A UN observation tower is seen overlooking Syria, next to the Quneitra border crossing between the Golan Heights in Israel and Syria..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Syrian Druse near the Israeli border are under threat from the Islamic State as the Assad regime withdraws its forces from the area, Druse sources told The Jerusalem Post on Monday.
President Bashar Assad’s forces are weakening in Druse areas, including near the village of Hader, close to the border on the Golan Heights, Channel 1 reported on Sunday evening.
Israel is closely following developments in case Druse residents flee to Israel because of the jihadist threat.
Meanwhile, the heads of the Israeli Druse community raised their concerns for their brethren in Syria in meetings with senior Israeli security officials, according to the report.
Eyad Bos, a Druse who comes from the Golan village of Bukata, told the Post the Islamic State is approaching and preparing to attack the Syrian Druse city of Sweida, close to Jordan.
Bos, who has relatives in Sweida and elsewhere in Syria, said family members in Sweida say they are unsure if an attack will be tomorrow or a matter of hours.
Rather, Bos believes it is more likely Druse living in Hader will flee to Israel if there is a risk to their lives since Sweida is quite a distance away.
Mendi Safadi, an Israeli Druse who in the past served as Deputy Regional Cooperation Minister Ayoub Kara’s chief of staff, told the Post on Monday there is an “existential threat” to Druse living in southern Syria.
While in the past Syrian Druse supported Assad, things are changing, said Safadi, who estimates that the majority now oppose the regime.
Safadi, who has traveled in the region and met with activists, said the Syrian Druse refused a request from the regime to send thousands of their young men to fight for it and, as a result, Assad has pulled back forces from Druse areas exposing them to the jihadists.
Assad is setting the stage for the Druse to be slaughtered by Islamic State, which will play into his hands since he has all along said he is fighting a barbaric terrorist group, Safadi said.
Joel Parker, a researcher on Syria from the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University, told the Post the jihadist threat to the Druse appears to be real, partly because they cannot easily arm themselves since Assad does not want there to be independent Druse militias.
Parker sees an opportunity for Israel and Jordan to extend a helping hand, but without getting too deeply involved.
“Even without direct ties there could be ways in which Israel could use its leverage with the rebels in the South” in order to encourage them to leave the Druse alone, he said.