Hezbollah has established dozens of terrorist cells in southern Syria, just over the Israeli border, composed of local recruits, a Galilee-based defense research group says.
They could soon begin to use drones in operations against Israel, added the Alma Research and Education Center.
The assessment followed the Israel Defense Forces’ Feb. 20 announcement that on Jan. 27, soldiers apprehended two suspects who crossed the Alpha Line from Syria into Israel. The Alpha Line is near the Israeli-Syrian border barrier on the Golan Heights.
One of the suspects, a Syrian named Ei’th Abdollah, “is involved in terrorist activity and intelligence gathering operations in the area of the border in order to promote future terrorist activities,” and is a member of the “Golan File”—the Hezbollah-backed network of terror cells in the area—the IDF said.
“Ei’th was under IDF surveillance in the area of the border and was apprehended during operational activity east of the border fence in an enclave located under Israeli sovereignty, along with another suspect. During the questioning, Ei’th provided information regarding additional terrorist operatives that promote terrorist activities in the area of the border,” the army added.
Maj. (res.) Tal Beeri, head of research at the Alma Center, described the Golan File as a “military terrorist infrastructure that was built by Hezbollah, with Iranian-Syrian cooperation, in order to create a new front of terrorism against Israel from the Syrian border.
“It is made up of dozens of cells, with each cell made up of local squads of Syrians. These are Sunni and Druze operatives located all along the Israeli border with Syria on the Golan Heights, from the village of Hader in the [Syrian-held portion of the] northern Golan to the triangle of borders of Israel, Jordan and Syria,” Beeri assessed.
The terrorist cells operate in areas where their members live apparently ordinary civilian lives but are in fact part of a Hezbollah stratagem to create a new front against Israel.
“There are some cells that operate independently, and others that act as part of a cluster under the instructions of a more senior handler. The handler himself is sometimes a local. In either case, presiding over this ‘food chain’ is a Lebanese Hezbollah operative who instructs the squads, activating them,” said Beeri.
Bombs, rockets, snipers and raids
The Golan File network’s objective is to generate terrorism against Israel, and this is preceded by the gathering of intelligence. The intention is to plant bombs, fire rockets, conduct sniper fire, launch anti-tank fire, and plot cross-border raids, he added.
Golan File cells have been active for some time, according to Beeri. “This is a pretty veteran infrastructure, which Hezbollah began consolidating nine years ago on the Golan Heights. In effect, it developed into dozens of cells that are active today,” he stated.
The network sometimes acts with local Syrian military support. “It uses Syrian military lookouts, positions, equipment, and we hear media reports of [alleged Israeli] airstrikes on Syrian positions along the border, followed by leaflets warning Syrian commanders about cooperation with Hezbollah. Usually this is about the Syrian military allowing the cells to arrive at Syrian positions,” said Beeri.
“They could also be planning infiltrations into Israel to conduct attacks, like kidnappings of Israeli soldiers and using them to try and free security prisoners,” he warned.
“Israel in my view has to continue the policy of hunting these operatives, who form a clear and present danger,” Beeri stated.
The area where the IDF arrested the suspected terror operative in late January is a known trouble spot.
In the same area, there have been “a number of attempts made to plant bombs against the IDF—including by Unit 840 of the Iranian Quds Force,” said Beeri.
Golan File operatives can also, on occasion, be “loaned out” to Iran to conduct activity against Israel, he stated.
In most cases, the local terror operatives are motivated by money, not ideology, said Beeri.
“They don’t identify with Hezbollah’s goals but they show up because Hezbollah pays well and they have to survive,” he said. “They get relatively good money. They mostly have a military background—some are members of militias that cooperated with the Syrian military, some are former Syrian military personnel, and some were rebels who fought against the Assad regime. Despite the contradiction, the former rebels work with Hezbollah and understand they have to survive, change their affiliation and go with those who pay.”
Such operatives are proficient in operating anti-tank missiles, mortars, sniper rifles and bombs.
“They fit in well with the local population because they are locals. In the end, they’re proxies that are very comfortable for Hezbollah to use and they sometimes double-up as Iranian proxies, too,” said Beeri.