Israel is back on the attack against Syria, intervening once again to target just one side in the ongoing civil war in the neighboring state, that of the Syrian government. Though the Syrian Arab Army has been exchanging fire with al-Qaeda affiliates such as al-Nusra for over half a decade now, every time a projectile has gone into the illegally-annexed Golan Heights, the Israel ‘Defense’ Force (IDF) responded by attacking the Syrian Arab Army without ever bothering to establish which side it was that fired the projectile in the first place. In fact, on more than one occasion the IDF has actively assisted the enemies of Syria, including al-Nusra militants.
The two latest incidents came back-to-back over the weekend, first on June 24 and again on Sunday, June 25. The Syrian army was battling against “hardline Islamist factions” in Quneitra province when errant shellfire allegedly hit the Golan Heights, to which the IDF responded by shelling two tanks belonging to the Syrian army, including one that was about to fire on al-Qaeda-linked militants. The Syrian government on the other hand is claiming that Israel also struck a residential building and killed a number of civilians. While the accuracy or inaccuracy of this claim cannot be fully assessed at this time, one thing that certainly is not true is Israel’s claim that projectiles hitting the Golan amount to a “breach of Israel’s sovereignty”, as the Golan Heights do not rightfully belong to Israel. Israel has been unjustly occupying them since the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. The western media, however, is useless when it comes to relaying this important information to their audiences. After the follow-up attack on Sunday, Reuters’ headline read “Israel attacks Syrian posts after cross-border fire from Syria.” This, in spite of the fact that according to international law and numerous U.N. resolutions the Golan Heights are not within the internationally-recognized borders of Israel; they are Syrian territory.
Also according to Reuters, “Israel has largely stayed on the sidelines of Syria’s civil war,” a statement that doesn’t entirely square with reality. While Israel is nowhere near as involved in the ongoing conflict as the U.S. and its Gulf allies – or Russia for that matter – are, the Israel Defense Force has specifically targeted the Syrian army or its ally Hezbollah on at least 10-15 different occasions, the earliest of which dates back to 2012. As the Golan Heights aren’t Israeli territory, these attacks could very well be interpreted as violations of Syrian sovereignty as well as the ceasefire agreement between Israel and Syria at the conclusion of the 1973 Arab-Israeli War (known in the west as the Yom Kippur War). The IDF carried out at least three strikes in 2013, the first of which came in January and struck Jamraya. Then on May 3rd, some 100 soldiers were said to have been killed in an Israeli airstrike, though Israel claimed to have been targeting Lebanese Hezbollah fighters. At the time Yair Golan, the “general commanding Israeli forces on the Syrian and Lebanese fronts”, was asked by a reporter if he had any worry that there would be some sort of retaliation from Syria, to which he responded, “There are no winds of war… Do you see tension? There is no tension. Do I look tense to you?” But hours later the IDF was singing a different tune, claiming that “two rockets from Syria had landed in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights – but indicated that the rockets had most likely crossed the border accidentally.” Less than 48 hours later came yet another IDF strike on May 5 that “hit three military sites near Damascus.” Around the same time, according to Forbes “there was a suspicious Israeli fingerprint on a strike against the Al-Miza military air base near Damascus.” Probably the most oddly-timed action was the IDF’s shooting down of a Syrian warplane with a “U.S.-made Patriot missile” on the very morning of the Washington-Gulf State Coalition’s announcement that it would be bombing Syrian territory for the first time to wage war on ISIS. Israel’s reasoning for this was that the plane had “infiltrated Israeli airspace.” Occupied territory, however, is not now nor will it ever be “Israeli airspace.” In a 2014 issue of Foreign Policy Magazine it was noted that, “Although the cease-fire between Israel and Syria [in 1974] has largely held, Israeli forces on March 18 and March 19 fired on Syrian troops, killing two Syrian soldiers and wounding 17 others, marking the most significant violation of the truce in its 40-year history.”
These numerous attacks, always against the Syrian government and never the Islamist rebel fighters, have led to speculation that Israel is in fact actively supporting the rebels in the same way the U.S. and its Gulf allies have been. As it turns out, these suspicions are not completely without merit. As the conflict has raged on for years, Israel has allowed for suspected anti-Assad militia members to receive treatment in Israeli-run hospitals to recuperate before returning to continue the war. Who are these suspected anti-Assad militiamen? Consider the fact that since the fighting began near the Golan, it has been the al Qaeda-linked Al-Nusra Front which has been most strong in Syria’s south. Or as reported in Foreign Policy, “Since the start of the Civil War, Syrian rebel groups have flooded into the area, giving them a safe haven close to Israel.” Although F.P. referred back in 2014 to “moderate” rebels being taken care of by Israel, Israel itself admitted they had no way of assessing this so-called “moderation.” That didn’t stop them from “providing medical care and other unidentified supplies to the insurgents.” According to a United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) report,
In the past three months [March-June, 2014], batter-hardened Syrian rebels have transported scores of wounded Syrians across a ceasefire line that has separated Israel from Syria since 1974… Once in Israel, they receive medical treatment in a field clinic before being sent back to Syria, where, presumably, some will return to carry on the fight.
Even at this late date in 2014, Foreign Policy noted that the “Israeli government has been providing medical assistance to Syria’s wounded for more than a year. In February, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu paid a visit to a military field hospital in the Golan Heights in a tour aimed at contrasting Israel’s humanitarianism with that of Iran.” (In other words, Netanyahoo was staging another lame photo-op.) In the words of IDF Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, the Israeli government “has provided medical assistance to more than 1,000 Syrians over the past 14 months.” According to Ehud Yaari of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, “It would not be wrong to assume there is some sort of coordination going on with the armed rebels on the ground.”
The UN reports the IDF has quietly made contact with Islamist groups, meeting them at points along the extremely narrow southern portions of the disengagement zones – where the two lines are but a few hundred meters apart – to exchange wounded and convalescent individuals.
VICE goes on to note how Islamist rebel groups “captured the vital Quneitra border crossing with Israel on August 27.” On August 28, al-Nusra fighters kidnapped “45 Fijan peacekeepers and trapped two contingents of Filipino troops at separate UN locations.”
So how exactly did Israeli commanders feel about the rebel fighters their army was providing assistance to? In the words of a senior IDF Northern Command officer speaking to the Times of Israel in September 2014, “During the entirety of the past four years, we have not seen so much as a single rebel from this group [al-Nusra] with the intention or the operational plan facing in this direction.” As for the overall makeup of the Syrian opposition to the government of Bashar al-Assad, it was the view of Gen. Hai Brun “that 80% of the 120,000 men fighting against the regime are Islamist rebels.”
The Golan Heights were originally conquered by Israel during the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. Syria attempted to take them back by force in the 1973 ‘Yom Kippur’ War but did not succeed. Israel, in violation of international law, annexed the territory in 1981 and today there are some 20,000 Israeli settlers illegally residing in the Golan. Officially the Golan Heights remain Syrian territory, though international law apparently has little effect on what is actually taking place on the ground.