by WorldTribune Staff, January 2, 2019
Iran-backed militias fighting alongside the Syrian army have moved within three miles of the Israeli border.
“The Iranian-backed militias are trying to consolidate their sphere of influence all the way from southwest of Damascus to the Israeli border,” said Suhaib al Ruhail, an official from the Liwa al Furqan rebel group that operates in the area, according to Reuters.
A senior Iranian commander said several months ago that Iran will provide military advisers to Syria for as long as necessary and stressed that “the advisory help isn’t only in the field of planning but also on techniques and tactics.”
A report last month said Iran is establishing a permanent military base outside El-Kiswah, located 14 kilometers (8 miles) south of Damascus. An airstrike earlier this month attributed to Israel reportedly hit an Iranian compound in that area.
Related: Syria pullout increases pressure on Israel from Russia, Iran, Jan. 1, 2019
Israel has been lobbying Washington and Moscow to deny Iran, Hizbullah and other Shi’ite militias any permanent bases in Syria, and to keep them away from the Golan Heights, as they gain ground while helping Damascus beat back Sunni-led rebels.
Anti-Assad rebel forces reported on Dec. 24 that the Syrian army and the Iran-backed forces advanced east and south of the rebel held bastion of Beit Jin backed by some of the heaviest aerial bombing and heavy artillery shelling since a major assault began over two months ago to seize the area.
A western intelligence source confirmed rebel reports that Iranian-backed militias including Hizbullah were playing a major role in the ongoing battles.
The Syrian army said it had encircled the village of Mughr al Meer at the foothills of Mount Hermon as troops moved toward Beit Jin amid fierce clashes.
The enclave is the last rebel bastion left in the southwest of Damascus known as the Western Ghouta, that had since last year fallen under government control after months of heavy bombing on civilian areas and years of siege tactics that forced rebels to surrender.