"The plotting of Evil surrounds only its own plotters."
More will be said in a later chapter about the character and abilities of Heraclius and the strategy he used for his attempt to crush the Muslim invaders of his Empire. Here it may just be noted that as an enemy, Heraclius was a man to be reckoned with-not one to give up the struggle while the least hope remained. His next move after the affair of Abul Quds was to put another army in the field, consisting of fresh contingents from Northern Syria, the Jazeera and Europe. This army included the survivors of the Meadow of Brocade. Part of the army gathered at Antioch, while part landed by sea at the Mediterranean ports in Syria and Palestine.
The concentration of this army at Baisan, west of the Jordan River, began in late December 634 (early Dhul Qad, 13 Hijri). From here the army would strike eastwards and cut Muslim communications with Arabia. According to this plan-which was typical of Heraclius-he would avoid a head-on clash with the Muslims at Damascus, put them in a position of strategical disadvantage, and force them to evacuate Damascus. Fahl, just east of the Jordan River, was already occupied by a Roman garrison of moderate size which was engaged by a Muslim cavalry detachment under Abul A'war.
The Muslims received intelligence of the movement of Roman contingents from local agents; and before the concentration of the Romans at Baisan was complete, they knew that the strength of this new army would be about 80,000 men, and that its commanders was Saqalar, son of Mikhraq. It was evident that this force would move eastwards and place itself astride the Muslim lines of communication. A council of war was held by Abu Ubaidah, and it was decided that the Muslims should move and crush this new Roman army, leaving behind a strong garrison to hold Damascus against any threat from the north and west. By now the Muslims had fully rested after their heroic labours. Soon after Abul Quds, more reinforcements had been received from Arabia, while a large number of those who had been wounded in earlier battles had rejoined the Muslim ranks as fit soldiers. This raised the strength of the army to something like 30,000 men, organised in five corps of varying strength.
Now the command arrangement made by Abu Bakr and confirmed by Umar came into effect in a rather unusual way. Yazeed was the commander and governor of the Damascus region, and was consequently left in Damascus with his corps. Shurahbil was the commander appointed for the district of Jordan in which lay Baisan and Fahl. Hence Abu Ubaidah, carrying out the Caliph's instructions to the letter-farther than was probably intended-handed over the command of the army to Shurahbil for the forthcoming operation. In about the second week of January 635, the Muslim army, leaving behind the corps of Yazeed, marched from Damascus under the command of Shurahbil, with Khalid and the corps of Iraq forming the advance guard. In the middle of January the Muslims arrived at Fahl to find the Roman garrison gone, Abul A'war in occupation of the town, and what looked like a marsh stretching on both sides of the Jordan River.1
As soon as the Roman garrison of Fahl had heard of the advance of the Muslim army from Damascus, it had left the place in haste, and withdrawing across the river, joined the main body of the Roman army at Baisan. Immediately after, the Romans, not wishing to be disturbed at Baisan before their preparations were complete, dammed the river a few miles south of the Baisan-Fahl line and flooded the low-lying belt which stretched along both banks of the river. The flooded area was determined by the contour line and in places was up to a mile from the river. There were some routes across this inundated area, but they were known only to the Romans. The Muslims knew the desert; they had come to know the hills; but this belt of water and mud which stretched along their front was a new experience and left them nonplussed. However, they decided to attempt a crossing.
1. Fahl is below sea level, and from the town the hillside slopes even further down to the bed of the Jordan Valley. In this area the Jordan River is about 900 feet below sea level.