Despite a long history of anti-Israel and anti-Jewish rhetoric, the main victims of al-Qaeda’s horrible sectarian attacks have been Muslims in the Arab world, along with western civilian and military targets. The movement has rarely targeted Israel.
And, as this column has covered in some detail, its current alliance with Jabhat al-Nusra is narrow in focus, on the Golan Heights. Israel invaded that south-western part of Syria in 1967 and still illegally occupies it.
But now, on the smaller sector of the Golan which is still under Syrian control, the civil war rages. And, especially since Jabhat al-Nusra overtook Qunaitra, a key crossing, in August 2014, rebels forces in that area are dominated by al-Qaeda. Yet there has been cooperation between the Israeli military and the rebels. Israel is focused on its main enemy in that area, not far from Lebanon: Hizballah, and its Iranian backers.
It has hit out against the Lebanese resistance, launching air strikes against Hizballah, de facto aiding al-Qaeda in its fight against the Syrian government and its Hizballah allies.
So the aid has gone further than maintaining quiet between the two sides, it is far more active than that. It has also included logistical support in the form of field hospitals opened for Syrian rebels including al-Qaeda, who (instead of being imprisoned, as you would expect for anti-Israel militants) are sent back to fight against the government in Syria after their hospital treatment.
This week, the highest level confirmation to date of Israeli aid to al-Qaeda-allied rebels came from none other than Israel’s Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon. “Israel conditions its assistance to the Syrian rebels on its border on their commitment not to hurt the Druze minority in Syria,” Israeli media source i24 reported Yaalon as stating.
Perhaps inadvertently confirming what many already know, Yaalon was under pressure from Israel’s own Druze minority who have been up in arms about both Nusra’s massacres of their co-religionists in Syria, and Israel’s aid to those very same violent fanatics.
As Nour Samaha reported for Foreign Policy, Nusra massacred 20 Druze in Idlib, one of the “liberated areas” under its control earlier this month. So some Druze in the Israeli-occupied Golan have taken revenge by assaulting injured rebel fighters being driven to Israel in military ambulances. One injured rebel fighter was reportedly even beaten to death.
As blogger Richard Silverstein found, the Facebook page for one rebel coalition posted a photo of the dead man armed with a rifle, naming him as Munther Khalil, the “wounded man who was killed by the Druze of Majdal Shams in Israel, may God have mercy on his soul and accept you as a martyr”.
It’s quite a striking turn of phrase for a Syrian rebel group to name Majdal Shams as part of “Israel” when in fact the town is Syrian, and under Israeli occupation. This is a sign of some elements within the rebels being open to an alliance with Israel in their desperate struggle against the Syrian regime.
While the majority of Syrian Druze in the occupied Golan reject Israeli occupation, there are some Druze within Israel’s own minority who have been co-opted into the occupation, with many serving in the army (although the number of Druze refusing conscription into the Israeli army has been increasing in recent years).
As Samaha details in her nuanced piece, as a religious minority, the Druze are in a difficult position. While a majority have historically been loyal to the Syrian government, many did protest against the regime at the start of the March 2011 uprising, with some even joining the opposition and taking up arms against the government. But as the civil war ground on, and groups like Nusra came to dominate, the position of the Druze became more and more precarious, with even those who’d joined the armed rebels not safe from sectarian rebel killings. This has pushed most in the community to support the government.
Now, as usual, Israel is hoping to take advantage of the chaos for its own ends. A long-standing hope to create an Israeli “buffer-zone” in Syria to “protect” Druze is being contemplated again. In reality, this would be nothing less than a full-scale invasion of more Syrian territory. Such a move would risk uniting Syria’s warring factions in a new campaign against Israel. The reality would likely be more complex and bloody, but no-less dangerous for the apartheid occupying entity.
Most Syrians, Druze and all other sects alike, reject Israeli machinations in the Golan and the rest of Syria. All things considered, a full-scale invasion of further Syrian territories by Israel is unlikely. Far more likely is a continuation of the current “let them bleed” policy: stoke the fires of the civil war for as long as possible, and let Israel’s enemies wear each other out.
An associate editor with The Electronic Intifada, Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who lives in London.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.