A bizarre and disturbing story earlier this month shed a tiny sliver of light on the under-reported and murky role of Israel in the increasingly complex Syrian civil war.
Agence France Presse reported the story of several Syrian Jews who were taken out of the country by rebel fighters hired by Israeli-American businessman (and former mercenary) Moti Kahana.
But a close reading of the text of the story quickly reveals that the headline about a "rescue" of Jews from Syria is highly misleading.
In fact, the report states, "the family did not want to leave" and Kahana even claimed that "it was 'necessary' to scare them into getting in a minibus," according to AFP's Joe Dyke. In the Jewish Chronicle piece (which apparently was first to break the story) Kahana noted that because the family did not want to leave, the only way he could compel them to do so was to "scare the shit out of them."
That sounds far more like a kidnapping than a "rescue." The family were, in the process of this forcible "rescue," lied to and told they would be allowed to go to New York, but Kahana then ended up sending them to Israel.
To make matters worse one of the three women was refused a visa to
Israel because she was not Jewish enough for the Zionist entity.
There are several shady elements to the story, and Kahana seems like a fantasist and a liar, prone to exaggeration and self-aggrandisement. Even the Jewish Agency (the para-statal Zionist organization responsible for pressuring and scaring Jews from around the world to leave their native countries in order to become colonial settlers in occupied Palestine) criticised Kahana for being a "self-appointed freelancer" who had not acted "discreetly" and indulged in "unnecessary exhibitionism". (It's clear from such language that the Jewish Agency, which has a long history of coercing Jews to leave their own countries, was not objecting to Kahana's actions on moral grounds, but merely on strategic and public relations grounds.)
The three different published stories I have seen on this incident all use Kahana as their main or only source, so you'd think they would all align. But they contain discrepancies and contradictions – Kahana's tall tales apparently change in the telling to each journalist. Fpr example, the mother, Miram, is 88 in the JC and Telegraph accounts but "in her 70s" in the AFP account.
Kahana also apparently told AFP that they "managed to narrowly escape and make their way to Turkey, passing through a checkpoint managed by the Syrian Al-Qaeda affiliate". This alarming formulation once again raises questions about Israel's bizarre alliance with the Nusra Front (al-Qaeda in Syria), as I have covered in this column before. In other accounts, Kahana tries to make it sound like they narrowly escaped al-Qaeda, rather than pretty much collaborating with them.
There are a whole lot of unanswered questions about the whole disgraceful incident, but it seems pretty clear that these Syrian Jews were taken out of the country against their will by a Zionist fanatic working in the service of the Israeli government, hand-in-hand with al-Qaeda-allied Syrian rebels.
Who is this man Moti Kahana? According to a gushing "profile" the Jewish Chronicle published, he is a former Israeli bomber pilot and mercenary. He was once a bodyguard for Ariel Sharon, the Israeli war criminal and late prime minister. He later set up a car rental company "that specialised in shipping vehicles from one end of the United States to the other," from which he apparently made his fortune.
According to his own boasts, he has ploughed $1 million into helping and equipping Syrian rebel groups: "I will give a satellite phone or goods," he stated. He says he was active on the ground in Syria until his identity as an Israeli was exposed.
One clip from Israeli television which I found online (apparently uploaded by the self-promoting Kahana himself) shows him attending a 2013 symposium on Syria organized by WINEP, the think tank established by AIPAC (which is America's most powerful Israel lobby organization) along with members of Syrian opposition known to work closely with the US government's attempts to arm and control rebel groups in Syria.
The video clip shows that these included Louay Sakka of the Syrian Support Group and Mouaz Moustafa, director of the "Syrian Emergency Task Force". The latter man was infamously involved in organizing John McCain's 2013 visit to rebel-controlled Syria. He was also once listed on the WINEP website as one of "our experts". Moustafa apparently got WINEP to delete this from their website after the Irish journalist Maidhc Ó Cathail published an expose on his links with the Israel lobby, suggesting WINEP may have been behind McCain's trip to Syria.
Despite Moustafa complaining to me that the article was "slander" he did not deny speaking at the WINEP event, and even promised me to get a withdrawn video of the event published by WINEP (and promoted by his own organization) back up on the internet (two and a half years later I am still waiting). In any event, Moustafa has since then spoken at at least one other WINEP event (despite protesting to me in 2013 that "I never have contacted Winep [sic] since my speech") and is once again listed on their site as one of "our experts" (albeit as an "outside author" this time).
Moti Kahana's Facebook page shows him posing happily with Issac Herzog, the leader of the Israeli Labour party, and Kamal Labawani, a member of the Syrian opposition who has offered to "sell" the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights to Israel in a post-Assad Syria.
That we even know about the kidnapping is only because Kahana's ego appears to have come into competition with the territorial Jewish Agency, which apparently sees Syria's Jews as being "their" responsibility – Zionists fighting it out against each other. The whole affair leaves us with more questions than answers, but it does seem that there is more to the Israeli hand in the Syrian civil war than that which has come to light so far.
This article originally stated that the mother of the family, Miriam
Halabi, had been the one refused a visa by Israel. In fact, it was one
of her two daughters. This has now been corrected in the text on 15:42 (GMT) on 26th Novemeber 2015.
Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who lives in London and an associate editor with The Electronic Intifada.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.