Israel has reportedly been discreetly supporting Syrian rebel groups for years to protect its northern border from the war raging in Syria, The Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday night.The WSJ based its report on interviews with rebel soldiers and other sources. A spokesman for the rebel group Fursan al-Joulan told the newspaper that Israel’s help to his group was essential and significant.“We wouldn’t have survived without Israel’s assistance,” Moatasem al-Golani was quoted as saying. “Israel stood by our side in a heroic way,” he added.According to the WSJ, Israel has offered rebel groups medical supplies, food, funding and even hard cash in order to safeguard the country’s border from the ever-deepening crisis taking place in Israel’s northern neighbor Syria, which is suffering from the consequences of the bloody and grueling civil war raging in the country since 2011.Israel’s motivation behind its continued and discreet assistance has been to stave off attacks from Iranian proxies operating in Syria, such as Hezbollah, the WSJ explained, basing the reasoning on similar claims that were associated with unnamed sources.The report alleged that the aid was mainly provided via a military unit set up in the IDF and tasked with supporting independent rebel groups that do not receive help from other Western powers. The funds directed to the groups are used to purchase ammunition and to pay fighters.The WSJ report said that the Fursan al-Joulan rebel group was the main faction to coordinate its activities with Israel, and reportedly started this collaboration back in 2013. The group, reportedly comprised of 400 members, has worked with other groups in the area that have also enjoyed Israel’s assistance.Israel has been providing the group with a monthly stipend estimated at $5,000, the paper reported, citing the group’s commander as its source.
The WSJ contacted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office for comment, and was referred to the IDF.According to the paper, the IDF refrained from commenting on the report that it has been operating a unit tasked with the mission to help the rebel groups, but did say that it was “committed to securing the borders of Israel and preventing the establishment of terror cells and hostile forces... in addition to providing humanitarian aid to the Syrians living in the area.”Syrian President Bashar Assad accused Israel in the past of supporting the rebel groups.The Syrian opposition has claimed that Israel was actually collaborating with Iran and Hezbollah to help Assad maintain his power.Israel has been openly helping Syrian refugees for years, mostly by providing medical aid to injured or displaced people. The IDF has in the past set up field hospitals along the border to help injured Syrians, and since 2013 – when the country first started to offer aid – it has treated some 3,000 wounded Syrians.However, the country strongly maintains that it remains uninvolved in the fighting, and has denied previous allegations that it did take part in one way or another.
IDF soldiers in the Golan Heights transfer injured Syrians from Syria into Israel for medical treatment on April 6, 2017 (IDF SPOKESPERSON"S UNIT)