[News] Why has Israel embraced al-Qaida’s branch in Syria?

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Wed Jun 17 12:48:55 EDT 2015

  Why has Israel embraced al-Qaida’s branch in Syria?

Rania Khalek <https://electronicintifada.net/people/rania-khalek> The 
Electronic Intifada 
<https://electronicintifada.net/people/electronic-intifada> 16 June 2015

During his 2014 address 
to the UN General Assembly, Benjamin Netanyahu 
<https://electronicintifada.net/tags/benjamin-netanyahu> declared that 
“fighting militant Islam is indivisible.”

The Israeli prime minister’s crude attempts to conflate ISIS 
<https://electronicintifada.net/tags/isis> with Hamas 
<https://electronicintifada.net/tags/hamas> should not be allowed to 
conceal an important truth: Israel aids the forces of “militant Islam” 
when it is considered opportune to do so.

The most egregious example of such aid in recent times has been Israel’s 
support for Jabhat al-Nusra 
<https://electronicintifada.net/tags/jabhat-al-nusra>, al-Qaida’s 
<https://electronicintifada.net/tags/al-qaida> franchise in Syria 
<https://electronicintifada.net/tags/syria>, as witnessed by UN 
peacekeeping forces stationed in the occupied Golan Heights 

Israel’s collusion with al-Qaida has been virtually ignored by the 
American media, with a few exceptions. For example, /The Wall Street 
Journal/ reported 
in March that Israel has been treating wounded al-Nusra fighters and 
then sending them back into the Golan to battle Hizballah 
<https://electronicintifada.net/tags/hizballah> and the Syrian army.

Other media outlets have danced around the issue.

/The Washington Post/ columnist David Ignatius, a frequent conduit for 
information from official sources, mentioned 
in passing, last month that “Jordan 
<https://electronicintifada.net/tags/jordan> and Israel have developed 
secret contacts with members of the Jabhat al-Nusra group along their 
borders.” But he failed to elaborate.

In a video report released by Vice News in December — in which Israeli 
soldiers are shown transferring wounded Syrian opposition fighters to an 
Israeli hospital — the narrator acknowledges 
<https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G785kB8OKcU> that the fighters could be 
affiliated with al-Nusra.

Israeli media has been slightly more open about Israel’s embrace of 
al-Qaida. The news website /Ynet/ has posted footage 
<http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4655669,00.html> of Israeli 
army medics treating wounded Syrian opposition fighters, noting, “It is 
likely that most if not all of these nationals are rebels from the rival 
jihadist Islamic State and al-Nusra Front groups.”

This raises questions about the legality of sending members of one of 
the world’s most notorious and active armed extremist groups back into 
battle, especially since this particular group has been the primary 
target of a global war for more than a decade led by Israel’s greatest 
benefactor, the United States. (To be fair, though, the US is no 
stranger to backing 
<http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jun/03/us-isis-syria-iraq> al-Qaida 
and ISIS to undermine its adversaries.)

A US Defense Department spokesperson declined to comment for The 
Electronic Intifada about Israel’s apparent alliance with al-Qaida. The 
US State Department 
<https://electronicintifada.net/tags/state-department> did not respond 
to a request for comment.

    Material aid

As Israel’s neighbors absorbed millions of displaced Syrians fleeing a 
war that, according to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon 
<https://electronicintifada.net/tags/ban-ki-moon> has killed 
<http://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/world/syria-220000/> more than 
220,000 people, the Israeli government has painted 
its medical care for those wounded in Syria as altruistic. But only a 
third of the 1,500 treated by Israel have been women and children, 
according to the March report in /The Wall Street Journal/.

The rest have been fighters who Israeli officials admit are not screened 
and likely belong to al-Nusra.

Once it became undeniable, Israel confessed it was treating fighters, 
but claimed that they were moderates.

But after al-Nusra captured and ejected UN peacekeepers in the Golan 
Heights last August, there was no longer any doubt that al-Nusra was the 
dominant force among opposition fighters in the area.

Since then, /Ynet/ has resorted to whitewashing al-Nusra’s connections 
to al-Qaida. Citing unnamed Israeli officials, the publication claims 
<http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4659618,00.html> that 
al-Nusra’s members are “simply local residents who joined the 
organization to benefit from the logistical and financial support it 
offers them.”

Retired Brigadier General Michael Herzog, a former chief of staff for 
Israel’s defense minister, told /The Wall Street Journal/ that “Nusra is 
a unique version of al-Qaida. They manage to cooperate with non-Islamist 
and non-jihadi organizations in one coalition … They are totally focused 
on the war in Syria and aren’t focused on us. But when Hizballah and 
Iran and others are pushing south, they are very much focused on us.”

Israeli soldiers have also been seen providing Syrian opposition 
fighters dominated by al-Nusra with material aid.

Dozens of interactions between Israel and opposition fighters, as far 
back as 2012, have been documented 
<http://www.un.org/en/peacekeeping/missions/undof/reports.shtml> by the 
UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), the peacekeeping mission 
responsible for monitoring the 1974 ceasefire line between Israeli and 
Syrian forces in the Golan Heights.

The UN has good reason to observe these interactions closely.

In August last year, al-Nusra detained 
43 UN peacekeepers and seized their equipment, prompting the UN to 
evacuate many of its soldiers to the Israeli-occupied side of the 
ceasefire line.

Quarterly UNDOF reports since the pullback reveal an ongoing pattern of 
Israeli coordination with those armed groups.

According to the December 2014 report 
UNDOF observed two Israeli soldiers “opening the technical fence gate 
and letting two individuals pass from the [Syrian] to the [Israeli] 
side” on 27 October. Unlike most fighters seen entering the Israeli 
side, these individuals were not wounded and the purpose of their visit 
remains a mystery.

UNDOF “sporadically observed armed members of the opposition 
interacting” with the Israeli military across the ceasefire line, the 
report states.

The next UNDOF report, released in March, notes 
that UN forces witnessed Israeli soldiers delivering material aid to 
armed Syrian opposition groups.

“During the evening of 20 January, in the area north of observation post 
54, UNDOF observed two trucks crossing from the [Syrian] side to the 
[Israeli] side, where they were received by IDF [Israeli military] 
personnel,” the report states. “The trucks were loaded with sacks before 
returning to the [Syrian] side.”

The coordination between Israel and armed opposition groups continued 
into May, according to the June UNDOF report 

Israel appears determined to keep the nature of these interactions as 
low key as possible, something Sidqi Maqt, a Druze resident of the Golan 
Heights, understands better than most.

In February, Maqt was arrested 
by Israeli intelligence for posting photos and videos to his Facebook 
page of Israeli army interactions with armed opposition groups. Maqt 
paid particular attention to documenting encounters he believed 
demonstrated the Israeli army’s alliance with al-Nusra.

Released in 2012 after serving 37 years in prison for engaging in armed 
resistance against Israel’s occupation of the Golan Heights, Maqt is 
once again behind bars. He has been charged with “espionage, assisting 
an enemy during wartime and contact with a foreign agent,” according to 
Al Jazeera.

On top of providing al-Nusra with material aid and punishing those who 
expose it, Israel has launched airstrikes almost exclusively against 
forces fighting al-Nusra.

On 18 January, for example, an Israeli air strike on a convoy near 
Quneitra killed 
six members of Hizballah and a general in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

Days later, rockets landed in the Golan Heights, according to UNDOF. The 
Israeli army retaliated by shelling a location it said was the source of 
the fire.

A Syrian army official, however, told the UN that “terrorists” had fired 
the rockets and that the Syrian army planned to target their positions. 
The UN relayed this message to the Israeli army, which responded with 
airstrikes against two Syrian army artillery positions.

Bashar al-Assad <https://electronicintifada.net/tags/bashar-al-assad>, 
the Syrian president, has said that some in Syria joke 
“How can you say that al-Qaida doesn’t have an air force? They have the 
Israeli air force.”

While Assad’s policies, including the bombardments that have devastated 
cities and towns forcing millions to flee their homes, have contributed 
to the chaos and vacuum that has enabled extremist groups to flourish in 
some areas, Israel’s actions on behalf of those groups grant credence to 
his claim.

    Cheering on ISIS

Amos Yadlin <https://electronicintifada.net/tags/amos-yadlin>, a retired 
Israeli general, has offered a candid explanation for Israel’s 
partnership with al-Nusra.

“There is no doubt that Hizballah and Iran 
<https://electronicintifada.net/tags/iran> are the major threat to 
Israel, much more than the radical Sunni Islamists, who are also an 
enemy,” he told /The Wall Street Journal/. “Those Sunni elements who 
control some two-thirds to 90 percent of the border on the Golan aren’t 
attacking Israel. This gives you some basis to think that they 
understand who is their real enemy — maybe it isn’t Israel,” he reasoned.

Hizballah, which is aligned with Bashar al-Assad’s regime, has been 
fighting al-Nusra in the Golan Heights with Iranian support. Given 
Hizballah’s growing capacity and proven willingness to defend against 
Israeli aggression, Israel appears to favor al-Qaida on its northern 
front and to view the destruction of Syria as an opportunity to 
incapacitate Hizballah in southern Lebanon 
<https://electronicintifada.net/tags/lebanon> by draining its resources 
in Syria.

This does not mean Israel wants Assad to fall. On the contrary, Israel 
prefers a region fractured into small sectarian enclaves 
that are too busy fighting one another to unite against it. It is for 
this reason that Yair Golan, the Israeli army’s deputy chief of staff, 
recently celebrated 
<http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/.premium-1.659180> the 
conditions on Israel’s northern border as “better than ever.”

/The Jerusalem Post’s/ security correspondent, Yossi Melman, has echoed 
Golan, depicting 
Syria’s descent into chaos and fragmentation as a strategic boost for 

Gilad Sharon <https://electronicintifada.net/tags/gilad-sharon>, son of 
late Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon 
<https://electronicintifada.net/tags/ariel-sharon>, has gone even 
further by arguing that an ISIS takeover in Syria would offer an opening 
for Israel to acquire the Golan Heights permanently.

In the event of an ISIS takeover, Sharon wrote 
<http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4656097,00.html> last month, 
“There would be no international pressure for Israel to give back the 
Golan Heights either — and that’s a very good thing. The Golan will 
remain an important part of Israel forever.” He added that Israel could 
rely on the West’s so-called anti-ISIS coalition to defeat a victorious 
ISIS next door, allowing Israel to bask in its newly annexed territory 
without lifting a finger.

Israel would not necessarily “welcome the presence of the Islamic State 
lunatics on our border,” Sharon wrote, “but it’s certainly no worse, and 
may even be better, than the presence there of Hizballah, which is the 
Lebanese proxy of the Iranian regime.”

Naftali Bennett <https://electronicintifada.net/tags/naftali-bennett>, 
Israeli education minister and leader of the ultra-nationalist party 
Habeyit Hayehudi <https://electronicintifada.net/tags/habeyit-hayehudi> 
(Jewish Home), appears to be following Sharon’s advice.

Speaking at the Herzliya conference, a key event in Israel’s political 
calendar, this month, Bennett called 
<http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4665886,00.html> on Israel to 
invoke the threat of ISIS expansion to compel governments around the 
world to legitimize its annexation of the Golan Heights.

“Who do they want us to give the Golan to? To Assad? Today, it’s clear 
that if we listened to the world we would give up the Golan and ISIS 
would be swimming in the Sea of Galilee. Enough with the hypocrisy,” 
said Bennett, agitating for expanding the number of Israeli settlers 
<https://electronicintifada.net/tags/settlers> in the Golan from 20,000 
to 100,000 in the next five years.

Support for al-Qaida in Syria, then, serves at least two purposes from 
Israel’s perspective: sapping the strength of the foe it fears most — 
Hizballah — and solidifying its occupation of the Golan Heights.

In addition to sowing chaos and bloodshed, Israel’s machiavellian 
schemes — as its decades of meddling in Lebanon show — have a poor 
record of achieving their goals.

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863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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