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Israel's romance with Al-Qaeda is ongoing

January 26, 2017 at 12:11 pm

The Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv is an influential think tank staffed by a rogue’s gallery of Israel’s former military and intelligence top brass; its director is a former spy chief. The institute held its tenth annual conference this week; speakers included current and former senior ministers in the Israeli government. Among them was Ayelet Shaked, who in 2014 approvingly posted to her Facebook page a genocidal article which specified in great detail that the “the entire Palestinian people is the enemy”; that Palestinian mothers should be sent “to hell”; and that Palestinian babies are “little snakes”.

In his conference speech, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, of the hard-right Jewish Home party, reiterated his past call for the annexation of Area C, some 60 per cent of the occupied West Bank.

The recently published annual report of the INSS has a fair bit to say on the war in Syria. One of the report’s authors lays out what he thinks Israeli strategy should be there. It’s not a pleasant read.

As I have detailed in this column before, although Israeli strategy in Syria since 2011 has shifted, with differing opinions prevailing at different times, the general game plan seems to have been the “let them bleed” doctrine. In other words, to encourage a state of civil and proxy war to continue for as long as possible. This allows Israel to contribute to the weakening of the Syrian state and its government, while at the same time denying its armed opponents an outright victory.

The INSS report advises a continuation of this same strategy, albeit couched in rather euphemistic terminology. “From Israel’s perspective,” it reads, “the best scenario is the disappearance of the Assad regime, along with the removal of Iran and Hezbollah from Syria on the one hand, and the defeat of the Islamic State and the establishment of a moderate Sunni regime in Syria on the other.”

This is in line with the report’s other headline finding: that the top two threats to Israel’s regional hegemony are the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and Lebanese resistance group Hezbollah.

The Syrian regime has long supported Hezbollah’s armed resistance to Israeli occupation, allowing deliveries of Iranian arms to be shipped through its territory. It was mainly due to this that Hezbollah entered the Syrian war, fearing this key strategic support would be cut off by the armed opposition, which is dominated by sectarian extremists.

Hezbollah is a Shia group, a religious minority in the context of global Islam. Armed rebels in Syria frequently engage in chillingly sectarian attacks against the Shia, with notable Saudi-backed rebel leader Zahran Alloush once promising to cleanse Damascus of all “unclean Rafidites” (a sectarian slur against Shia).

In this context, the report’s reference to an Israeli hope for a “moderate Sunni regime” is the height of hypocrisy. Although it does not name the armed groups which Israel is supporting in Syria, it is clear that it is just such groups as those once led by the now-late Alloush that are being supported by the West and by Israel.

As the report clarifies: “this [Sunni regime] model has materialised in limited form in the Golan Heights, where moderate Sunni rebels are successfully combating both the Assad regime and the Islamic State.”

The reference here is clearly to the group formally known as Jabhat Al-Nusra, the Al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria. Nusra re-branded itself last year as Jabhat Fateh Al-Sham, a purely cosmetic attempt to distance itself from the notorious extremist group. As I have detailed in this column previously, the “moderate Sunni rebels” Israel is aiding in the occupied Golan Heights include this Al-Qaeda linked group.

Elsewhere in the report, it expresses the hope that Jabhat Fateh Al-Sham “will provide a wider basis for coordination” between armed rebel groups. “The question is what role organisations with a Salafi jihadist orientation can fill in a future arrangement,” it muses.

It has been a long-term strategic goal for Israel to divide Syria up into mutually antagonistic sectarian mini-states. As such, the war in Syria, with the prospect (however remote) of the breakup of the country has been a dream come true for Israeli planners. As such, there is no doubt that Israel’s cynical romance with Al-Qaeda in Syria is ongoing.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.