Ya'alon: Israel told rebels not to harm Syrian Druse, and to keep terror groups from border

While some Israeli Druse have called on Israel to aid their Syrian brethren, the Syrian Druse are not keen on getting assistance from Israel, defense minister says.

IDF soldiers near the border with Syria in the Golan Heights  (photo credit: REUTERS)
IDF soldiers near the border with Syria in the Golan Heights
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Jerusalem has conditioned medical aid to Syrian rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime on their keeping terrorist organizations from getting close to Israel’s border and not harming the local Druse population, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said on Monday.
Ya’alon, in a briefing with diplomatic reporters, said that contrary to rumors that have circulated among Israel’s Druse, causing a great deal of agitation that led to the “lynching” last week of a Syrian rebel being transferred via ambulance to Israel, the Syrian Druse community was not currently threatened.
That murder, Ya’alon said, has led to calls for vengeance in Syria against the Druse community there.
While some Israeli Druse have called on Jerusalem to aid their Syrian brethren who are fighting the Assad regime, the Syrian Druse are not keen on getting that assistance, he added, as being seen as receiving support from Israel does not serve their interests.
Israel’s policy regarding Syria was to remain outside of the conflict there, but to make sure that Israel’s “red lines” were not crossed, the defense minister said. Among those red lines were the transfer of strategic weapons to Hezbollah and the infringement of Israeli sovereignty.
Ya’alon was careful not to predict the future of Syria, or how long Assad would hold on to control of at least some of the country, saying that it has essentially been broken into a number of different “cantons.”
He said that it was likely that the bloodletting there would continue, and that there was no likelihood of a decisive victory by one side or the other any time in the foreseeable future.
Another Israeli defense official said that while Israel has not refused medical treatment to any Syrian approaching its lines, “later, when it became clear that they were rebels, we made sure that they understood we expected our conditions to be kept.”
The official said he knew of no cases of Israel helping members of Nusra Front, an al-Qaida offshoot in Syria, which has beset the Druse. Rather, the official said, Israel has engaged mainly with non-jihadist rebels like the Free Syrian Army.
Telling apart jihadists from other armed factions “can be difficult,” he said.
Joel Parker, a researcher on Syria at the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University, told The Jerusalem Post that rebel groups seem intent on driving out the regime from all of its military bases in the south, including the military airport in the Druse city of Sweida.
This has alarmed the Druse, who feel that this is an urgent matter, and they have come out publicly stating their support for the Syrian Army, he said.
As a result, the relationship between local Druse and the Syrian Army seems to have warmed, despite reports of tensions between the two, he said.
For instance, in a video uploaded on Facebook on Sunday, “young Druse men are seen singing with Syrian Army officers behind a barricade,” at the Druse village of Hader, near Israel’s border, Parker said.
A post under the video indicates that the they are in support of working “hand in hand” with the Syrian Army to defend their village from “terrorists.”
Meanwhile, an Israeli initiative to aid Syrian Druse refugees has raised funds for six months of assistance for 50 families that recently fled from Syria to Jordan, covering food and medical care costs reaching NIS 500,000.
International Fellowship of Christians and Jews president and founder Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein said on Sunday that the aim of the humanitarian aid is to help the Syrian Druse community hit by the war in southern Syria.
At an event at the home of Druse spiritual leader Sheikh Maufak Tarif in Julis, which was attended by other Druse leaders, Eckstein promised to give additional aid to Druse refugees as needed and remain in touch with Israeli Druse leaders about the situation.
“From the very beginning, the IFCJ has worked to safeguard the Druse community and to advance their integration into Israel’s society and economy,” said Eckstein.
“We believe the Druse to be true partners to Israel’s security and well-being,” he said.
“It is heartwarming that a Jewish rabbi identifies himself with the hardships of the Druse community in Syria and offers an immediate humanitarian support,” said Druse leader Tarif.
Reuters contributed to this report.