Covert Israeli aid to Syrian rebels bared
Cash, food supplied for years
RUMOURS have been circulating for years about Israel’s involvement in Syria’s civil war despite the Israeli government saying it was keeping out of the bloody conflagration.
Although the Israeli media and UN observers in the occupied Golan Heights have openly reported wounded Syrian rebels being transported into Israel for medical treatment, active support for the fighting has not surfaced – until now.
The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported that Israel has been secretly providing aid to Syrian rebels in the Golan Heights for years with the goal of maintaining a buffer zone of friendly forces to keep the Islamic State (IS) and forces aligned with Iran at bay.
The support has been substantial and direct, including cash funds, food, fuel and medical supplies, creating a reality in which several armed groups and much of the civilian population in the area are reliant on Israeli aid, the Wall Street Journal reported.
The report’s findings are based on information provided by “half a dozen rebels and three people familiar with Israel’s thinking”, who said that Israel’s secret dealings with the rebels began as early as 2013 under former Israeli defence minister Moshe Ya’alon and that they continue to this day, with the goal of keeping pro-Iranian groups, like Hezbollah, away from the border.
The Wall Street Journal’s sources stated that the co-operation involved a special Israeli army unit which provided aid. Furthermore, this co-operation had advanced to the point where a specific budget had been set aside by the Israelis for continued co-operation.
The main group co-ordinating with Israel, the Fursan Al Joulan (Knights of the Golan), receives approximately $5 000 (R64 647) a month which is used to pay salaries and to purchase weapons.
However, it receives no other Western support and is unaffiliated with the Free Syrian Army (FSA). “Israel stood by our side in a heroic way,” the group’s spokesperson, Moatasem Al Golani told the Wall Street Journal.
“We wouldn’t have survived without Israel’s assistance.” Golani said co-operation began when wounded fighters from among the group’s ranks reached the Israeli border where they begged for help from Israeli soldiers who spoke Arabic.
Subsequently, a secret channel was established after they were taken for medical care.
Fousan Al Joulan comprises about 400 fighters.
It is allied with four other groups on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights, all of whom are being aided by Israel and some of whom receive Western backing and are affiliated with the FSA.
There are fears that these revelations could exacerbate tensions between the Jewish state and Syria with the two countries still technically at war despite many years of a cold peace.
The Israel Defence Forces has refused to comment on the issue.
Members of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces look towards the northern town of Tabqa.