of the Iraqi groups that emerged during the war, like Harakat al-Nujaba and its ‘Golan Liberation Brigade.’”
Another possible group, Tamimi said, was a Palestinian organization linked to Hezbollah and the IRGC, such as the “Force of Return,” which is currently fighting for the regime of Bashar Assad in the Yarmouk camp outside Damascus.
“But it still remains the case that Lebanon’s Hezbollah, which maintains some bases in Syria, is the most likely and capable of carrying out an attack,” Tamimi said.
According to Michael Horowitz, senior regional analyst at Le Beck, a Middle East-based geopolitical consultancy group, having Hezbollah carry out the attack would go against the plans by Tehran, which is said to be trying to avoid full-fledged war with Israel.
“This would defeat the purpose of using Shi’ite militias, which in my opinion was meant to enable Iran to respond without actually provoking an escalation,” Horowitz told the Post.
In recent months, Israel has have identified and released pictures of several air bases throughout Syria it said are being used by Iranian forces. The pictures have been released to the media in an effort to deter Iran from carrying out their strike, as those bases would likely be targeted by Israel in response.
According to Horowitz, “Israel chose to publish such threats to send the message that it will see any attack coming from an Iranian-backed group as one actually coming from Iran, and thus will respond in kind.”
Tensions have risen dramatically between the two arch-enemies recently. In late April, Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon told the UN Security Council that there were “over 80,000 extremists from all over the Middle East who are members of Shia militias in Syria under Iranian control.”
Israeli officials have been warning of Iranian entrenchment on the Golan Heights, an area of key strategic importance for the Jewish state. They have stressed that such activity is a red line for Jerusalem. Officials have also said the northern border is no longer considered two separate entities, but one continuous front.
In February, OC Northern Command Maj.-Gen. Amit Fisher warned not only of the Iranian entrenchment across the border, but also of the return of Syrian troops to an area which was relatively quiet for close to six years while under the control of rebels.
“We must prepare ourselves operationally and in terms of intelligence for the growing threat: the return of the Syrian Army and Iranian forces, Hezbollah and others,” he said.