Israel’s army said Wednesday it had uncovered a unit recently created by Hezbollah across the ceasefire line in the Syrian Golan Heights and led by a commander previously jailed over an attack on US forces.
With President Bashar al-Assad regaining control of southern Syria with the help of Russia and Hezbollah backer Iran, Israel is concerned that a front against it could be established there.
Hezbollah, based in neighboring Lebanon, has also been supporting Assad in the war.
Israel alleged the new unit, “masterminded” by Hezbollah, was being established “to eventually control teams of Syrian operatives who will launch attacks against Israel”.
“We are not going to allow Hezbollah to establish a terror infrastructure on the Golan capable of striking Israeli civilians,” said Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus, Israeli military spokesman.
“We hold the Syrian regime responsible for anything that happens inside Syria aimed at Israel.”
The army said the unit was in the establishment and recruitment stage and was not yet operational.
It said it is led by Hezbollah commander Ali Musa Daqduq.
The accusations against Daqduq came as Israel seeks US recognition of its claim of sovereignty over parts of the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau on the Syrian frontier, which it captured in a 1967 war and deems a key security buffer.
Israel's acting foreign minister was quoted as saying such US recognition would be "an appropriate" response to what he said was increased Hezbollah activity on the Golan.
Daqduq was released from detention in 2012 in Iraq, where he had been accused by the United States of orchestrating a 2007 kidnapping that resulted in the killing of five US military personnel.
The United States had handed Daqduq over to Baghdad in 2011 after failing to secure a custody deal ahead of the US military's withdrawal from Iraq. Washington said it had received Baghdad's assurances Daqduq would be prosecuted, but he was later cleared by an Iraqi court and repatriated to Lebanon.
There was no immediate response to Israel's allegations on Wednesday from Hezbollah, Syria or the US and Russian embassies in Israel.
US diplomats have said they are in talks with Israel about its request to recognize its sovereignty on the Golan, a status that has yet to win any formal endorsement among world powers.
Israel's Mako news site quoted acting Foreign Minister Israel Katz of saying that such recognition by the United States would be “an appropriate and required response” to the allegations about Hezbollah's activity on the Syrian Golan.
“I hope that this will soon happen, during the prime minister's upcoming visit to Washington,” Katz was quoted as saying. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is due to address the pro-Israel lobby group AIPAC in the US capital in late March.
In the past, Russia has spoken in favor of other foreign forces leaving Syria, though it plans to keep a garrison there.
Israel has carried out scores of air strikes against suspected Iranian targets on Syrian Golan and further into the country, and threatened to continue such operations as required.