HADAR, Golan Heights — As the Syrian war continues into its seventh year with no sign of resolution, one town on the edge of Syria’s Golan Heights has had to fend off both opposition-led offensives and Israel's subjugation attempts over the last six years almost entirely on its own.
Hadar, a Druze town with a population of 10,000, according to local officials, has a unique story. Nestled on the Syrian face of Jabal al-Sheikh, Hadar directly faces the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, where the Shouting Valley separates it by just a few hundred meters from the Israeli-occupied Druze town of Majdal Shams. A few hundred meters up Jabal al-Sheikh, perched on its peak, sits one of Israel’s largest military intelligence stations. It carefully monitors all activity in the Golan on one side and in Lebanon’s Shebaa and beyond on the other.
Hadar’s other neighbors are armed groups belonging to both the Jordanian-backed Southern Front and the al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra, now also known as Jabhat Fatah al-Sham. Between them, they control the villages and the remaining mountaintops overlooking Hadar.
The only access to Hadar is a small dirt track that winds around the mountain from a government-controlled road. On a good day, vehicles struggle to pass through. A particular point on the 20-minute journey from the main road to the town makes travelers clear targets for opposition snipers positioned in the mountains. The track is forced to close by opposition attacks as well as severe weather, and in past years civilians have struggled to bring in goods to survive the harsh winter months.
The already sensitive area has become a tinderbox. Adding to the presence of the Israeli army and the various elements of the Syrian opposition, there are also government forces in the vicinity that are being aided by pro-government militias and the Lebanese armed group Hezbollah.
Everyone wants to co-opt Hadar to serve their own political agendas. “From [Lebanese Druze leader] Walid Jumblatt to Israel to the Syrian opposition,” said Abu Tawfiq, a sturdy-looking man in his late 40s who took up arms at the start of the conflict to defend Hadar from opposition attacks. His local armed faction, known as the National Defense Forces within Hadar, wield a melange of personal weapons from before the war and some others provided by the Syrian army. “But we don’t see ourselves as a sectarian militia, we see ourselves as Syrian citizens,” he told Al-Monitor.