DAMASCUS, SYRIA — Israel, long a major player in the coalition of foreign governments seeking regime change in Syria, may now shed its passive role in the conflict for an active one. Last Friday, the spokesperson for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) announced that Israel is “prepared and ready to assist the residents of the [Druze] village [of Hader] and prevent damage to or the capture of the village Hader out of commitment to the Druze population.”
— Anna Ahronheim (@AAhronheim) November 3, 2017
In other words, Israel is ready to occupy the Syrian village of Hader, held by the Syrian government and largely populated by the Druze religious minority. Hader is also located in proximity to the Golan Heights – a Syrian territory occupied by Israel for decades despite international opposition and multiple UN resolutions condemning the occupation. The statement was unusual, given that Israel has publicly maintained a “hands-off” policy regarding the Syrian conflict.
Israel’s apparent change of heart came after a car bomb killed nine and injured 23 others in Hader early Friday morning. Syrian news agency SANA blamed the al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra Front for the attack, adding that subsequent clashes between the Syrian Arab Army and the terrorist group claimed the lives of several Syrian soldiers. Some Israeli media outlets, however, reported that Tahrir al-Sham was responsible, declining to mention that Tahrir al-Sham was the name adopted by al-Nusra earlier this year in May.
Prior to the bombing, al-Nusra Front had announced it would launch a campaign “to lift the siege on the villages in the Golan Heights and the Syrian Hermon,” further stating that the group had no intention to harm residents of Hader along with “anyone else who does not intervene in the war.”
Concern for Druze belied by discrimination, indifference
Though Israel is now claiming the need to intervene out of concern for and commitment to the Druze population, Israel’s past support for Syrian rebels groups suggests that the real motivation may be something else entirely. Israel has long supported al-Nusra Front in Southern Syria, the very group responsible for last Friday’s car bomb. According to Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, Israel has been aiding “rebels” in Southern Syria in order to keep the Druze out of “immediate danger,” an arrangement that has apparently backfired.
As far back as 2012, the United Nations has documented Syrian “rebels” in Southern Syria – now under the al-Nusra banner – picking up supplies from the Israeli border, and meetings between Israeli military personnel and al-Nusra commanders have been photographed on several occasions. Reporters have also documented IDF personnel entering Syrian territory to conduct meetings with al-Nusra members and affiliates. Israel even established a Syrian “rebel” encampment inside Israeli territory along the Israeli-Syrian border:
Earlier this year, The Wall Street Journal reported Israel, since the early days of the conflict, has been “supplying Syrian rebels near its border with cash as well as food, fuel, and medical supplies for years, a secret engagement in the enemy country’s civil war aimed at carving out a buffer zone populated by friendly forces.”
Most notable, however, has been Israel’s long-standing practice of treating wounded Syrian “rebels” in Israeli hospitals. The allegedly “humanitarian” program has involved the IDF entering territory in Syria that has been dominated by al-Qaeda-affiliated fighters since 2013 in order to evacuate “rebels” from Syrian territory and take them into Israel for medical treatment. Upon recovering, the rebels are returned to Syria to continue fighting the Syrian government, attacks which sometimes include assaults on Druze communities that stand in their path.
In an interview that aired on Israeli television in 2015, one of the wounded Wahhabist fighters being treated in Israel, after vowing to murder Syrian Alawites, was asked: “What would you do if you captured a Druze?” The man responded, “It depends.” — an answer that did not sit well with the Druze community.
Israel’s support for al Nusra, the very group that has been attacking the Druze, stands in direct contradiction to the country’s claim to support the religious minority. Indeed, this relationship may be why Hezbollah — after the recent car bombing in Hader — blamed Israel for planning the attack in secret with al-Nusra Front over the course of the past few weeks, although no other sources have yet to confirm Hezbollah’s version of the event.
Further complicating matters for Israel, as many as 100,000 Druze live within the Jewish state, and have routinely protested against discrimination from the Israeli government. Druze community leaders have long argued that funds for their villages fall short of those given to Jewish communities, despite their members being conscripted to serve in the IDF. Even within the IDF, charges of discrimination targeting Druze soldiers are common. Given that Israel’s commitment to the Druze living within its borders has been questioned several times over the years, Israel’s commitment to the Druze in Syria seems an unlikely reason for its recent decision to consider occupying Hader.
An agenda lurks behind “humanitarianism”
While humanitarian concerns and Israel’s “commitment to the Druze population” are the public justifications given for Israel’s open willingness to occupy Syrian government-held villages, Israel’s role as one of the Syrian conflict’s chief architects illuminates the more likely motivation for Israel’s decision to publicly take a more active role in the conflict.
State Department diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks have shown that in 2006, five years before the conflict in Syria manifested, the government of Israel had hatched a plan to overthrow the Assad government, a plan that was later passed to the United States and would involve Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar and Egypt in fomenting the “breakdown” of the Syrian government. From Israel’s perspective, the removal of the current Syrian government would allow for Israel’s complete dominance of the Golan Heights – along with its oil and gas reserves – as well as decreasing regional resistance to the Yinon plan or “Greater Israel” project.
In order to make this plan a reality, Israel has – in addition to covertly supporting Syrian rebels, including known terrorist groups – attacked locations within Syria numerous times, most recently a copper factory in the Homs province. That attack, in particular, led the Syrian government to ask the UN to condemn Israel’s actions and violations of Syrian sovereignty.
Furthermore, Israeli officials have regularly noted that the prospect of Daesh (ISIS) conquering the whole of Syria would be preferable to the survival of the Syrian government, suggesting that the Israeli government has few qualms about aiding Wahhabist groups in service to its ultimate goal of Syrian regime change.
Yet, with the Syrian government consolidating control over its territory and regime-change efforts largely believed to have failed, Israel has begun to panic and — as the U.S., Saudis, Turkey and others seek to distance themselves from the regime-change operation in Syria — is set to take matters into its own hands with potentially disastrous consequences and under “humanitarian” pretenses.
As U.K. Admiral Sir Philip Jones, Chief of Naval Staff, stated last year:
the hard punch of military power is often delivered inside the kid glove of humanitarian relief.” An Israeli occupation of southern Syria would likely be no different.
Top photo | A Druze man watches fighting between Syrian troops and rebels in the village of Jubata al-Khashab, as seen from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights on Sept. 11, 2016. (AP/Ariel Schalit)
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