Israel Fuels The Syrian Crisis With Aid To Al-Qaida Rebels
Media reports hammer home the notion that Israel’s borders are under new threat from fighting from ISIS and al-Qaida, but rarely explain how Israel offers direct aid to al-Qaida.
Historically, Israel has denied most claims of direct involvement in the conflict, but army forces admitted to carrying out an attack last weekend on what they describe as a terrorist group approaching the Golan Heights.
Ruth Eglash, a Jerusalem-based reporter for The Washington Post, elaborated on the April 26 airstrikes based on the sparse details available from official sources:
“Arab news media have run stories on airstrikes allegedly carried out by Israel in the past few days against the Hezbollah militia, an Iran proxy, and Syrian army targets.
A statement from the Israeli army on Sunday said its forces had come across ‘a group of armed terrorists who had approached the border with an explosive device intended to be detonated against [Israeli] soldiers.’
Israel said its aircraft responded with strikes, but it did not confirm casualties or identify the group that allegedly attempted the border attack. Israeli media said four men were killed.
Writing for the Jewish Chronicle on Thursday, Anshel Pfeffer claims Israel is exerting extreme and “nuanced” control over media reports of its involvement in the Syrian conflict by denying involvement in most airstrikes while blaming Iran and Hezbollah for continued unrest.
“Without trying to work out the credibility of the various statements, what is clear is that Israel is trying to fine-tune its level of influence in Syria, keeping it somewhere between discreet (sic) deterrence and selective non-involvement,” writes Pfeffer.
According to Pfeffer, Israel seeks to keep Syrian chemical weapons out of Hezbollah’s hands, despite the fact that “even if Hizbollah obtained these capabilities, it is unlikely that they would use them any time soon … It is anxious to avoid another devastating blow against Lebanon.”
Instead of taking credit for airstrikes or ground attacks, Israel blames them on Jabhat al-Nusra (the Nusra Front), an al-Qaida-aligned group fighting in Syria. However, claims of “selective non-involvement” ring false in the face of multiple reports of Israel’s direct support of al-Nusra.
Arab news sources reported in December that Syrian rebels from the group were being treated in Israeli hospitals, and widely circulated video footage shows Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visiting Syrian militants in the hospital.
The practice of treating wounded Syrian rebels has continued into this year, according to investigative journalist Asa Winstanley.
Winstanley highlights a little noticed Wall Street Journal report:
“We don’t ask who they are, we don’t do any screening,’ the unnamed Israeli military official told the paper of the hospital treatment of al-Qaeda fighters. ‘Once the treatment is done, we take them back to the border [sic – ceasefire line] and they go on their way [in Syria],’ he said.
An unnamed military official also said there is an ‘understanding’ between Israeli forces and al-Qaeda fighters there and that ‘there is a familiarity of the [al-Qaeda] forces on the ground.”
Winstanley estimates that Israel’s direct aid began two years ago, and goes beyond just medical care to supplying actual weapons. In December, the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force accused Israel of direct collaboration with al-Nusra:
“UNDOF observed Israeli contact with armed rebels on the Syrian-controlled side of the ceasefire line on 59 occasions ‘particularly during periods of heavy engagement between the Syrian armed forces and members of the armed opposition’ between March and May.”
Further, the United Nations observers saw “Israeli soldiers ‘handing over two boxes to armed members of the opposition’ from the Israeli-occupied side to the Syrian-controlled side” on one occasion.
And Pfeffer admits that “the remnants of bombs with labels in Hebrew were found on the scene” of rebel-involved conflicts in Syria.
In January, the Telegraph reported that, according to Syria’s President Bashar Assad, the topic has even become a joke in his country. “’How can you say that al-Qaeda doesn’t have an air force? They have the Israeli air force.’” he said.
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