Why Israel supports Syrian Islamists
By Antoine de Lacoste
Since the beginning of the war in Syria, Israel has been directly supporting several Syrian Islamist groups. Weapons, money and medical supplies have been supplied in large quantities to the jihadists, especially along the border in the Golan Heights.
For a while, there was a rumour, denied by Tel Aviv: wounded Islamists were cared for in Israeli hospitals. A serious incident finally confirmed this news: Islamists had committed atrocities in a Druze village, before retreating, chased out by Druze reinforcements.
This highly singular and very close-knit community lives mainly in a territory situated between Syria and Israel. All the men are armed and are formidable mountain warriors. The French army retains a bitter memory of this fact from the 1925 Druze Revolt.
When chasing the Islamists, the Druzes were shocked to see their enemies running towards the border, where Israeli ambulances were waiting to take away their injured. Things ended badly for the Islamists: the ambulances were intercepted and the wounded were executed by the Druzes. The Israeli army did not intervene so as not to alienate a population with which it maintains good relations.
This rumour being factually confirmed, we should examine the reasons for this support, paradoxical in appearance only. There are two reasons.
The first reason is the desire to see Bachar fall. The Assads are old enemies of Israel and the collapse of their regime would have been the culmination of a long-standing enmity. In addition, this would have trigerred chaos in this reviled country. Indeed, the Israeli policy mainly aims at destabilising hostile regimes in order to safeguard its security. Besides, this was one of Bush’s aims with the war in Iraq, a complete success as Iraq no longer exists. This wasn’t the goal of the Americans, who failed to grasp some of the finer points of the Middle East, but it was definitely that of the Israelis.
The next target will be Iran, as Donald Trump clearly indicated recently, in order to emphasise the continuation of the relationship between Washington and Tel Aviv.
But following Russia’s intervention, Israel knows that it has lost its gamble and that Assad’s regime isn’t about to topple anytime soon. So why continue?
For a very simple reason: the need to establish a buffer-zone in the Golan Heights in order to prevent the Syrian army from returning to its border. Almost the entire length of the border is, then, in the hands of the Islamists who, without Israeli support, would have been defeated a long time ago.
So as soon as the Syrian army attempts to launch an offensive, the Israeli air-force is quick to intervene to rescue their protégés, the pretext being a reaction to Syrian provocations.
Aside from the Syrians, it is also a way to keep Hezbollah at bay. Israel had to put up with Hezbollah on its border with Lebanon (its 2006 offensive broke against fierce Shia resistance) and it has no intention of now seeing them roam the Golan Heights.
Nevertheless, there’ll come a moment when the Islamists will be defeated in Syria, which will not tolerate a part of its territory being once again annexed by Israel via jihadists.
Russian diplomacy will be necessary.
Translated from French