Israel secretly armed and funded Syrian rebel groups with the aim of keeping Iranian-backed forces away from the occupied Golan Heights, a new report by Foreign Policy revealed yesterday.
The report, which was conducted by Foreign Policy and based on the testimony of more than 24 Israeli commanders and opposition group fighters, found that Israel secretly armed and funded at least 12 rebel groups in southern Syria. This support included the transfer of assault rifles, machine guns, mortar launchers and transport vehicles, which were delivered through three Israeli-controlled gates connecting the Golan Heights to Syria. Foreign Policy added that these are the same gates used by Israel to transfer humanitarian aid to residents of southern Syria.
The Jerusalem Post reported that over the course of the operation the "Israeli military provided more than 1,524 tons of food, 250 tons of clothes, 947,520 liters of fuel, 21 generators [and] 24,900 palettes of medical equipment and medicine."
In addition to military arsenal, Israel also paid $75 a month to each opposition fighter and "supplied additional money the groups used to buy arms on the Syrian black market, according to the rebels and local journalists."
The Jerusalem Post explained that the secret initiative, called "Operation Good Neighbour," was initially launched in 2016 and only ended when forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad regained control of the Syrian Golan Heights in July of this year. Foreign Policy added that, in light of the payments made by Israel, rebel forces had expected assistance in the event of efforts by regime forces to recapture the region, but no such assistance was given.
Foreign Policy quoted an opposition fighter from a group named Forsan Al-Jolan as saying:
This is a lesson we will not forget about Israel. It does not care about the people. It does not care about humanity. All it cares about it its own interests.
Although in the past some reports have emerged speculating about Israel's role in supporting rebel groups, the testimonies collected by Foreign Policy provide the most concrete evidence to date of Israeli ground intervention in Syria. In 2017 the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported that Israel has been supplying money, food, fuel and medical supplies to Syrian opposition groups. WSJ based its report on testimonies of "half a dozen rebels and three people familiar with Israel's thinking," who claimed Israel's secret support for the rebels began as early as 2013.
Despite its official policy of non-engagement in the Syrian Civil War, which has been ongoing since 2011, Israel has consistently conducted air strikes in Syria. In July, at least nine pro-regime fighters were killed during an Israeli air strike on a base situated on the outskirts of Aleppo. The base was thought to be being used by Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps and had previously been struck in April.
Israel has acted particularly stridently in relation to the Golan Heights, which it has occupied since the Six Day War of 1967. Tensions peaked as Al-Assad moved to regain the opposition-held territories of Quneitra and Daraa in July, both of which are situated inside or near to the demilitarised border zone which separates Syria from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.