Reports already indicate that Israel is providing humanitarian aid for Syrians, but do these contacts also include intelligence and military cooperation against radical groups linked with al-Qaida? If jihadists were to take over near the border and begin planning or launching attacks, it would lead to a shift in Israel’s policy of nonintervention in the Syrian war.
Following the Palestinian expulsion from Jordan, the PLO and other Palestinian terrorist groups established a base in southern Lebanon from which it launched attacks against Israeli citizens.
Israel responded to those attacks in a limited fashion, until, on March 11, 1978, 11 Fatah-led terrorists hijacked two buses inside Israel, murdered 37, and wounded 76, before being killed by Israeli security forces.
Israel invaded Lebanon soon after, staying a short time, only to be drawn back again and again over the years because of attacks emanating from its northern neighbor.
The possibility that a similar scenario could develop on Israel’s border with Syria has likely already been contemplated by Israel’s military establishment.
“One should assume that the same understandings which allowed over 600 wounded Syrians to be evacuated for treatment in Israeli hospitals – including a special military field hospital on the Golan – are facilitating other forms of assistance as well,” said Ehud Ya’ari, in an article last week for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, where he is a Lafer international fellow.
Ya’ari, who also is a Middle East commentator for Israel’s Channel 2, wrote that Israeli forces involved in the humanitarian operations in the Golan “have been very careful not to operate inside Syrian territory or assume responsibility for the villages in question.”
However, he says that Israel’s interest is that al-Qaida-linked groups such as the Nusra Front and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant are not able to gain a foothold in southern Syria.
“Israel apparently may feel obliged to take unpublicized measures aimed at preventing or at least slowing the movement” of these groups near Israel’s border, said Ya’ari.
Asked if Israel is coordinating with Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime or supporting his remaining in power, Ya’ari told The Jerusalem Post, “Israel is not assisting Assad’s forces in any way.”
He also believes that Israel does not wish for Assad to remain in power.
Furthermore, he added, Assad’s forces have a very limited presence in southern Syria, maintaining control over main highways in the south, but besides that, have effectively given up control of the area.
If Israel is not coordinating its moves in southern Syria with the regime, perhaps, as reports suggest, it is secretly working with Jordan, which also is worried about al-Qaida-linked groups targeting its own government.
In addition to rumors that an operations room in Amman is coordinating assistance to the Syrian opposition, along with Saudi and Western intelligence officials, Ya’ari writes that Jordan “is cultivating an array of local militias close to the long frontier with Syria, taking advantage of the fact that many inhabitants of southern Syria and northern Jordan belong to the same tribes.”
Aron Lund, editor of the Carnegie Endowment’s Syria in Crisis website, told the Post that any cooperation with Israel would not be popular with Jordan’s population, “but of course there’s going to be some security cooperation between their governments, especially when they are both affected by a major crisis in a third country.”
Lund assumes that “Jordan could benefit from Israeli intelligence and technological assistance.”
Kirk Sowell, the Amman-based principal of Uticensis Risk Services, a Middle East-focused political risk firm, told the Post that the assistance coming from the operations room based in Amman is probably small scale.
Sowell said that during 2012 there was a period when Saudi Arabia was withholding aid from Jordan, but after Jordan allowed the weapons to flow to the Syrian rebels, the aid began flowing again.
"And I don't doubt there is coordination with Israel," he added.