The battalions of the Golani Brigade, which lost 16 of its troops in the hard fighting in Gaza’s Shujaiyeh neighborhood last month, went up to the Golan Heights this week. While members of the security cabinet are still arguing about the need for a new ground operation in Gaza to defeat Hamas once and for all, Golani has returned to its original mission, which it began even before the battles in Gaza: soldiering on the Syrian border.
The reservists, who were called up to replace the Golani troops when they went to the Gaza Strip, saw the border sector on the Golan Heights change before their eyes over the past month and a half. Troops are being replaced on the Syrian side of the border as well, but there it is being done in more arbitrary and more violent manner. Fighters of the Nusra Front, the radical Islamist group linked to Al-Qaida in Syria, recently arrived en masse in southern Syria, and some of them proceeded to the southwest part of the country, near the Israeli border. Hundreds of Nusra troops have been sweeping away members of the more moderate groups in the opposition camp that has been fighting to overthrow the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Since the Nusra troops are also using tanks they plundered from the Syrian army, including advanced models, the other groups are not trying all that hard to block their passage.
The Nusra fighters, most of them natives of Syria, are not a new sight from the Golan Heights. As early as 2012, they came close to the Israeli border, reaching the area near the Quneitra border crossing. But the reinforcements they received recently have to do with deeper processes taking place in Syria, first among them the rise of Islamic State, which was formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, the most radical group in the Islamist camp. The members of Islamic State, who in late June announced the establishment of an Islamic caliphate in the broad stretches of territory in eastern Syria and western Iraq, are not only massacring troops of Assad’s army and ethnic minorities in areas they control, but are also expelling every other opposition group. […]