TEL AVIV – An Iranian-backed Shiite militia, armed with Russian tanks via the Syrian army, this week announced the formation of a dedicated brigade to “liberate the Golan Heights” from Israel, the state-controlled Fars news agency reported.
The announcement prompted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to seek assurances from Russian President Vladimir Putin that Iran will not establish a permanent presence in Syria.
“I made it clear to President Putin our resolute opposition to the consolidation of Iran and its proxies in Syria,” the prime minister said in a press briefing on Thursday following his meeting with Putin. “We see Iran trying to build a military force, military infrastructure, with the intention to be based in Syria, including the attempt by Iran to build a seaport. All this has serious implications in terms of Israel’s security.”
The Iraqi militia, which goes by the name Harakat al Nujaba, is trained by the elite Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and equipped with Russian-made tanks and Iranian rockets. The T-90 tanks were likely redirected from Russia through the Syrian army.
“The declaration regarding the formation of the Liberation of the Golan Brigade is not only a media campaign, but the real goal of the movement,” said the militia’s secretary-general Akram al-Kabi.
According to intelligence researcher Ronen Solomon, owner of the Intel Times blog, the militia’s name first surfaced in 2013 when it deployed divisions in Syria to secure Shiite holy sites.
“That same year, the militia released a series of videos that expressed loyalty to the commander of the Revolutionary Guard’s Quds Force, Qasem Soleimani, and even adopted the resistance symbols of Hezbollah,” Ynet news cited Solomon as explaining.
Harakat al Nujaba is one of several Iran-backed Shiite militias tasked with reinforcing Hezbollah’s presence in Syria and conquering strategic cities, and is credited for its role in the capture of Aleppo last year. According to Solomon, the militia’s activity “is coordinated with Russia, who has been providing the forces with aerial backup and assisting in transferring weapons of their production.”
Harakat al Nujaba’s leader al-Kabi accused Israel of attacking his brigade in 2015, a claim that remains speculative. Last year, however, Israel’s foreign and defense legislative committee revealed that the IDF had stopped several Iran-directed attempts to move forces into the Syrian Golan Heights.