The Jerusalem Post briefly published an article earlier this month stating that the Israeli army has now admitted “that it provided large amounts of cash, weapons, and ammunition to Syrian rebels in the Golan Heights.” I say “briefly” because it was not long before the article was summarily deleted from the newspaper’s website, without any editorial note or explanation. There are still some copies of the article online.
While both the Post and the Israeli army have refused to comment on the article or why it was sent hurtling rapidly down the Memory Hole, it seems likely that it was censored by the military.
The Israeli army operates a powerful influence on the country’s media through its military censorship office. Officers can decide in the “national interest” that anything published in the local media can be censored without much – or anything – in the way of explanation. These sweeping powers are, of course, yet another reminder why – contrary to its propaganda — Israel is no real democracy at all.
For those paying attention, the article didn’t really tell us much new. Israel has for years been aiding, funding and arming extremist groups in the Golan Heights, Syrian territory which Israel has occupied illegally for decades. UN reports and foreign journalists – quoting Israeli military personnel – demonstrated this as long ago as 2015. The groups that Israel has aided in the area have included armed extremists linked to Al-Qaeda.
The Jerusalem Post journalist who wrote the article claimed that this is the “the first time” that the Israeli army has admitted to providing “large amounts of cash, weapons, and ammunition to Syrian rebels in the Golan Heights.” This is not exactly accurate, seeing as how Israeli press reports in February gave fairly large chunks of detail on the number of rebel groups in the Golan that Israel was arming; it was then said to be seven and more recently rose to 12. Furthermore, Israeli army personnel speaking to foreign media have admitted to aiding extremist rebels in the Golan, even if they attempted to justify this in certain ways.
Nonetheless, in the deleted report, the Jerusalem Post did claim that the Israeli army “confirmed that as part of Operation Good Neighbour, Israel had been regularly supplying Syrian rebels near its border [sic – the ceasefire line] with light weapons and ammunition” as well as “a substantial amount of cash to buy additional arms.”
While army spokespeople have come out and said this before, this does seem to have been the first time that they have said so openly, in an Israeli publication. That the military censor seems to have ordered the report deleted now suggests that the spokesperson’s comments to the Post were likely to have been intended as off-the-record or background comments. Either that or the report just generated too much negative publicity.
The “Good Neighbour” reference was to Israel’s propaganda term for attempts over the past few years to extend its occupation of much of the Golan into a wider “buffering” zone in southern Syria via the use of local armed proxy forces and other front groups.
Nevertheless, there is no question that Israel has been arming these groups in Syria, including those allied to, or actively part of Al-Qaeda. The question is, why did the report come out now? One doesn’t have to look far for the answer.
During the summer, the Syrian army, backed by Russia, retook the area from the armed groups. Some of their members then fled to Israel. The new Israeli occupation zone in southern Syria now seems to have come to an end, with the announcement earlier this month that so-called “Operation Good Neighbour” is to shut down.
The attempt to create a “buffer” zone which effectively extended the Israeli army’s illegal occupation of the Golan Heights further into southern Syria was always spun in Israeli propaganda as a “humanitarian aid” gesture to treat civilians in hospitals. However, as I have detailed in columns for years, it has long been apparent that Israel was, in fact, aiding and arming rebel groups – including Al-Qaeda – as part of its official strategic objective in the Syrian civil war to “let both sides” bleed.
It is to be welcomed that Israel’s attempt to extend its control over southern Syria seems to have failed. The repercussions of this cynical policy, though, will continue for years to come.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.