Quneitra

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This article is about a city in Syria. For the city in Morocco, see Kenitra. For the city in Egypt, see El-Qantarah el-Sharqiyya.
Quneitra
القنيطرة
View of Quneitra
View of Quneitra
Quneitra is located in Syria
Quneitra
Quneitra
Quneitra in Syria
Coordinates: 33°07′N 35°49′E / 33.117°N 35.817°E / 33.117; 35.817
Country  Syria
Governorate Quneitra
District Quneitra District
Region Golan Heights
Settled around AD 1000
Destroyed 1974
Government
 • Governor Nawaf Abboud al-Fares
Elevation[1] 1,010 m (3,313 ft)
Population (2004 census[2])
 • City 153
 • Metro 4,318
Time zone EET (UTC+2)
 • Summer (DST) EEST (UTC+3)
Area code(s) 43
Website eQunaytra

Quneitra (also Al Qunaytirah, Qunaitira, or Kuneitra; Arabic: القنيطرةal-Qunayṭrah)[pronunciation?] is the largely destroyed and abandoned capital of the Quneitra Governorate in south-western Syria. It is situated in a high valley in the Golan Heights at an elevation of 1,010 metres (3,313 feet)[1] above sea level. Quneitra was founded in the Ottoman era as a way station on the caravan route to Damascus and subsequently became a garrison town of some 20,000 people, strategically located near the ceasefire line with Israel. Its name is Arabic for "the little bridge".[3]

On 10 June 1967, the last day of the Six-Day War, Quneitra came under Israeli control.[4] It was briefly recaptured by Syria during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, but Israel regained control in its subsequent counter-offensive. The city was almost completely destroyed before the Israeli withdrawal in June 1974. It now lies in the demilitarized United Nations Disengagement Observer Force Zone between Syria and Israel, a short distance from the de facto border between the two countries, and is populated by only a handful of families. Syria refused to rebuild the city and actively discourages resettlement in the area. Israel was heavily criticized by the United Nations for the city's destruction,[5] while Israel has also criticized Syria for not rebuilding Quneitra.[6]

Political status[edit]

Quneitra is the capital of the Quneitra Governorate, a district of southwestern Syria that incorporates the whole of the Golan Heights. The city of Quneitra is within the portion of the Golan Heights controlled by Syria.[7]

Geography and demographics[edit]

Map of the Golan Heights as of 1989, illustrating the location of Quneitra and the surrounding area.

Quneitra is situated in a high valley in the Golan Heights at an altitude of 942 m (3,091 ft) above sea level. It is overshadowed to the west by the Israeli-held portion of the Golan Heights and the peak of Har Bental. The surrounding area is dominated by ancient volcanic lava flows interspersed by a number of dormant volcanic cones which rise some 150–200 m (500–700 ft) above the surrounding plain. The volcanic hills of the region have played a key role as observation points and natural firing positions in the conflicts over the region, most notably in the Yom Kippur War.[8] In more peaceful times, the fertile volcanic soil has supported agricultural activities such as wheat growing and pastoralism.[1]

Writing during the inter-war period, the American traveller Harriet-Louise H. Patterson recorded that Quneitra was

charmingly set in a grove of eucalyptus trees. Its chief claim to charm or the few moments of a traveller's time beyond passport formalities is the beautiful vista which it offers of Jordan as it flows down from Hermon through banks of tangled bush and flowering pink and white oleanders. Kuneitra is pleasant as a stopping-place for lunch. It is cool under the spreading trees, usually quiet and restful.[9]

The city's position on an important trade route gave it a varied population for much of its history. By the start of the 20th century it was dominated by Muslim Circassians from the Caucasus. Its population grew to some 21,000 people, mostly Arabs, following Syrian independence from France in 1946.[7] After its abandonment in 1967 and subsequent destruction, its population was dispersed to other parts of Syria. The city remains abandoned apart from a residual Syrian security presence.

History[edit]

Early history[edit]

The surrounding area has been inhabited for millennia. Palaeolithic hunter-gatherers are thought to have lived there, as evidenced by the discovery of Levallois and Mousterian flint tools in the vicinity.[10] A settlement was established at least as early as Roman and Byzantine times, serving as a stop on the road from Damascus to western Palestine. Saint Paul is said to have passed through the settlement on his way from Jerusalem to Damascus. The site of the Conversion of Paul was traditionally identified with the small village of Kokab, north-east of Quneitra, on the road to Damascus.[11]

In 1868 a travel handbook reported that the site was a "ruined village of about 80 or 100 houses" and that a large caravanserai also stood in ruins.[12]

The Ottoman Empire settled large numbers of Circassians in the Golan region after 1878, who built Quneitra and a number of surrounding villages.[13] The modern city grew up around the nucleus of the old Ottoman caravanserai, which had been built using the stones of a ruined ancient settlement.[14] By the mid-1880s, Quneitra had become the main city and seat of government of the Golan. Gottlieb Schmacher wrote in 1888 that it "consists of 260 buildings, which are mostly well and carefully constructed of basalt stones, and contains, excluding the soldiers and officials, 1,300 inhabitants, principally Circassians."[15]

During World War I, the Australian Mounted Division and 5th Cavalry Division defeated the Ottoman Turks at Quneitra on 29 September 1918, before they took Damascus [16] (see also Battle of Megiddo (1918)). Quneitra saw several battles during the Syria-Lebanon Campaign of the Second World War, including the Battle of Damascus and Battle of Kissoué.[17]

Arab-Israeli conflict[edit]

When the modern states of Syria and Israel gained their independence from France and Britain respectively after the Second World War, Quneitra gained a new strategic significance as a key road junction some 15 miles (24 km) from the border. It became a prosperous market town and military garrison, with its population tripling to over 20,000 people, predominately Arabs.[7]

Six-Day War[edit]

Quneitra was the Syrian headquarters for the Golan Heights.[18] The Israeli capture of the city occurred in chaotic circumstances on 10 June 1967, the last day of the Six-Day War. Israeli forces advancing towards Quneitra from the north-west prompted Syrian troops to deploy north of the city, under heavy bombardment, to defend the road to Damascus. At 8:45 a.m., Syrian radio broadcast an announcement that the city had fallen, though it actually had not. Alarmed, the Syrian Army's redeployment turned into a chaotic retreat along the Damascus road.

According to 8th Brigade Commander Ibrahim Isma'il Khahya:

We received orders to block the roads leading to Quneitra. But then the fall of the city was announced and that caused many of my soldiers to leave the front and run back to Syria while the roads were still open. They piled onto vehicles. It further crushed our morale. I retreated before I ever saw an enemy soldier.[19]

Although a correction was broadcast two hours later, the Israelis took advantage of the confusion to seize Quneitra.[20] An armoured brigade under Colonel Albert Mandler entered Quneitra at 2:30 p.m. and found the city deserted and strewn with abandoned military equipment. One of the Israeli commanders later commented:

We arrived almost without hindrance to the gates of Quneitra ... All around us there were huge quantities of booty. Everything was in working order. Tanks with their engines still running, communication equipment still in operation had been abandoned. We captured Quneitra without a fight.[21]

Time magazine reported: "In an effort to pressure the United Nations into enforcing a ceasefire, Damascus Radio undercut its own army by broadcasting the fall of the city of El Quneitra three hours before it actually capitulated. That premature report of the surrender of their headquarters destroyed the morale of the Syrian troops left in the Golan area."[18]

A ceasefire was agreed later in the afternoon, leaving Quneitra under Israeli control. In June 1967, Time magazine wrote that: "The city of El Quneitra was a ghost town, its shops shuttered, its deserted streets patrolled by Israelis on house-to-house searches for caches of arms and ammunition. The hills echoed with explosions as Israeli sappers systematically destroyed the miniature Maginot line from which the Syrians had shelled kibbutzim across the Sea of Galilee."[22]

The United Nations Special Representative, Nils-Göran Gussing, visited it in July and reported that "nearly every shop and every house seemed to have been broken into and looted" and that some buildings had been set on fire after they had been stripped. Although Israeli spokesmen told Gussing that Quneitra had actually been looted by the withdrawing Syrians, the UN representative viewed this as unlikely given the extremely short space of time between the erroneous radio announcement and the fall of the city a few hours later. He concluded that "responsibility for this extensive looting of the town of Quneitra lay to a great extent with the Israeli forces."[23]

Israeli occupation[edit]

The deserted city remained in Israeli hands for the next six years. However, Israel and Syria remained in a state of war throughout this period (and, indeed, to the present day). The town gained a fresh symbolic value; it was seen by the Syrians as "the badge of Syria's defeat, an emblem of hatred between Syria and Israel and a cross [Syrian President Hafez al-Assad] had to bear."[24] Syria shelled the city several times during the early 1970s; in June 1970 a Syrian armored unit launched an attack,[25] and in November 1972, Damascus radio announced that Syrian artillery had again shelled Quneitra.[26]

Yom Kippur War[edit]

Golan Heights campaign during Yom Kippur War

During the first few days of the Yom Kippur War in 1973, Quneitra was briefly recaptured by the Syrian Army before it was repulsed in an Israeli counter-offensive.[27] In the middle of October 1973 the Israeli counter-offensive started. The Syrians had massed nearly 1,000 tanks along a 60-mile front. With a massive concentration of tanks, the Israelis lashed into the Syrian forces. The Syrians at first fell back, but then managed to counterattack and drive back into occupied territory. Quneitra changed hands several times. Finally, Israeli armored units, closely supported by Phantoms and Skyhawks performing close air support with napalm strikes against the forward Syrian units, halted the Syrian drive and turned the Arabs back.[28]

Destruction of Quneitra and return to Syrian control[edit]

Destroyed building in Quneitra
The entrance to the city

Israel continued to control the city until early June 1974, when it was returned to Syrian civilian control following the signature of a United States-brokered disengagement agreement signed on 31 May 1974. The surrender of Quneitra was controversial, with Israeli settlers[29] and the Likud and National Religious Party opposing it.[30] According to Michael Mandelbaum, the agreement provided that the city was to be repopulated to serve as evidence of peaceful Syrian intentions, by creating a hostage to Syrian good behaviour which would encourage the Israelis to pull back further.[31]

In an attempt to block the withdrawal, a group of settlers from Merom Golan – a settlement established in 1967 – took over an abandoned bunker in Quneitra and declared it to be a new settlement called Keshet (Quneitra in Hebrew). The settlers also set about razing the existing town to the ground. The leader of Merom Golan, Yehuda Harel, and another Merom Golan member, Shimshon Wollner, initiated the destruction of Quneitra, which was carried out by the Land Development Administration of the Jewish National Fund. Harel later described what happened:

Shimshon and I walked around Quneitra all day and tried decide what to do. And then these two strange ideas came up. One was to establish a settlement in Quneitra and the second was to destroy Quneitra.[32]

Wollner and Harel asked the Jewish National Fund to carry out the work, ostensibly to prepare an area for agricultural cultivation, but were refused as they did not have permission from the Israeli army. They then approached the Assistant to the Head of Northern Command and asked him to mark on a map which buildings the army needed. According to Harel,

So he took a felt pen and marked the hospital and a few other places – he wrote "not for destruction" and on other places he wrote "for destruction" and he signed. He thought he was signing about what not to destroy but he was actually writing to destroy . . . The tractors of the Jewish National Fund did the destroying. They weren't our tractors . . . I can tell you that even the tractor drivers were Arabs.[32]

The buildings were systematically stripped,[7] with anything movable being removed and sold to Israeli contractors, before they were pulled apart with tractors and bulldozers.[33]

The disengagement went into force on 6 June.[34] On 26 June, the Syrian president Hafez al-Assad travelled to Quneitra where he pledged to return the rest of the occupied territories to Syrian control.[35] Western reporters accompanied Syrian refugees returning to the city in early July 1974 and described what they saw on the ground. Time magazine's correspondent reported that "Most of its buildings are knocked flat, as though by dynamite, or pockmarked by shellfire." [36] Le Monde's Syria correspondent, in a report for The Times, gave a detailed eyewitness description of the destruction:

Today the city is unrecognisable. The houses with their roofs lying on the ground look like gravestones. Parts of the rubble are covered with fresh earth furrowed by bulldozer tracks. Everywhere there are fragments of furniture, discarded kitchen utensils, Hebrew newspapers dating from the first week of June; here a ripped-up mattress, there the springs of an old sofa. On the few sections of wall still standing, Hebrew inscriptions proclaim: "There'll be another round"; "You want Quneitra, you'll have it destroyed."[37]

Israel asserted that most of the damage had been caused in the two wars and during the artillery duels in between.[38][39] Several reports from before the withdrawal did refer to the city as "ruined" and "shell-scarred".[40][41][42] The Times' correspondent saw the city for himself on 6 May, a month before the Israeli withdrawal, and described it as being "in ruins and deserted after seven years of war and dereliction. It looks like a wild west city struck by an earthquake and if the Syrians get it back they will face a major feat of reconstruction. Nearly every building is heavily damaged and scores have collapsed."[29]

Direct evidence of the city's condition was provided when it was filmed on 12 May 1974 by a British television news team which included the veteran journalist Peter Snow, who was reporting for Independent Television News on the disengagement negotiations. His report was broadcast on ITN's News at Ten programme. According to The Times' correspondent Edward Mortimer, "viewers were thus afforded a panoramic view of the city, which had stood almost completely empty since the Syrian army evacuated it in 1967. It could be seen that many of the buildings were damaged, but most of them were still standing." After it was handed over, "very few buildings were left standing. Most of those destroyed did not present the jagged outline and random heaps of rubble usually produced by artillery or aerial bombardment. The roofs lay flat on the ground, 'pancaked' in a manner which I am told can only be achieved by systematic dynamiting of the support walls inside." Mortimer concluded that the footage "establishes beyond reasonable doubt that much of the destruction took place after 12 May—at a time when there was no fighting anywhere near Kuneitra."[43]

The United Nations established a Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Population of the Occupied Territories, which concluded that Israeli forces had deliberately destroyed the city prior to their withdrawal. The report's conclusions were subsequently adopted by the United Nations General Assembly. It passed a resolution on 29 November 1974 describing the destruction of Quneitra as "a grave breach of the [Fourth] Geneva Convention" and "condemn[ing] Israel for such acts," by a margin of 93 votes to 8, with 74 abstentions.[5] The United Nations Commission on Human Rights also voted to condemn the "deliberate destruction and devastation" of Quneitra in a resolution of 22 February 1975, by a margin of 22 votes to one (the United States) with nine abstentions.[44]

The U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, a non-governmental organization, has reported that: "Before leaving, however, the Israelis leveled the city with bulldozers and dynamite."[45]

Modern Quneitra[edit]

Quneitra hospital. The sign reads: "Golan Hospital. Destructed by Zionists and changed it to firing target!" [sic]

The city remains in a destroyed condition. Syria has left the ruins in place and built a museum to memorialize its destruction. It maintains billboards at the ruins of many buildings and effectively preserves it in the condition that the Israeli army left it in. The former residents of the town have not returned and Syria discourages the re-population of the area.[20] However, in the 2004 census by the Central Bureau of Statistics, a small population of 153 people living in 28 households was recorded, all living in the neighborhood of Rasm al-Rawabi.[46] The Rough Guide to Syria describes the current appearance of the city: "The first sight of the flattened houses on Quneitra's outskirts is the most dramatic; many of the unscathed roofs simply lie on top of a mass of rubble, leaving the impression of a building that has imploded."[20]

The city has often been used as a stop for foreign VIPs, ranging from the Soviet foreign minister Alexei Kosygin in June 1976[47] to Pope John Paul II in May 2001.[48] Only a handful of families now live in the town, making a living by providing services for the United Nations troops patrolling the demilitarized zone.[49] According to The Times, "the carefully preserved ruined city has become a pilgrimage site for a generation of Syrians."[50]

The city can be visited by tourists, but a permit from the Syrian Ministry of the Interior is required, and sight-seeing is supervised by a military guide. The principal sights on the standard tour are the remains of Quneitra's hospital, mosque and Greek Orthodox church. A "Liberated Quneitra Museum", displaying artifacts from the city's ancient and medieval past, is housed in the former Ottoman caravanserai in the city centre. The western edge of the city marks the start of "no-man's land" beyond which lies Israeli-controlled territory. Because the border is closed, it is not possible to visit Quneitra from Israel.[51]

Syrian Civil War[edit]

On 13 November 2012, during the ongoing Syrian Civil War that began in March 2011, President Bashar al-Assad issued a decree to establish a branch of the University of Damascus in Quneitra.[52] On 6 June 2013, the nearby Quneitra border crossing was attacked by Opposition forces and temporarily occupied, with Syrian army later retaking the crossing;[53] Opposition forces again captured the crossing in August 2014.[54] A Filipino peacekeeper of the UNDOF was wounded during the fighting. As a result the Austrian government announced the withdrawal of its troops from the UN mission.[55][56] In July 2013, Opposition forces attacked a military checkpoint in Quneitra,[57] and by the next day were attacking several Syrian Arab Army positions in Quneitra.[58]

Major Rebel Offenses in Quneitra[edit]

Clashes in the Quneitra countryside between the Government and rebels took place throughout 2012-2014. The August - October 2014 rebel offensive in Quneitra, code-named “The Real Promise” or "Chargers of Dawn" and led by FSA with support from Nusra Front, was an attempt to take control of several sections in the central part of Quneitra province and around Quneitra city with the aim of opening the way to Damascus. On 27 August, rebels took control of the Quneitra Crossing between Syria and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. As of 13 September, the Syrian government had lost control of about 80 percent of towns and villages in Quneitra province. Two days later, the rebels managed to completely seize the Syrian-controlled side of the Golan. "By November 2014, Syrian opposition forces had captured the entire province of Quinetra except Baath city" , having briefly entered Baath city on November 20.[59]

Further information: 2015 Southern Syria offensive

In February, 2015, the Syrian Government launched a major southern offensive, in conjunction with Hezbollah and other foreign supporters. It focuses on a "triangle of rebel-held territory from rural areas southwest of Damascus to Daraa city to Quneitra" and has involved ground assaults and bombing of a number of points in Quneitra. It was estimated that they confront around 10,000 rebel fighters in the Golan area. [1] This is the first time since May 2013 that the Syrian military is carrying out such a large offensive operation on the southern front. The strategic aims of the offensive were to recapture Tal al-Harra, eliminate the rebel buffer zone protected by Al-Nusra Front forces in the area between Israel and Syria, guard the Syrian capital of Damascus against further rebel encroachment, prevent the Syrian rebels from establishing a southeastern front in Lebanon and cutting off rebel supply lines leading to Jordan. The Arab Source reported throughout February that the regime and Hezbollah forces had attacked, and in some cases took over, Quneitra villages such as Umm Batna, Mashara, hills near Tal al-Harra (Tal Fatima”, “Tal Ra’eed”, and “Tal Maqran), Tal Mura’y, Al-Samdaniyyeh, Naba’ Sakhar, Umm Al-Izzam, Al-Bateeha, and Rasim Al-Shoula. [2] [3] [4] The offensive petered out in April following a string of early successes. Control over Mashara, through which a major supply route for the rebels runs, has see-sawed back and forth. Government forces targeted Mashara with attacks, artillery and aerial bombardment in March 2015 and this intensified in May. [5] [6] [7]

On May 5, 2015, it was reported that Ahrar al-Sham, Jabhat al-Nusra, the Yarmouk Army/Yarmouk Brigade (FSA), Faluja Horan Brigade and other rebel and Islamic battalions were able to wrest away control of al-Qahtania (other spelling: Qahtaniya) village near Quneitra, after 9 days of violent clashes beginning April 27, 2015, from the al-Jehad army . [8] [9] [10] According to the pro-opposition Alaan News, this was the last pro-IS Islamic State forces’ outpost in Quneitra province". [11] The Syrian Observatory of Human Rights documented the death of 78 militants on both sides during the struggle. [12] Clashes between the two sides started after the April 27 murder, allegedly by the al-Jehad army, of six rebels who were on their way to fight regime forces in the Quneitra countryside.

A key regime bulwark in Quneitra, which can be considered the first western line of defense for the Damascus countryside, is the infantry and armoured Brigade 90 base on the outskirts of Khan Arnabeh, approximately ten kilometres from Al-Quneitra. Allegedly commanded by Iranian officers, it is said to house 2000 troops and militia men and 20 tanks and other heavy armaments. [13]

Rebel Forces Operating in Quneitra[edit]

Jabhat al-Nusra, Harakat Ahrar al-Sham al-Islamiyah, Jaysh al-Islam, Jaysh al-Yarmouk, al-Furqan Brigades and the Islamic Union attacked Jaysh al-Jihad in April 2015 after it showed signs of being supportive of IS. Jaysh al-Jihad or Al-Jehad is a rebel group in Quneitra Governorate consists of small factions and defectors from Nusra Front after its clashes with the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade (Liwa Shuhada al-Yarmouk). These groups are: Jihad Brigades, Jund al-Islam, Abu Basir group, Mujahideen of al-Sham movement, Salafi Youth group, and Bunian al-Marssos group. The Golan Martyrs Battalion is said to be part of the Yarmouk Martyr's Brigade. Jaysh al-Jihad [14] and Harakat al-Muthana al-Islamiyahis are considered to be allied with the Yarmouk Martyrs' Brigade and affiliated with the Islamic State. [15] [16] [17] The website Middle East Institute believes that Jabhat al-Nusra's allegation that the Yarmouk Martyr's Brigade has ties with ISIS is only a pretext to justify taking on the group militarily. [18] The website considers them a well known Free Syrian Army (FSA) branch in Deraa. Ahrar al-Sham in December 2014 took control of Tel al-Kuroom near the regime’s military Brigade 90 in the countryside of Quneitra province. [19] The Furqan Brigade (al Quneitra) is a branch of the Damascus-based Islamist Furqan Brigade, operating in the southwest of Syria near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights [20] The Islamic Front is a coalition of several rebel groups, including Ahrar al Sham, which is linked to al Qaeda. A five page report describes in excellent detail the relationship among the rebels and IS factions. [http://www.cartercenter.org/resources/pdfs/peace/conflict_resolution/syria-conflict/islamic-state-in-southern-syria-may2015.pdf

Other rebel factions in Quneitra include: the Quneitra Military Council, a Syrian rebel coalition affiliated with the Free Syrian Army. It's leader Brigadier General Abdul-Ilah al-Bashir was appointed the Chief-of-Staff of the FSA's Supreme Military Council (SMC) on 16 February 2014; the Syrian Revolutionaries Front (SRF) which is an alliance formed in December 2013 by the Free Syrian Army as a response to the merger of Islamist Syrian rebels into the Islamic Front. It assisted the Islamic Front and Al Nusrah in 'liberating' ar-Rawadia and Humaydia in the Quneitra countryside in September 2014.]; the Katiba Ahrar Haḍr (Battalion of the Free Men of Haḍr), referring to the Druze village of Haḍr in the Jabal al-Sheikh region formed 28 January 2013, in response to disillusionment with regime policies of conscription into the Syrian army as well as apparent extortionist practices on the part of the People's Committees set up to coordinate the activities of Druze militias with the Syrian army. In the group's formation video, the battalion declares affiliation with the FSA-banner Military Council of the Quneitra and Golan region. [21]; Ansar al-Huda; Fursan al-Ababil; Jabhat Ansar al-Islam; Youth of Sunnah Brigade, and probably other local groups.

Iranian Interests in Quneitra[edit]

Observers in the Arab world have been warning for years about growing evidence of Iranian expansionism. Tehran has invested huge resources in making Syria a Shiite state. Dr. Shimon Shapira, a retired brigadier general of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), has written a paper unambiguously titled “Iran’s Plans to Take Over Syria,” which emphasizes comments made by Mehdi Taaib, the head of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s think tank, that Syria is “35th district of Iran and it has greater strategic importance for Iran than Khuzestan [an Arab-populated district inside Iran].” [22] Iran is also recruiting Shiite forces from various countries for fighting in Syria. As Syria disintegrates into a patchwork of areas, Iran likely aims to have a network of militias in place inside Syria to protect its vital interests, regardless of what happens to Assad. [23] Qasem Suleimani, the commander of the Quds Force of the Revolutionary Guard Corps, is reported to have prepared an operational plan named after him based upon the establishment of a 150,000-man force for Syria, the majority of whom will come from Iran, Iraq, and a smaller number from Hizbullah and the Gulf states. He has been the spearhead of Iranian military activism in the Middle East. In January 2012, he declared that the Islamic Republic controlled “one way or another” Iraq and South Lebanon. [24]

However the Fair Observer site, while noting that the Revolutionary Guards are administratively embedded in the most critical Syrian government agencies reflecting a commissar-type pattern, states their "battle management strategy in Syria appears to be premised on a light Iranian footprint on the ground and the use of proxy militias as force multipliers to manage the battle space. This juncture of the Syrian war is characterized by the Revolutionary Guard managing the battle space by liaising across hundreds of Shiite, Alawite and Ismaili (and some allied Christian) militias characterized by loyalty ultimately to the Revolutionary Guard which facilitates their funding either directly or through surrogates such as the Syrian government. [25]

Osnet reports that the Syrian Government/Hezbollah/Iranian (also includes Afghan and Pakistani Shiites brought in by Iran) drive towards Quneitra via Tel Harra has a number of unique features. For the first time in the Syrian theatre, the forces are commanded in full by an Iranian operations room. Its goal reaches beyond ensuring the survival of Syria. Rather they aim to make Quneitra the seat of their forward command and bring Iranian Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) within sight and firing range of Israeli military forces. At a May 7, 2013 meeting with Iranian foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi, Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad announced, “The Golan will become a front of resistance.”[Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), Almayadeen.net, May 7, 2013] Tel al-hara, at 3500 feet the tallest peak in the Golan range, and overlooking Israel's outposts, is important because it was formerly a Syrian fortress with tens of square kilometers of bunkers, funnels and defensive positions. Also perched there were advanced Russian radar stations, which kept track of Israel military and air force movements across the border. These stations were connected to the Middle East intelligence networks of the IRGC and kept Tehran abreast of Israeli military movements and deployments." [26] Iran’s aims in deploying in the Golan Heights is to deter Israel from acting against its nuclear program, defend Syria as part of the resistance axis, and establish an active front for anti-Israel terror attacks in the Golan and even to liberate the Israeli-occupied Golan. [27] Hezbollah's strategy could also be termed defensive in that they fear the possibility that Israel will close in on it from Mount Dov to the west, using the Al-Nusra Front and moderate opposition forces to lay siege to southern Lebanon, thus causing difficulties for the organization’s activities there. In addition, and perhaps more importantly, Hezbollah and Assad fear that Israel is carving out a path to Damascus via Quneitra and Daraa — one that will allow it easy access to the Syrian capital in the event of war. [28] Hezbollah and Iran have also asked the Palestinian resistance movements such as Hamas's Al-Qassam Brigades and Palestinians living in refugee camps in Lebanon and Syria to join their front against Israel.

Israeli Interests in Quneitra[edit]

With the breakdown of the status quo on the Golan Heights front, which had been quiet since the Separation of Forces Agreement of 1974, Israel's eyes have been anxiously focused on developments in Quneitra. Amos Yadlin, a former senior Israeli intelligence officer and now a member of the opposition Zionist Union party, told the Wall Street Journal: “There is no doubt that Hezbollah and Iran are the major threat to Israel, much more than the radical Sunni Islamists, who are also an enemy.” [29]It has been providing support for the rebels, including al-Nusra, to ensure a buffer zone against both the Iranians/Hezbollah as well as Islamic State. A prominent Middle East researcher stated that Israel established contacts with members of the Syrian opposition abroad during the second half of 2012 and the idea of a buffer zone emerged during secret meetings in Amman in early 2013. In a speech on January 30, Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah claimed that Jabhat al-Nusra, in particular, was allied to Israel. Israel has also established close intelligence cooperation with Jordan, which opened flight corridors to Syria-bound Israeli drones. [30] An Arab Source exclusive in March 2015 reported that an Israeli military officer was killed in the Al-Quneitra Governorate of Syria while traveling through the province in order to meet with members of the Syrian Al-Qaeda group “Jabhat Al-Nusra” and the Free Syrian Army (FSA). [31] Israel has said it will not tolerate the transfer of advanced weaponry to Hezbollah. In 2013 alone, the IAF five times struck to try and prevent Iranian attempts to deliver their version of the Russian S-300 air missile defense system and other missiles such as the Fateh 110 rocket to Hezbollah. [32] Israel has also bombed Syrian army military targets including command centres and unspecified launching positions around the Golan. [33] In October, 2014, Jihad Mughniyeh was appointed Hezbollah's commander of Golan District. [34] On January 18, 2015 he along with top ranking Hezbollah and Iranian commanders, including the head of Hezbollah operations in Syria, and Iranian Gen. Mohammad who was an Iranian ballistic missiles expert and others whom Israel reports were involved in establishing missile sites in Syria, were killed by an Israeli helicopter strike in Mazraeh-ol-aml (Amal Farms), Quneitra. [35] On January 28, a retaliatory Hezbollah rocket and mortar attack killed two Israeli soldiers and wounded seven patrolling in the Israel occupied Shebaa Farms area. Events leading up to the killing of the Hezbollah and Iranian commanders are noteworthy: earlier in January, Hezbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah, claimed to have uncovered and arrested a senior Israeli spy who had penetrated Hezbollah's network. He followed up with a January 15 television interview where he boasted of his Lebanon-based organization's newly acquired Iranian-made Fateh-110 missiles and threatened to overrun northern Israel. [36] Interestingly, less than three weeks before the strike on Mughniyeh, a simulation by Israel's Institute for National Security found that a cross-border Hezbollah terrorist attack targeting the IDF and the Israeli retaliation did not lead to a large-scale conflict. [37]

Israel, and the western supporters of the rebels, are concerned that a weakening of the rebels by the regime will make it easier for Islamic State to infiltrate the region where it has achieved some support among civilians and a few militias. In the meantime, as noted above, the rebels are holding most of the ground in Quneitra, although the front lines have been changing since February 2015. The rebels are now being reinforced by the receipt of substantial quantities of heavy weapons from the United States, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Turkey, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, including tanks, BMP infantry fighting vehicles, rocket launchers, mortars, and vehicle-mounted heavy antiaircraft machine guns thousands of anti-tank missiles. [38] With Hezbollah mired in the Syrian war and addressing rebel infiltration into Lebanon, it would not want to be drawn into an all-out war with Israel and indeed tensions were de-escalated after the killing of the Israeli soldiers. However, there is always the risk of small scale attacks and counter-attacks escalating into a larger conflict. In July 2006, Hezbollah fighters ambushed an Israeli armored unit, killing three Israeli soldiers and taking two hostages which subsequently spiralled into a 34-day war in Lebanon that left 165 Israeli soldiers and civilians and at least 1,100 Hezbollah fighters and Lebanese civilians dead. [39]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Geoffrey William Bromiley. "Golan", in International Standard Bible Encyclopedia: E-J, p. 520. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1994. ISBN 0-8028-3782-4
  2. ^ Quneitra city population
  3. ^ http://www.syriagate.com/Syria/about/cities/Quneitra/
  4. ^ On 10 June, Israeli authorities utilized a postmark, in Arabic, English and Hebrew, for mail sent from Quneitra. Livni, Israel. Encyclopedia of Israel Stamps. Tel Aviv: Sifriyat Ma'arit, 1969. p.195
  5. ^ a b "Report of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Population of the Occupied Territories", United Nations General Assembly Resolution 3240, 29 November 1974, A/RES/3240, unispal.
  6. ^ Abraham Rabinovich. The Yom Kippur War, 492. Knopf Publishing Group, 2005. ISBN 0-8052-1124-1
  7. ^ a b c d "Qunaytirah, Al-." Encyclopædia Britannica. 1993
  8. ^ Simon Dunstan. The Yom Kippur War 1973: The Sinai, p. 9. Osprey Publishing, 2003. ISBN 1-84176-220-2
  9. ^ Harriet-Louise H. Patterson, Around The Mediterranean With My Bible. W. A. Wilde Co., 1941
  10. ^ Takeru Akazawa, Kenichi Aoki, Ofer Bar-Yosef, Neanderthals and Modern Humans in Western Asia, p. 154. Springer, 1998. ISBN 0-306-45924-8
  11. ^ Ivan Mannheim, "Biblical Damascus", in Syria & Lebanon Handbook, p. 100. 2001, Footprint Travel Guides. ISBN 1-900949-90-3
  12. ^ Porter, Josias Leslie. A handbook for travellers in Syria and Palestine, J. Murray, 1868, pg. 439. [Harvard University, 4 Jan 2007]
  13. ^ Kipnis, Yigal (2013). The Golan Heights: Political History, Settlement and Geography since 1949. London: Routledge. p. 78. ISBN 9781136740923. 
  14. ^ Paul Virgil McCracken Flesher, Dan Urman, Ancient Synagogues: historical analysis and archaeological discovery, p. 394. Brill Academic Publishers, 1995. ISBN 90-04-11254-5
  15. ^ G. Schmacher (1888). The Jaulân. London: Richard Bentley and Son. pp. 207–214. 
  16. ^ Sibert, E. L. (May–June 1928). "Campaign Summary and Notes on Horse Artillery in Sinai and Palestine" (PDF). The Field Artillery Journal. XVIII (3): 255–271. 
  17. ^ Compton Mackenzie (1951). Eastern Epic. London: Chatto & Windus. 
  18. ^ a b "A Campaign for the Books". Time Magazine. 1 September 1967. 
  19. ^ Oren, Michael (2002). Six Days of War. New York: Ballantine Books. p. 301. 
  20. ^ a b c Andrew Beattie, Timothy Pepper, The Rough Guide to Syria 2nd edition, p. 146. Rough Guides, 2001. ISBN 1-85828-718-9
  21. ^ Jeremy Bowen, Six Days: How the 1967 War Shaped the Middle East, p. 304. Simon & Schuster Ltd, 2003. ISBN 0-7432-3095-7
  22. ^ "Coping with Victory". Time Magazine. 23 June 1967. 
  23. ^ Bowen, ibid.
  24. ^ Seale, Patrick. (1988). Asad of Syria: The struggle for the Middle East (p. 141). Berkeley: University of California Press
  25. ^ Charles Mohr (27 June 1970). "Israel and Syria battle third day in the Golan area". The New York Times. 
  26. ^ "Syria Shells Israeli Bases in Occupied Golan Heights". The New York Times. 26 November 1972. 
  27. ^ "Tables turned on Arabs, Israel general says". The Times, 9 October 1973, p. 8
  28. ^ "The War of the Day of Judgment". Time Magazine. October 22, 1973. 
  29. ^ a b "Settlers insist Israel keeps Golan". The Times, 7 May 1974, p. 6
  30. ^ "Criticism in Israel over peace pact's concessions to Syria". The Times, 30 May 1974, p. 7
  31. ^ Michael Mandelbaum, The Fate of Nations: The Search for National Security in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, p. 316. Cambridge University Press, 1988. ISBN 052135790X
  32. ^ a b Kipnis, p. 160
  33. ^ Lara Dunston, Terry Carter, Andrew Humphreys. Syria & Lebanon, p. 129. Lonely Planet, 2004. ISBN 1-86450-333-5
  34. ^ "Israel-Syrian disengagement goes into effect today after detailed plan is signed in Geneva". The Times, 6 June 1974, p. 6
  35. ^ "Egypt offers air force to defend Lebanon". The Times, 26 June 1974, p. 6
  36. ^ "Returning to Quneitra". Time Magazine. 8 July 1974. 
  37. ^ "Golan's capital turns into heap of stones". The Times, 10 July 1974, p. 8
  38. ^ "Israel fears Russian incitement of Arabs". The Times, 8 September 1975
  39. ^ "Corrections". The New York Times. 9 May 2001. 
  40. ^ "Syrian 160mm mortar shells were falling on the northern side of the city, a shell-scarred ghost city since its capture by the Israelis in 1967". "Debris of two armies litters Damascus road". The Times, 5 October 1973
  41. ^ "Kuneitra, the ruined capital of the Heights". "Village life on the wild frontier of the Golan". The Times, 5 April 1974
  42. ^ "The officer conceded that the ruined city itself was of no military importance to Israel." "Israel sees no end to Golan battle". The Times, 2 May 1974.
  43. ^ "A question mark over the death of a city." The Times, 17 February 1975, p. 12
  44. ^ "Human Rights Commission condemns Israel". The Times, 22 February 1975
  45. ^ USCRI
  46. ^ General Census of Population and Housing 2004. Syria Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS). Quneitra Governorate. (Arabic)
  47. ^ "Syrians offered Soviet support by Mr Kosygin". The Times, 4 June 1976, p. 6
  48. ^ "Pope visits Golan Heights". BBC News, 7 May 2001
  49. ^ "Pope prays for peace in war-torn Syrian town", News Letter (Belfast); 8 May 2001; p. 17
  50. ^ "Silence of Syria's forgotten siege", The Times; 8 May 2001; p. 15
  51. ^ Ivan Mannheim, Syria & Lebanon Handbook, p. 142. 2001, Footprint Travel Guides. ISBN 1-900949-90-3
  52. ^ Nassr, M.; Ghossoun (13 November 2012). "President Bashar al-Assad Decrees on Establishing Branch for Damascus University in Quneitra". Syrian Arab News Agency. Retrieved 13 November 2012. 
  53. ^ "Syrian rebels and Assad forces battle for control of key town on Israel border". Haaretz.com. 6 June 2013. Retrieved 25 October 2014. 
  54. ^ Dagher, Sam; Mitnick, Joshua (August 27, 2014). "Rebels in Syria Capture Border Crossing With Israel". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved November 27, 2014. 
  55. ^ "Österreich zieht seine Blauhelme von umkämpften Golanhöhen ab" (in German). Der Standard. 6 June 2013. Retrieved 6 June 2013. 
  56. ^ "Austria to withdraw Golan Heights peacekeepers over Syrian fighting". The Guardian. 6 June 2013. Retrieved 6 June 2013. 
  57. ^ al-Quneitira Province 1. Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR). 2013-06-06.
  58. ^ al-Quneitira Province 2. Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR). 2013-06-06.
  59. ^ Maayeh, Suha; Sands, Phil (November 25, 2014). "Syria’s southern rebels draw up new game plan". The National. Retrieved November 27, 2014. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Goren-Inbar, N., and Paul Goldberg. Quneitra: A Mousterian Site on the Golan Heights. Publications of the Institute of Archaeology, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 31. [Jerusalem]: Institute of Archaeology, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 1990.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 33°07′32″N 35°49′26″E / 33.12556°N 35.82389°E / 33.12556; 35.82389