The past few days have seen a bout of intense fighting in the Syrian Golan Heights centered on the Druze town of Hader, between the attacking Syrian al-Qaeda rebels and the defending Syrian army and local Druze militiamen.
Capturing ground between the town and the Israeli-line of control, the attackers were able to connect two of their separate enclaves and for a time, before the decisive counter-attack, threatened the Druze town itself.
During the battle al-Qaeda also rammed through and detonated a car bomb in Hader killing 9 and wounding more than 20. Apparently the targets were civilians, residents of the town, rather than fighters in the trenches before it.
This was finally too much for the Druze in Israel and under Israeli control.
Scores of them gathered on the Israel-Syria line of control in the Golan (which is on the Syrian side held by Israel-backed rebels) to protest the Israeli backing for terrorists who are targeting their kin in Hader.
They also made a symbolic effort to try to breach the border and join the fight on the side of the Syrian Druze. Meanwhile their representative in Knesset called out the cynical Israeli policy in Syria as well.
The Israeli official response was as quick as it was disingenuous. A spokesperson for the IDF said the army was “deeply committed to the Druze population” and would not allow Hader to fall into rebel hands:
“The IDF is ready and prepared to assist the residents of the village, and will prevent the harming or conquering of the village of Hader because of our deep commitment to the Druse population.”
Somehow IDF’s “deep committment” to the Druze has not prevented Israel from backing Sunni supremacists against them for 6 years now.
The Israeli ambition to destroy or weaken the Arab nationalist government in Damascus, to embroil it into a never-ending war – or ideally – replace it with a failed state, far outweighs any commitment Israel may feel to the Druze.
(Unlike other Arab citizens of Israel, the Druze serve in the IDF, but the 20,000 Druze in the occupied Golan Heights remain staunchly pro-Syrian and do not.)
So what does Israel’s vow it will defend Hader from rebels – which would place it on the side of the Syria army – means?
In the short term it means Israeli government wants the Druze off its back and will say what it needs to accomplish that. By publicly vowing to defend Hader if necessary it makes sure it doesn’t have to. Its al-Qaeda minions are too smart not to get the message that this one town is a special case. Haaretz:
Still, it [Israel] has no intention to send soldiers to fight and die in Syria because of a local conflict. Rather, it correctly assumed that a public statement carrying an implicit threat to use “counterforce” – attacks by planes, tanks or artillery – would suffice to deter the Nusra Front from continuing its advance on the village.
Two years ago and again last year, under similar circumstances, the IDF also sent warnings to the Nusra Front when its fighters neared Khader, and they retreated. But this time, the warning was more public.
This limited concession to the Druze won’t change the overall Israeli policy in Syria which remains to undermine the government, including by propping up al-Qaeda.
To the contrary, Israel’s newfound concern for the Syrian Druze raises the prospect that in the future Tel Aviv may try to justify the long-sought “buffer zone against Hezbollah” to the east of the occupied Golan Heights also by invoking the threat to the Druze poised by…Israeli-backed, head-chopping Salafists.
As is well known Israel has been helping Syria’s jihadist rebels for years, while intermittently hitting Syrian government forces and allies with artillery and aircraft. Israeli government officials have openly stated they prefer even ISIS in Syria to its Arab nationalist government, and have not balked from propping up al-Qaeda in Syria, even providing it with first-class medical treatment, on supposed “humanitarian” grounds.
On the other hand, all of Syria’s religious minorities, Alawites, Christians, Shia and Druze, are all firmly lined up behind the Syrian army and government — as would anyone threatened by dhimmitude (or worse) planned for them by the rebel Salafists.
One of the the most celebrated Syrian soldiers of the war on the loyalist side is a Druze, the late general Issam Zahreddine who defended the east Syrian city of Deir Ezzor against ISIS siege for close to four years.