When Israel conquered the Golan in 1967, it launched a 50-year occupation of the Syrian Golan in which tens of thousands of Syrian Druze lived. Though an armistice line now separates the Druze in Syrian and Israeli-occupied zones, both communities are deeply intertwined. The sense of solidarity now, in the midst of a raging civil […]
When Israel conquered the Golan in 1967, it launched a 50-year occupation of the Syrian Golan in which tens of thousands of Syrian Druze lived. Though an armistice line now separates the Druze in Syrian and Israeli-occupied zones, both communities are deeply intertwined. The sense of solidarity now, in the midst of a raging civil war, 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.
Israel claims, falsely, that it is neutral in the Syrian civil war. Unfortunately, the world media are taken in by this charade. Israel intervenes regularly on behalf of the Syrian Islamist rebels. The UN observed the IDF unloading supplies in boxes at the armistice fence, which were then picked up by Islamist fighters. Al Monitor even reported that the IDF shells government positions inside Syria. The Israelis meet regularly with al-Nusra commanders (who are affiliated with al-Qaeda) to offer intelligence. A Syrian Druze videotaped one such meeting, which was aired on Syrian TV. He was promptly secretly arrested by the Shabak. The Israeli media was forbidden from reporting his name, Sedki al-Maket, thanks to a security gag order (I was the only journalist outside Syria who reported his name and story).
Israeli TV reported that Israel has built a camp for Syrian army deserters in Israeli occupied Golan. Israel has also bombed Hezbollah and Iranian convoys inside Syria carrying advanced weaponry meant for the Lebanese front. It has assassinated several senior Iranian generals and Hezbollah commanders on Syrian soil as well. It opposes Assad not so much for political or ideological reasons, but because the regime’s chief allies are Israel’s arch-nemeses, Iran and Hezbollah.
Israel’s alliance with Islamists makes for some strange bedfellows. Prime Minister Netanyahu is the first to raise the rallying cry for western resistance to the tyranny of Islamism. He regularly invokes the specter of the savagery of ISIS in counterpoint to the civilizing force of Israel. But when it’s in Israel’s interest, it’s more than willing to make common cause with such forces.
…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.
Recently, fighting on the Syrian side of Golan has heated up. There, the Druze villages have been largely loyal to the Assad regime over the decades. When al-Nusra and FSA forces attacked Druze villages in northern Syria, killing 20 residents, those living on the Israeli-occupied side of the Golan became restive and angry. They couldn’t sit back and watch as their cousins died at the hands of Islamists.
Not to mention that 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. Thus, Israel’s alliance with the al-Nusra front puts it diametrically at odds with the Golani Druze under Israeli Occupation.
In recent days, 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. What he said raised the ire of the local Druze to the boiling point:
TV interview: “What would you do if you captured a Druze?” “It depends.”
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 traditional Druze 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, was enough to mount a mini-revolt among Golani Druze.
Israel regularly evacuates Islamist fighters wounded in the fighting against the regime in the region. Angry local Druze intercepted an IDF ambulance carrying two wounded Syrians, whom the IDF claimed 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.
Munther Khalil: the IDF’s Faux Syrian “Civilian”
Syrian Islamists calling themselves the Revolutionary Command Council in Quneitra and the Golan, published a Facebook memorial to the victim who was killed in the attack. The page says in Arabic:
His picture features him brandishing a gun in full rebel garb. He is clearly not a civilian.
The two wounded were from one of the Syrian rebel organizations fighting in the heart of the Golan against the Syrian army.
The IDF lied in order to conceal its own contributing role in this tragic incident. A common occurrence in such circumstances.
The Israeli military is aghast at the Druze attack, since it infringes 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 (or Arab) 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. When Israel first occupied the Golan did it figure that the inhabitants would embrace the occupiers and become like them? Did it give any thought to the views and interests of the occupied and how they differed from those of Israelis? It’s doubtful. Now they are paying the price for their obliviousness and for fifty years of military occupation of Syrian Druze.
The latter 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’re bound to get burned.