This is bad news.
The United Nations revealed on Thursday that 43 peacekeepers manning the neutral zone separating Israel’s position on the strategically vital Golan Heights from Syria have been captured by an “armed group” of Syrian rebel fighters. Another 81 peacekeepers are surrounded by fighters and their movements have been restricted to a small area.
This announcement comes one day after Basahr al-Assad’s forces lost control of that border crossing in a fight with members of the Free Syrian Army and the al-Qaeda affiliated al-Nusra Front. Soldiers loyal to Damascus suffered heavy casualties in that attack, and reports indicate that an Israeli soldier an Israeli civilian were also wounded by errant fire coming from across the border. The Israeli government responded by firing artillery at Syrian army positions.
Via The Jerusalem Post, a video reportedly taken by Syrian rebels and posted online purports to show that militants are in full control of the U.N.-administered Golan Heights border post with Israel:
Another clip posted online shows heavy fighting near the Quneitra crossing between Syrian militants and pro-Assad forces:
“If the rebels succeed in holding on to Quneitra, they will gain a significant symbolic victory over Bashar Assad’s government, which has striven for months to retain control over the area, considered the Syrian Army’s weak point,” The Jerusalem Post noted. “The capture of Quneitra comes after a series of gains made this year by Syrian rebels in the south of Syria, along the Jordanian and Israeli borders.”
A regional war in Iraq and Syria which has drawn in the militaries of a handful of NATO powers and Iran may soon also necessitate Israeli military involvement. That would be a serious and unwelcome escalation, and could inexorably change the dynamic of the regional Middle Eastern war.