Fidaa Itani

Failed attempt to assassinate the Southern Front

Commander of the FSA’s First Army Abu Osama al-Jolani says Israel “turned a blind eye” to the Syrian regime strike on a meeting he was attending near the occupied Golan Heights.

Abu Osama al-Jolani (R), commander of the FSA’s First Army (Al-Hayat)

“Has Tel al-Harah fallen?” Abu Osama al-Jolani asked. It was the first thing he said after regaining consciousness. “No, it’s still holding up,” came the answer. Abu Osama closed his eyes again, but this time just to rest.


On Tuesday, 10 March 2015 at 4:00 pm, around 15 minutes had passed since Abu Osama had arrived at a secret base run by the First Army—one of the Free Syrian Army-affiliated (FSA) groups in the Southern Front rebel coalition. He was supposed to be joining a meeting with several military aides when the missile hit, demolishing the center of the building.


Most people present were injured, and the area is far away from the First Army’s other bases. The other formations in the Southern Front are also a long way off, so it was impossible to search the area or the buildings overlooking it for the ground advisor who helped direct the strike. A guided missile was used and the strike took place just 15 minutes after Abu Osama entered the base. This proves beyond any doubt that the raid was carefully prepared. A ground advisor had to be present to provide the initial information that allowed it to take place and confirm the target had been hit afterwards.


“That location was chosen specifically because of its proximity to the occupied Golan,” says Abu Osama. “We tried to take advantage of the anti-aircraft cover provided by [the presence of] Israeli occupation forces.” But something happened that led to the raid and the injury of Abu Osama, who was able to give an interview from an undisclosed location inside Syria after his health had improved.


In September 2014, Israeli anti-aircraft defenses in the occupied Golan Heights shot down a Syrian Sukhoi plane flying near the area. First Israel announced that there had been a breach of “its” air space. Then it announced that the downing of the plane had been a mistake. It was a clear warning to Damascus: Syrian warplanes were not to approach areas controlled by Israeli forces.


This prompted Southern Front leadership to enter areas near the occupied part of the Golan Heights. There, they would be protected from the random barrel bomb attacks the Syrian Air Force carries out.


Later, in January 2015, Israel carried out another cross-border strike, killing Iranian General Mohammad Ali Allahdadi and several Hezbollah commanders, including Jihad Mughniyeh and Mohammad Issa. In this instance, Syria’s air defenses did not act. No anti-aircraft missiles were launched in response to the breach of airspace.


The obvious deduction is that Israel has complete control over the air space in the area. Flight by Syrian aircraft, if it happens near the border, will be met by a direct Israeli response. In any case, this has been the situation since the end of the 1973 Arab-Israeli war.


Notwithstanding this, on 10 March, Syrian planes raided the First Army’s position and no Israeli response was forthcoming.


Some people have suggested that there is tacit Israeli approval for getting rid of the First Army’s military commander and most prominent personality, Abu Osama al-Jolani (or Al-Nuaimi, as Syrian regime and pro-regime media choose to call him).


A few hours after the strike, the story spread across pro-regime media outlets in Syria and Lebanon. There was talk of an operations room, and the presence of an Israeli liaison officer at a meeting that was being held there. They also reported the presence of foreign officers from the Military Operations Command (MOC) center in Jordan, which coordinates the efforts of states supporting the Syrian revolution.


Sources told these outlets that the strike had injured dozens of people, and that they had then been transferred to Israel and Jordan. Regime and pro-regime media celebrated the death of Abu Osama, and reported the death of his aide and other FSA commanders.


“There was no cooperation with Israel, not in any shape or form. In fact, we refused all communication with the Israelis. Perhaps that is why the Israelis turned a blind eye to the raid, or perhaps they did more than turn a blind eye,” says Abu Osama.


However, according to Abu Osama, casting doubt on the source of the strike is unrealistic. As anyone who followed regime and pro-regime media coverage after the raid will know, somebody must have prepared a complete file on Abu Osama, the raid and the new victory that was supposed to have been won by killing him and his military aides.


To magnify this supposed victory even further, the First Army was linked with Israeli and Jordanian intelligence. A very important meeting involving all three parties was being held to prepare for an attack on regime positions, pro-regime media claimed.


In truth, the matter was simpler than that. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is preparing for a new onslaught in southern Syria. It is getting ready for a wide-ranging operation which will supposedly put its forces on the Jordanian border, face-to-face with the Israeli Army. This way, the IRGC will be able to prevent the Israeli Army form striking Iran when the nuclear negotiations with the United States are concluded. The First Army, the Saif al-Sham Brigades and the other formations in the Southern Front form one of the most important obstacles to this advance.


In February, the IRGC received a painful blow: field commanders were killed in the attack on what has become known as the triangle of death (the territory that lies between Damascus Countryside, Quneitra and Daraa). The IRGC also suffered heavy rank-and-file losses, with the bodies of Iranian, Lebanese and Afghan fighters remaining on farmland for weeks before they were removed. Then it suffered further setbacks when it fought alongside the Syrian regime in the northern assault that pushed towards the Turkish border.


This time the IRGC is trying to get top leaders out of the way before sending its armed forces on a mission to invade new areas of Syria.


“We told them before that the battle with us would be costly, but they didn’t believe us. After that, we told them that they would be facing guerilla war on every meter they advanced, and they didn’t believe that either. Today we’re telling them that killing one or two commanders won’t change a thing,” says Abu Osama, who is now making a recovery and has begun to resume his activities.


“We will continue to raise the FSA flag. We will keep fighting, no matter who lives or dies.”


This article was originally published by Al-Hayat and has been translated from the original Arabic by Ullin Hope.

Abu Osama al-Jolani (R), commander of the FSA’s First Army (Al-Hayat)

"That location was chosen specifically because of its proximity to the occupied Golan,” says Abu Osama. “We tried to take advantage of the anti-aircraft cover provided by [the presence of] Israeli occupation forces.”

  • Hanibaal-Atheos

    Abu Osama al-Jolani holds his meeting very near the Israeli border specifically to seek the protection of Israeli anti-aircraft. He then is disappointed when Israel does not automatically provide the protection he assumed would obtain from his smart trick. First, he obviously does not know, or chooses to ignore, that the Baathist entity and the Zionist entity have had a 40-year long love affair, and that the Zionist entity prefers the proven treachery of the Baathist entity to the unproven treachery of his FSA. Second, Abu Osama al-Jolani would in all likelihood, should he succeed in taking over from the Assad regime, maintain the same public hatred for Israel while maintaining a secret alliance with it, assuming the Israelis vet his treachery as a reliable one. In other words, Syrians like Jolani who spent their lives brainwashed by Baathist propaganda have to prove their pro-Zionist preferences before they receive assistance from the Zionists, just like Egyptians, Jordanians, some Palestinians, and most Gulf Arab states have done. Next time, I think Abu Osama al-Jolani should contact the Israelis first and tell them he is having a meeting and request that they please protect him against the Baathist jets.

    March 23, 2015