An Israeli soldier sits atop a tank during an exercise in the Golan Heights, near the ceasefire line between Israel and Syria.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Israeli Druse leaders told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday that the southern Syrian Druse city of Sweida serves as the last barrier separating Islamic State from Israeli territory on the Golan Heights.
If Islamic State gets past Sweida, it puts Jordan and the Israeli border areas at risk, Israeli Druse spiritual leader Sheikh Maufak Tarif told the Post.
The Druse in Sweida are preparing for war and will fight if they have to, he said.
“The situation there is not easy and Islamic State is on the east side,” he explained, adding that it seems that Islamic State is preparing to attack the city.
Asked about his meetings with Israeli officials and foreign governments regarding the Syrian Druse situation, Tarif replied that he is in contact with both Israeli and foreign officials all the time.
“It is a very stressed situation,” he added, urging the US to attack the Islamists in Syria.
Mendi Safadi, an Israeli Druse who has served as chief of staff for Deputy Regional Cooperation Minister Ayoub Kara, agreed. “Sweida is the wall between us and Islamic state,” he told the Post
. “Islamic State has to pass through Sweida in order to get to us. Israel’s interest is to strengthen the Druse in Sweida and southern Syria to prevent Islamic State from progressing on Israel’s borders.”
Islamic State is sitting on the borders of Sweida and “[Syrian President Bashar] Assad has given them the green light for them to attack,” Safadi claimed, adding, “I predict in the coming weeks Islamic State will try to attack Sweida.”
Asked about the killing last week of Druse leader Sheikh Wahid Balous, Safadi said that Assad’s regime killed him because it was starting to worry about Druse opposition to the government in Sweida.
Balous opposed his compatriots serving in the Syrian army and called on them to focus only on protecting Druse areas, Safadi said. He did not want the Druse to officially take any side in the ongoing war.
From Assad’s perspective, it was as if Balous was supporting the opposition, Safadi explained. “He was the biggest threat to Assad in Sweida. More than 70 percent of Druse in southern Syria support him and he also has supporters in Israel and Lebanon.”
Tarif told the Post
that Balous had procured weapons to protect the Jabal al-Druse region in the Sweida province.
Druse Deputy Minister Kara, meanwhile, said that killing Balous crossed a red line and called for immediate action to overthrow the Assad regime.
Syrian state media reported on Sunday that an Islamist insurgent confessed after his arrest to being behind two car bomb blasts that killed 37 people in the south of the country on Friday, including Balous.
The explosions provoked protests by Druse in Sweida during which six government security personnel were killed and a statue of Assad’s father was destroyed, a monitor said.Reuters contributed to this report.