Image of a paraglider.
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
A 23-year-old Arab Israeli man paraglided into Syria from the Golan Heights Saturday to join a Syrian rebel group, IDF Spokesman Brig.- Gen. Moti Almoz said Sunday.
“It seems, based on our understanding, that this 23-year-old from [the central Arab-Israeli town of Jaljulya] was collected by someone on the other side [of the border],” Almoz told reporters on conference call early Sunday.
“We assume that someone who paraglided in this direction planned to do so.”
IDF look-outs spotted the paraglider hovering from northern Israel into Syria at about 5 p.m. on Saturday.
The military then launched a large-scale search.
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“We believe he planned this move to the other side and joined a group there,” Almoz said. “From the moment we spotted him, a large operational and intelligence search and investigation by the Northern Command, which was joined by the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), began.”
Throughout the night, large numbers of rumors circulated on social media about events on the northern border.
Almoz declined to specify which military activities occurred there overnight.
It is not known which group the paraglider is believed to have joined in Syria, he said, adding that the Shin Bet was leading the intelligence aspect of the situation.
Later in the day, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said: “After it became clear that this was someone who deliberately planned to join ISIS [Islamic State] or another terrorist organization on the other side” the IDF called off its search.
Following the incident, Deputy Prime Minister Silvan Shalom requested that the attorney-general revoke the citizenship of the unidentified man.
Sources close to the man’s family said Sunday they received a message from an anonymous caller saying, “Your son is well.”
Relatives and acquaintances of the defector arrived at the family home in Jaljulya near Kfar Saba throughout Sunday. According to one visitor, the man’s mother cried the entire time.
“My son did not go to Syria to join the rebel groups,” she shouted, according to an eyewitness. “I believe he will come home soon.”
One relative said he believes the paraglider was blown off path because of strong winds.
“We don’t believe the security forces’ version of events that he flew to Syria to join the ranks of Islamic State,” the relative said.
When asked about the paraglider, one relative said, “Nobody from the family knew that he learned parachuting (sic). The police and Shin Bet told us this morning that he bought a paraglider and hid it in his car. Nobody from the family saw the parachute. Plus, you need to practice to parachute.
So where exactly did he practice parachuting?” Deputy Regional Cooperation Minister Ayoub Kara (Likud) said the incident demonstrates that “the current wave of terrorism once again has increased the motivation of Israeli Arabs to join terrorist organizations, especially Islamic State, after the phenomenon had almost entirely disappeared in the last year.”
This, once again, makes it necessary to organize efforts to educate youth against joining terrorist groups, he said.
Over the past year, the Shin Bet has monitored and, on occasion, arrested a handful of Arab Israelis suspected of planning to join Islamic State in Syria.
The agency, in the past, has issued warnings, saying the phenomenon of Arab Israelis traveling to combat arenas in Syria and Iraq is an extremely dangerous development because of the presence of hostile jihadist elements where volunteers undergo military training and receive exposure to radical jihadist ideology.
Most volunteers to Syria “do not return,” said Ya’alon. “There have been a few dozen cases like these...
this is the first time someone paraglided. Until now, dozens of Arab Israelis made their way to Syria, mainly through a flight to Turkey and entering the combat zones in Syria and Iraq. This does not at all characterize the general Arab population in Israel.”