Category Archives: Israel

Israel Threatened Al Qaed to Protect Syria Druze

The rise of Islamist rebel factions has made Israeli support for Syrian rebels more difficult than in the past.

By Gedalyah Reback

Israeli Druze (file)

Israeli Druze (file)

Since the start of the Syrian Civil War, Israel has tried to maintain a neutral policy – Israel’s engagement with Hezbollah and Iran gets a lot more coverage than its engagement with Sunni Islamist groups like Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front.

But Israel has been involved in skirmishes with jihadist rebels. In 2014, Israel laid cover fire in the form of an artillery barrage against Islamist rebels who had pinned down a number of Irish UN peacekeepers in the combat zone. Israeli artillery covered the Irish troops’ escape to the Israeli side of the border.

There have been hints of Israeli links to Syrian rebel groups, likely for the sake of limiting or eliminating Hezbollah’s presence along the Israeli border.

Last October, Ehud Yaari of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy said that “in particular, the southern governorates of Quneitra and Deraa could become either the latest territories captured by radical forces — namely the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) and al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra (JN) — or a safe haven for non-Islamist rebel groups, some of which maintain contacts with Israel.”

For years, that speculation has largely centered on Israeli links to the Free Syrian Army, the most prominent secular opposition to Bashar al-Assad. There have been rumors at the same time that Israel has been working with more Islamic groups also. Those rumors also extend to Jordan.

Neither country is necessarily thrilled with this arrangement, but the strategic thinking right now is that Syria represents Iranian influence, which is the greater threat. This is certainly the view among many Israeli security experts, who see things like the rise of ISIS as a mixed blessing in that it could hamper Iran’s efforts to expand its influence in the region.

ISIS, it should be noted, is still not unified with groups like Jabhat al-Nusra (the Nusra Front) who are associated with Al Qaeda. Yet for all the smaller terrorist groups that have taken root in Syria, the line between independent operations and pledging allegiance to ISIS can be very thin.

Israeli observers were apparently shocked by the unforeseen allegiance of the Shuhada al-Yarmouk Brigades to ISIS, having previously been associated with the Free Syrian Army. Al-Nusra assassinated al-Yarmouk’s Mousab Ali Karfan (nom de guerre Mousab Zaytouneh) in mid-December, possibly based on the accusation he had made the alliance himself.

Al-Yarmouk had retained control of a large chunk of the border region with Israel, but their switch made things strategically untenable.

There is also some degree of domestic pressure in Israel according to Professor John Myhill, a linguist at Haifa University who has worked extensively with Israeli Druze in recent years.

“November or December of last year the Druze in Suwayda (Jabal al-Druze) were thrown into battle against Al-Nusra. The Israeli Druze community knows that the Sunni groups in Syria are fighting the non-Sunnis in the same way – by massacring them. That is why Israeli Druze (including in the Golan) get very upset with the photo ops of the IDF with the rebels” Myhill says, referring to photos of Israeli leaders with Syrian wounded being treated in the Golan.

Druze are typically presented as prioritizing their residing country more than their brethren in the other Arab states, but that is an exaggeration. There have been efforts by local Druze leaders to lobby the Israeli government to protect Druze in southern Syria who have come under attack from Al Qaeda affiliates there.

“Druze have known for a while that the humanitarian assistance is going exclusively to rebels and not to the Syrian Army. After there was an incident where 20 Druze were killed last year, Israeli Druze set up a committee.”

In November 2014, that Druze group released a harsh statement against what they perceived was too friendly a policy to Syrian rebel groups:

“As we warned in the past, today it has become a fact that Israel supports all factions fighting the Syrian regime, and supplies them with weapons, and takes in the wounded of all faction, including Jabhat al-Nusra and Daesh (ISIS),” according to the statement issued by the group. “We call on members of the Druze sect to act severely toward Israel’s policy.”

It should be noted that there is no evidence Israel has supplied weapons to any rebel faction, Islamist or otherwise.

But according to Myhill, the lobbying efforts have paid off and caused a radical change in how Al-Nusra approaches the Druze communities of al-Suwayda.

Myhill retains contacts over the border in Jordan. On January 1st, according to those contacts, a number of Israeli and Jordanian intelligence officials flew into Syria via helicopter. Within weeks, attacks against the Druze apparently dissipated, indicating the Israelis and the Jordanians possibly demanded the rebels cease their attacks on Druze in and around Suwayda.

According to Myhill, Israeli Druze were receiving better news from family in Syria.

“The government was taking the Druze issue seriously (at that point) and the situation there had completely changed. They weren’t going into Druze villages at all by the end of January.”

When asked if Israel should weigh as heavily an alliance with Syria’s Druze as he has advocated it consider investing in the Alawites, Myhill said that it was less likely the Druze could deploy as extensively as any of the Islamist groups or the Syrian army.

”Suwayda / Jabal al-Druze is not linked to the Golan. There are no Druze in the area [between Suwayda and the Golan] and they would have to kick out all the Sunnis by the border in order to hold it.” He said that Druze would not be as willing as the Alawite-majority Syrian army to go on such an ethnic cleansing operation, at the least because it did not have the capability.

There have also been recent reports that Iran wants Druze to form their own militia, possibly making an alliance with Israel at any moment soon a mute matter. The reports also claim Hezbollah advisers are leading the training. It is unclear what sort of success that effort would be, or if such a militia might become a permanent part of Druze security in southern Syria.

The Druze are by no means marching behind Bashar al-Assad.

There have been raids on Syrian Army recruiting stations in Suwayda where locals broke Druze recruits out who had been arrested and sent them into hiding. This might also represent the fact that Alawites might be in a better position to maintain their sect’s security than the Druze are.

While Assad has presented his government as the best option to protect minorities from Islamists, Myhill says that any “Non-Alawites of significance in the regime are either 1) yes-men who serve as figureheads or 2) from the about 2 million or so crypto-Alawites in the country.”

So, Just What is a “Palestinian,” Anyways?

The Philistines, of course, were a seafaring people of the Aegean islands.

They were one of the rivals for regional dominance competing with the ancient Israelites along the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea over one thousand years before Jesus of Nazareth walked the land.

They were, needless to say, not a people from the Arabian peninsula and were in no way the forebears of those who conquered the Land of Israel in the seventh century.

This is to say that the ancient enemy of the Jews, the Philistines, are in no way related to the contemporary Arabs who have, for some reason, taken a Latin name that refers to a Greek people.

Furthermore, Palestinian-Arab authorities sometimes claim to be either descendants of the Philistines or descendants of the ancient Canaanites or descendants of the little known ancient Jebusites.

The areas of Judea and Samaria, and all the Land of Israel, was renamed Syria-Palestina by the Roman Emperor Hadrian around the year 135 CE for the explicit purpose of erasing Jewish history on the land of the defeated indigenous Jewish population upon the failure of the Bar Kochba Rebellion.

From that day to this the traditional homeland of the Jewish people was generally referred to as either “Palestine” or the “Holy Land” or “Eretz Israel,” depending upon among who, when, and where the conversation was taking place.

By the time that the Zionist project was well under way in the early part of the twentieth-century the terms “Palestine,” to refer to the region, and “Palestinian,” to refer to the Jews of the region, were commonplace in the west.

Throughout the first half of the twentieth-century a “Palestinian” was generally considered a Jew or, in official British terms during the period of the mandate, anyone, without regard to race or religion, who resided within the mandate, itself.  This definition, in my opinion, is probably the only one that actually makes sense from a liberal perspective.

As is often remarked, the Jerusalem Post was originally dubbed the “Palestine Post.”  It was not until after the Jews relinquished the designation of “Palestinian” that the local Arabs picked it up. This is why Golda Meir could famously tell the the Sunday Times in the summer of 1969:

There were no such thing as Palestinians. When was there an independent Palestinian people with a Palestinian state? It was either southern Syria before the First World War, and then it was a Palestine including Jordan. It was not as though there was a Palestinian people in Palestine considering itself as a Palestinian people and we came and threw them out and took their country away from them. They did not exist.

This is because “Palestine” was a regional, not a national designation.  The above quote is sometimes employed by the hard-left to suggest that Meir was racist, but the hard-left considers Israel to be a racist country, in any case, and all of its leaders from the past, including Golda, herself, to be fascistic.

The idea of “Palestinian” to refer specifically to the local Arabs only gained significant credence among Arabs, themselves, during the 1960s with the rise of Arafat and the PLO and with it, for the very first time in human history, an allegedly distinct ethnicity emerged for the specific purpose of robbing another people of sovereignty and self-defense on their own land.

For the Jewish people, therefore, the keffiyah resonates in a manner similar to a Klansmen’s hood.

In a certain kind of way, this answers the question of just what is a “Palestinian,” anyway?  You could accurately answer like this:

A “Palestinian” is an Arab residing on Jewish land whose cultural identity is largely dependent upon the effort to eliminate Jewish sovereignty and self-defense in Eretz Israel directly after the Holocaust

This definition, however, only makes sense if the Palestinian-Arabs do, in fact, represent a distinct national group.  While I understand about Benedict Anderson’s criticisms of nations as “imagined communities,” nonetheless for a distinct national group to be a distinct national group there must be significant cultural distinctions between that group and the larger related communities.

In the case of those whom we call “Palestinian” the distinctions are virtually non-existent. This is not the case between, for example, the Japanese and the Chinese because even non-Asians can readily observe the many cultural distinctions between these neighboring far east Asian peoples.  The “Palestinians,” however, share the same cuisine with other Arabs. They share the same religion with other Arabs. They share the same language with other Arabs. They share similar honor / shame codes.  Customs.   Culture.   Language.   Food.   Traditions.

All more or less the same.

The reason for this is because Palestinian-Arab nationalism was merely a recent response to the fact that the Jews had finally released ourselves from dhimmitude and we would simply no longer allow ourselves to be forced into second and third-class non-citizenship under Arab-Muslim domination.

Thirteen centuries was more than enough, thank you very much.

So, if “Palestinian” does not represent a distinct nation or ethnicity then just what is a “Palestinian”?

The truth of the matter, of course, is that “Palestine” is simply another name for the Land of Israel, but one foisted upon it by a malicious Roman conqueror.  Just as Jewish people have no moral obligation to recognize a “Palestinian” people who came into existence, as an allegedly distinct people, within recent decades for the specific purpose of doing Jewish people harm, so we have no compelling reason to resurrect the Greco-Roman name “Palestine” to refer to our homeland.

If the Arabs want to take a big bite out of Israel in order to create a criminal-terrorist entity on Jewish land, we’ve certainly given them every opportunity, but as Abba Eban famously said after the Geneva peace talks of 1973, the Palestinian-Arabs “never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”

“Palestine,” it must furthermore be understood, refers to a region, not a nation.  Just as “Saharan” is not an ethnicity and “Californian” is not an ethnicity, so “Palestinian” is not an ethnicity. Everyone who lives in California is a “Californian.”  If you are resident of the state of California then, whatever else you may be, you are very definitely a Californian.

The same is true for everyone who lives in the Land of Israel.  They are all “Palestinian” in the sense that they all live in what was the British Mandate of Palestine.

A “Palestinian” might be an Arab and he or she might be a Muslim, but there are all sorts of “Palestinians” who are not Arab. The Palestinian Authority is willing to accept the idea of an “Arab Christian” as “Palestinian,” but that is where the door shuts closed. All others, despite residing in the region for perhaps generations, can never be considered “Palestinian” in the hard-right racist manner that the PA determines such things.

At the end of the day, however, everyone who lives in Eretz Israel is a “Palestinian,” if we need to even use such terminology, just as every citizen of the State of Israel is an Israeli, without regard to ethnicity or religion.   There are Arab-Israelis and Jewish-Israelis and Rosicrucian-Israelis and, presumably even, Chinese-Buddhist-Israelis, just as there are Arab-Palestinians and Jewish-Palestinians and Rosicrucian-Palestinians and, presumably even, Chinese-Buddhist-Palestinians.

The Arabs may represent a significant portion of what was once the British Mandate of Palestine, but they obviously never represented all of it.  The Jews were always willing to share, just as the Arabs were always determined to prevail in a zero-sum contest against their formerly persecuted subjects.

But if one is an all-or-nothing kind of person and if you cannot grab it all, you very often get nothing.

This is something that Mahmoud Abbas might well keep in mind.