The Syrian army, supported by Iranian militias, reportedly advanced on the Golan Heights this week, bringing Iran and Israel towards a direct confrontation.
Reports of the latest advance follow a meeting on Sunday between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and an Iranian Foreign Ministry official, Hossein Jaberi Ansari, where they reiterated their commitment to collaboration in the Syrian conflict.
Iran has expanded its presence in Syria since late 2015. There are now believed to be over 10,000 Iran-linked militiamen in Syria, and parts of the Syrian army are linked to the Iranian military command. The Syrian Hezbollah militia includes commanders from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Israel has controlled the Golan Heights since the 1967 Six Day War, annexing the territory in 1981. The area has been under Israeli law, jurisdiction, and administration ever since. Before the outbreak of Syria’s civil war, many Israelis were prepared to relinquish parts of the Golan as part of the ‘land for peace’ principle. Dore Gold, the then-Director of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, asserted in October 2015 that if Israel had withdrawn from the territory, “we would now be facing the prospect of the Islamic State or the Iranians on the shoreline of the Sea of Galilee”.
Since the Syrian civil war erupted in 2011, hundreds of thousands of people have died and millions have been displaced. Israel – who remains officially at war with Syria – has responded to the civil war by providing medical treatment to wounded Syrians, treating people in field hospitals on the border and in public hospitals, mostly in northern Israel since 2013.
The IDF has been providing humanitarian aid to Syrians as part of Operation Good Neighbour, a massive multi-faceted humanitarian relief operation to keep starvation away from the thousands of Syrians who live along the border and provide basic medical treatment to those who cannot access it because of the war.