Israel has for the past few years been in a tactical alliance with Al-Qaeda-led “rebels” in the south-western section of Syria known as the Golan Heights. It has been granting logistical, and maybe even military, support to an armed rebel group once known as Jabhat Al-Nusra, which was Al-Qaeda’s formal affiliate in Syria. In July last year, the group re-branded itself as Jabhat Fateh Al-Sham (Front for the Conquest of Greater Syria), claiming that it had dropped its formal allegiance to the organisation led by Ayman Al-Zawarhiri (who was Osama Bin Laden’s right-hand man).
Despite the fact that this attempt to angle for Western support convinced few that the group had had any genuine change of direction, Israel’s alliance with Al-Qaeda in Syria was only one example of a broader alliance of Western powers with these religious fundamentalists, the same forces that attacked America on 11 September 2001. In both cases — Israel’s and the West’s — there has been a cynical “let them bleed” strategy as they undermine the Syrian government, while having a casual disregard for Syrian civilians caught between the warring sides.
In May last year, former Mossad chief Efraim Halevy confirmed in an Al-Jazeera interview the long-standing press reports about the alliance. He admitted that Israel was giving logistical aid to Al-Qaeda in the Golan. Such aid has been in the form of treatment of extremist fighters in a field hospital in the Israeli-occupied sector of the Golan Heights. Counter to Israeli propaganda about its supposed “humanitarian” reasons for doing this, the Al-Qaeda fighters, once patched up, have been merrily sent on their way to fight once more in Syria.
Wounded fighters from Hamas or Hezbollah would emphatically not have been allowed out of Israeli dungeons in the same way. “For them we have a different account,” explained Halevy.
Al-Qaeda’s fighters, though, are being sent from Israeli military facilities back to fight in Syria. This is happening because, despite some occasional anti-Israel rhetoric from Al-Qaeda leaders like Bin Laden, the group has never really been anti-Israel.
As Halevy himself put it in the interview with Al-Jazeera’s Mehdi Hassan, “Al-Qaeda, to the best of my recollection, has up to now not attacked Israel.” However, he was forced to concede that there were “tactical” considerations for the Israeli alliance with Al-Qaeda (although of course he did not describe it that way).
Israel’s tactical alliance with al-Qaeda in Syria is by now well-established, and openly admitted by even top Israeli officials, but little is made of what should be a major scandal by the compliant Western media. After all, many western intelligence agencies are involved in similar things, and most media in the west is servile to their respective ruling establishments.
Now, though, it seems that Israel’s entanglement with the virulently anti-Semitic and regressive forces represented by Jabhat Fateh Al-Sham could be coming to an end. The romance is threatened by a new front in the Syrian war.
Haaretz reported last Sunday that the Syrian regime has launched a new offensive against rebel groups in the Golan, including Al-Qaeda, and has been re-establishing control over an area to the north of the west-east road that runs from Al-Qunaitra (where there is a crossing into the Israeli-occupied sector of the Golan) to Damascus, the capital.
According to pro-regime sources, there has been a response by Al-Qaeda, which has tried to re-take regime-held areas not far from the crossing point which leads to Israeli military bases. According to both pro-Israel and pro-Syrian-regime sources, as well as the AP, Israel bombed a Syrian army position on Wednesday night. When it comes to the Golan, Israel does very much seem to be acting as “Al-Qaeda’s air force”, as the Syrian regime has claimed for some time.
The Haaretz correspondent who reported the story on Sunday summarised matters thus: after Al-Qaeda entered the Golan several years ago Israel soon “learned that there were advantages to the new situation,” and leveraged its presence as a buffer against both the Syrian army and its allied forces, such as Hezbollah and Iranian military advisers.
The battle for the area is still ongoing, but, according to a recent Reuters report, “Nearly every night, after dark,” men are coming in wounded from Syria for treatment in Israeli hospitals, before being sent back over the crossing.
The report (something of a pro-Israel puff piece) claims that the wounded are families, and mentions nothing about fighters. But given the admissions of Halevy and other Israeli officials, I think it is fair to assume that they include Al-Qaeda’s fighters.
The reports say that Israel is not granting the wounded Syrians asylum, so it seems likely that the fighters are being sent back to Syria along with the civilians. It seems, therefore, that the romance with Al-Qaida is not over yet and Israel has not given up on its partner in Syria. Nevertheless, this bizarre marriage of convenience is under threat.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.