Until the IDF openly identified Munir Ali Naim Shaiti, also known as Haj Hasham, as Hezbollah’s main man in Syria’s Golan, the Arabic-language press seems to have been taken off guard that he had replaced Samir Kuntar, who was assassinated the previous year.
As the war of words with Hezbollah continues, the security establishment is raising the lid over the identity of the Shi’ite terrorist group’s new top commander on the Golan Heights.
The IDF Military Intelligence Directorate has identified Hezbollah’s main man on the eastern, Syrian-held side of the Golan as Munir Ali Naim Shaiti, also known as Haj Hasham. The 50-year-old father of four from south Lebanon spends most of his time in Syria where he is in charge of security and directing all Hezbollah operations in the war-torn country.
Shaiti is believed to have been the deputy chief of Hezbollah’s Bader Brigades, which handles terrorist operations north of the Litani River in Lebanon, before he became the head of Hezbollah’s operations in Syria in June 2016, replacing Samir Kuntar who was killed the previous year.
While his main role in Syria is to assist the Assad regime’s army in its fight against the rebel groups in the area, he gets his orders from the influential and powerful Maj.-Gen. Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’s Quds Force, according to intelligence sources.
Shaiti is also in charge of preparing Hezbollah’s military infrastructure for a war with Israel, which the Jewish state believes will not be confined to one front but will see conflict with both Syria and Lebanon.
While the primary threat posed by Hezbollah remains its missile arsenal, which has been rebuilt with the help of Iran since the 2006 Second Lebanon War, the IDF believes that the next war will see the group trying to bring the fight to the home front by infiltrating Israeli communities to inflict significant civilian and military casualties.
The identity of Hezbollah’s main man on the Golan has not been revealed until now, and Arabic-language press seem to have been taken off guard, replicating what has been printed in Hebrew press.
According to Aymenn Tamimi, research fellow at the Philadelphia-based Middle East Forum, while it is likely that the information Israeli intelligence has on Shaiti is true, “it’s hard to verify as Hezbollah tends not to say much about where exactly its commanders are stationed.”
The strategic importance of the Golan and the new Iranian entrenchment there has Israel concerned, and Israel is believed to have carried out hundreds of strikes targeting Hezbollah gunmen, weapons convoys and infrastructure in Syria since January 2013, preventing what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says would be “game-changing weaponry” falling into the hands of the group.
Israel has carried out air strikes inside Syria against senior Iranian and Hezbollah commanders such as against Jihad Mughniyeh, the son of the late Hezbollah military chief Imad Mughniyeh, near the Golan city of Quneitra in January 2015, and Kuntar, slain on the outskirts of Damascus in December 2015.
Both Jihad Mughniyeh and Kuntar are believed to have been in the process of establishing military infrastructure on the Golan Heights for future attacks against Israel when they were killed, so it can be assumed that with Shaiti’s unmasking, Military Intelligence is warning the Shi’ite terrorist group that he may be next.
Hezbollah has been fighting in Syria, assisting the regime of Bashar Assad, and in mid-September the group’s secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah claimed that the regime had won the civil war. According to Arabic press, Hezbollah announced on Tuesday that its soldiers would fully withdraw from Syria in 2018.
But according to Tamimi, it is doubtful that the group will fully pull out of Syria next year.
“We are talking of a long-term presence in those border areas and having local Syrian affiliates as a way to get around any meaningful insistence of no Iranian-backed [non-Syrian] militias on the border,” he said, explaining that Hezbollah has been recruiting fighters from the Druse village of Hadr in south Syria, near Israel’s Mount Hermon.
“Hezbollah wants local affiliates who could move about in those border areas and perhaps act as a tool of harassment, and Hadr is one close border place from which you could recruit.
“I think in the long-run when there’s an insistence there should be no Iranian-backed foreign militias on that border area, the international pressure may be such that Hezbollah can’t keep its own Lebanese operatives and commanders there. But if you have local Syrian affiliates that’s a way to get around it,” Tamimi explained.
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