Those who read the BBC Monitoring article about Saudi Arabian concerns over Iran’s nuclear programme which appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on March 6th (discussed here) may have noticed the following short passage:
“Iranian forces are reported to have played a large role, alongside Hezbollah and government troops, in a recent offensive against rebels in southern Syria, close to the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
Iran admitted in January that a general in the Revolutionary Guard had been killed in an Israeli air strike in the area.”
Beyond those few words, the BBC has not reported on Iranian military activities in southern Syria. In its article on the January 18th incident mentioned above, the BBC’s answer to the key question of what a convoy of Hizballah operatives and Iranian Revolutionary Guards were doing near the border with Israel on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights came in the form of a quote from Hizballah TV.
“Hezbollah’s al-Manar TV said they were killed in Quneitra province “during a field reconnaissance mission”.”
However, since then the BBC has shown no interest in keeping its audiences up to date regarding developments in that region.
One aspect of that story is indeed the recently launched offensive by Syrian government troops together with Hizballah and Iranian forces in an attempt to retake areas in southern Syria – including the Syrian side of the border with Israel – which have been under the control of assorted rebel groups for some time. According to some sources, that campaign has so far not gone as smoothly as presumably planned, in part due to unfavourable weather conditions.
The other aspect of the story is the wider issue of Iranian and Hizballah strategy – as Avi Issacharoff wrote in the Times of Israel last month.
“…the very fact that Hezbollah set out on a ground campaign inside Syrian territory is an extraordinary statement. The placement of thousands of the group’s soldiers near the Syrian-Israeli border, with the organization not even trying to conceal its involvement in the battles, signifies much more than just another operation. This is a new strategy. First, on the geopolitical level, Hezbollah is trying to implement the vision only recently introduced by its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, according to whom the Syrian Golan Heights and South Lebanon are a united front. To put it more bluntly, the old order and the old geographical distribution between Syria and Lebanon is now utterly irrelevant as far as the group is concerned.”
Hizballah strategies of course need to be viewed in the context of its patron’s regional designs.
“Hezbollah and Iran remain committed to setting up a base in southern Syria, with the dual goal of beating back the Syrian rebels and expanding the Iranian front of jihad against Israel, from Lebanon to Syria.”
The Lebanese ‘Daily Star’ recently reported:
“Allowing Iran and Hezbollah to gain a stronger foothold in the Golan is one of the goals of the current offensive underway in southern Syria. The offensive is named in honor of the “martyrs of Qunaitra,” a reference to the six Hezbollah fighters, including two field commanders, and Iranian Gen. Mohammad Allahdadi, killed in January in an Israeli drone strike.
Combat operations are being directed by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corp with much of the attacking force composed of IRGC soldiers, Hezbollah fighters and Shiite auxiliary forces from Iraq and Afghanistan. […]
Abu Ali, a veteran Hezbollah fighter who has served multiple tours in Syria, confirmed IRGC leadership of the southern Syria offensive and that Iranian troops were involved.
“Iran will be so close to the Israelis that it will no longer need long-range missiles to hit them,” Abu Ali said. “The Golan is going to be a new front line.”
He added that tunnel and bunker construction in the Golan has been underway for a year, apparently an attempt to replicate the facilities Hezbollah built in the south before 2006. He added that Allahdadi was conducting an inspection tour of the new facilities when he was killed by the Israeli drones.”
And as is detailed in a report from MEMRI, the opening of a new front in the Golan Heights has even broader implications.
“Iran’s presence on the Israeli border limits Israel’s ability to use military measures against Iran’s nuclear program. This, since Iran is building up its response capabilities in the region, to complement its long-range missiles. In the past, it was Hizbullah Lebanon that deterred Israel, to some extent, from acting militarily against Iran’s nuclear program. Today this deterrence is significantly strengthened by the advent of Hizbullah Syria and the direct presence of Iranian forces in the Golan.”
The BBC’s under-reporting of this issue ofcourse means that its audiences continue to lack the background information necessary for them to understand both current and future regional developments.