Israel’s Dangerous Game with Syrian Islamists
Recently, Israeli TV aired an interview (Hebrew, at the 2:00 mark) with a wounded Syrian fighter who was treated in Israel after being evacuated from the combat zone. As I, and many other journalists have reported, Israel, despite the false claim of neutrality in the civil war, has frequently intervened in the conflict on behalf of forces opposed to Bashar al-Assad. It does this less because it opposes Assad himself, than because its arch-enemies, Iran and Hezbollah, are the regime’s strongest allies.
In the Golan, Israel has cultivated an alliance with Islamist forces it falsely claims to detest: the al-Nusra Front. It has built a camp to house fighters and their families on Israeli-held territory. It conducts regular meetings with Islamist commanders and provides military and other critical supplies to them. All of this is documented in written UN reports and images captured by journalists and activists on the armistice line (between Syria and Israel).
In my writing about this, I’ve not only criticized the hypocrisy of Israel joining forces with the very forces it claims are destroying the Middle East and the world; I’ve also noted the likelihood that today’s allies will turn into tomorrow’s enemies. Maariv journalist Jacki Hugi said it well:
…Jerusalem must ask itself some difficult questions: can its bet on the rebels pay off? Or does stability on the northern border depend on the continuation of the regime? Support for these sectarian groups carries many dangers. Their trustworthiness fluctuates, as do the figures who lead them. He who today will not act against Israel may change his spots [literally “shed his skin”] tomorrow.
…Israeli policy over the past few decades has been characterized by a series of bad bets. At the end of the 1980s, it enabled Hamas to rise from the midst of Gaza’s Islamist groups. It did this out of the flawed assumption that this was the proper way to weaken Fatah…As a result [Israel] created its own Trojan Horse [within Palestine].
With the IDF’s entrance [sic] into Lebanon in 1982, Israel disregarded the Shiites and rushed to ally itself with those it saw as the most powerful in the land: the Christians. So it paved the way for Tehran to offer protection to the disadvantaged and enable the rise of Hezbollah.
Something very similar happened in Afghanistan when the mujahedeen were first our friends, and then morphed into the Taliban and became our sworn enemies.
So far, the Syrian Islamists have deliberately not targeted Israel. This is no doubt due to the aid it offers them on the battlefield. Further, al-Nusra knows that Hezbollah is Israel’s primary opponent. The Lebanese militia constantly probes in this sector and mounts attacks against Israeli forces. Al-Nusra doesn’t seek or need to compete with Hezbollah in that regard. It would rather confine is efforts to the Syrian theater, than expand to attack Israel itself.
But lately, al-Nusra has mounted attacks in a new Syrian sector: the Druze-populated Golan. This new offensive, which has threatened several Druze villages, led to the death of 20 Druze villagers last week. The Syrian Druze are generally loyal to the Assad regime. Their religion, though an offshoot of Islam, is considered heretical by fundamentalist Islamists. The Druze under threat, rightly believe that they and their ancient religious traditions are in grave jeopardy.
This might not mean much to Israel, except for a single complicating factor: when it conquered the Golan in 1967, it began an occupation of former Syrian territory which contained tens of thousands of Syrian Druze. Though an armistice line now separates the Druze in Syrian and Israeli-occupied zones, both communities are deeply intertwined. It is no different than Diaspora Jews felt in 1967 before the war broke out. Millions rallied around the world concerned about Israel’s fate. Now the Druze in Israeli-held Golan are fearful for the fates of their brothers and sisters.
In this context, the interview I mentioned above was a lightning bolt through the Druze community. The interviewer asked the fighter (who was affiliated with the FSA):
Interviewer: [What would u do] if you caught an Alawite?
A: I would kill him
I: And if you caught a Druze?
A: It depends
I: And if you caught a Shiite?
A: I would kill the Shiite
This answer didn’t go down well among the Druze. Sandwiched between this vow of murder directed at Syrian Alawites, the Druze normal ally, is a temporizing claim that he might or might not kill a captured Druze. This, with the backdrop of 20 Druze murdered only a few days earlier. It was enough to mount a mini-revolt among Golani Druze.
Israel regularly evacuates Islamist fighters (and some civilians as well) wounded in the fighting against the regime in the region. Angry local Druze intercepted an IDF ambulance carrying two wounded fighters (the IDF claims they were civilians). They beat the army medics, who were forced to flee. They then beat one of the wounded Syrians to death and severely wounded the other, before the authorities intervened and rescued him.
The Israeli military is aghast at this infringement on its right to meddle in Syrian internal affairs unmolested. Defense minister Yaalon called the killing a “lynch.” This is Israeli code for ‘Arab savagery.’ It is used to differentiate Israeli behavior, supposedly civilized and humane, from that of Palestinian militants.
In the case of the Golan killing, the IDF is attempting to paint the Golani Druze as uncivilized beasts when, in fact, they are legitimately angry at Israel’s new alliance with their enemies, the al-Nusra Front. The Druze are now demanding that Israel intervene in the civil war to save their brethren under attack from al-Nusra. This is the sort of insanely complex strategic dilemma that comes from playing with fire. If Israel continues its “arrangement” with al-Nusra and the latter conquers Syrian Druze villages and imposes fundamentalist Islam replete with revenge killings and beheadings, then it risks igniting a tinderbox inside Israeli-occupied Golan. If it takes the side of the Druze against al-Nusra it risks the leverage it has with the only viable force opposing Israel’s most dangerous enemies, Hezbollah and Iran.
When you play with matches, you’ll get burned.
28 thoughts on “Israel’s Dangerous Game with Syrian Islamists – Tikun Olam תיקון עולם إصلاح العالم”
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I thought that some Syrian Druze were joining the opposition against Assad.
If so, this might explain why the injured FSA fighter you quoted said that he may or may not kill captured Druze.
I’d be very surprised if that was true. Druze don’t much like the prospects of a Nusra government in Damascus.
Can you link to the reporting of Israel providing “military … supplies” to the rebels? I saw some UN reporting of unspecified objects being transferred, but has there been any evidence that it was military in nature?
There is zero evidence that Israel give military supplies to any rebel group.
There is an unsubstantiated claim that Israel has provided artillery cover for the rebels.
That claim comes from an AL Monitor article, written by ‘anonymous’ and quoting anonymous sources.
That article provided one named source for the artillery cover claim, a Syrian Army General.
@Mitchell: This is a lie. Al Monitor does not publish articles anonymously. Further, the claim of Isrsel launching artillery into Syria is widely reported including in Israeli media. UN observers observed the IDF unloading boxes full of supplies for al Nusra fighters. These were not I assure you boxes of books to raise the morale of the troops.
” Al Monitor does not publish articles anonymously. ”
Ahh! You’re right. AI Monitor doesn’t publish ‘anonymous’. It publishes writers who use pseudonyms.
‘Khaled Atallah, Contributor, Syria Pulse. Khaled Atallah is a pseudonym for a Syrian journalist based in Syria’.
@Mitchell: I’ll choose to trust Al Monitor, anonymous or not, over you any day of the week.
Denying the obvious! Read http://www.debka.com/article/24687/ , even DEBKAfile admits that the IDF-support for “certain Syrian rebel groups” can not be hidden, especially not from the Druze, living in Golan Villages.
@Eli: And what do you presume the IDF is providing al Nusra fighters, Girl Scout cookies? I have no doubt this was military supplies. Note also Israel has not denied the charges.
Would you support an Israeli effort to provide military supplies to the Syrian Druze?
@ Mitchell Blood: I’d support Israel and every other military force (including Hezbollah & Iran) keeping their nose out of other nations’ business. Especially regarding military intervention. I have less problem with humanitarian intervention.
No one deliver ammunition by a few boxes. It is heavies and spent quickly. Ammunition it transferred by truckloads which isn’t the case here. I saw somewhere an assumption it is either medicine or communication systems. Both makes a lot more sense then a few thousand bullets hand delivered.
@James: I never said the boxes contained ammunition. They could’ve contained any type of weapons system that could fit into boxes. If you claim it was medicine, let’s see a statement & video footage documenting this claim. We’ve already seen the IDF lies through it’s teeth so why should we believe an unfounded rumor planted by you to cover its ass??
Like you write, there is no proof that will convince you they didn’t supply ammunition so that is a waste of time. But the fact remains, a few boxes of ammunition is nothing and doesn’t make sense and I’m not sure what type of ‘weapon system’ you may refer to. Maybe night vision?
I assume Mitchell was referring to this article:
The author Khaled Atallah is writing under a pseudonym. I consider Al Monitor to be a reliable organisation with a serious track record. I would be surprised if they would publish someone unless they had some confidence in their professionalism and reliability.
This being said, I certainly wouldn’t accept everything that was told to the reporter at face value.
The article reports that IDF reportedly provided communication equipment, medical devices and maps.
In terms of the English-language UN report, the relevant sentence is:
“On one occasion UNDOF observed the IDF on the Alpha side handing over two boxes to armed members of the opposition on the Bravo side.”
For what it’s worth, Israel officially responded to this claim via UN representative Prosor:
“At the time of the incident in question, UNDOF officials asked the IDF about the contents of the box and were informed that they contained medicine for Syrian citizens that had received medical treatment in Israel and subsequently returned home to Syria.”
@Eli: And I always believe everything Israeli officials tell me because they’re simply honest & reliable. Ron Prosor is as honest as a $3 bill.
$3 bill is overrated. We prefer $3 billion
Thanks Richard. You nailed it.
Israel is fooling around with silly short lived alliances, playing with fire, when it should have made peace a long time ago.
Couldn’t agree more. Yeah, it’s a clever idea for Israel to support al-Nusra (al-Qa’ida), just to maintain the level of confusion in Syria. Now we have the problem. Unfortunately there are Druze on both sides of the cease-fire line. If al-Nusra, supported by Israel, wins, they will massacre the Druze, as Islamic heretics (which they are). The Druze on the Israeli side of the cease-fire, not surprisingly, are unhappy.
“But lately, al-Nusra has mounted attacks in a new Syrian sector: the Druze-populated Golan. This new offensive, which has threatened several Druze villages, led to the death of 20 Druze villagers last week.”
The massacre didn’t take place in the Golan, but in the Druze village of Qalb Lawzah in the Province of Idlib, close to the Turkish border.
@Deir Yassin: Thanks for your correction. I didn’t know there were Druze in the Syrian north.
Neither did I ….. I was rather astonished when I first heard about a massacre in a Druze village in the Idlib Province, in fact it seems there’s a number of Druze villages in the Harim Mountains:
As you know, for what it’s worth, Nusra officials apologized for the death of the some 20 Druze villagers. Analysts seem to agree that Israel is putting pressure on Nusra to avoid targeting Syrian Druze.
Richard – your comparison of Israel and syrian rebels to the US and what became the taliban is horrifying and true. The US and the zionist state have too many empire builders/war mongers in power to see the shit they are knee deep it.
after all, do not forget two helpless wounded persons were stoned (one of thehm to death) mercilessly by the mob from Majdal Shams. After this heinous crime, mass celebrations broke out in Majdal.
You must see it: https://youtu.be/K_RFKsvEbSI
@ nikkor1: If rebel fighters murdered your family you’d celebrate their death too. What I do love about hasbarists like you is when you get on your high horse and call Arabs beasts & savages without reailzing your own country is no less beastly and savage.
But you Richard call some Israelis murderers but not these guys
@ james: I never said they weren’t murderers. Of course they’re murderers. But what’s important is the context of their act of violence. Israel itself is fully to blame for things getting to this point. Did Israel think it could play with fire in Syria & not pay a price in the Golan? How absurd!