Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Tel Aviv Pays Al Qaeda Fighters’ Salaries: The Syrian War’s Worst Kept Secret That Could Become Israel’s Nightmare

Earlier this month, the Wall Street Journal published an interview with a Syrian rebel commander and half a dozen fighters, who confirmed the worst kept secret of the Syrian conflict: Israel is directly aiding Syrian rebel factions with both humanitarian and financial aid.
Israel’s involvement “is much deeper and more coordinated than previously known and entails direct funding of opposition fighters near its border for years,” the report said.
“Israel stood by our side in a heroic way,” Moatasem al-Golani, a spokesman for the rebel group Fursan al-Joulan, told the Wall Street Journal. “We wouldn’t have survived without Israel’s assistance.”
According to the report, Israel provides $5,000 each month to Fursan al-Joulan – or Knights of the Golan – which it uses to pay fighters’ salaries and purchase weapons and ammunition for its campaigns against the government in the Syrian Golan.

I had never heard of Fursan al-Joulan before. An online site dedicated to documenting the Syrian conflict describes a “Fouj al Joulan” as a Golani militia allied with the Assad regime and dedicated to protecting Druze villages in the region. Though the names sound similar, they are unlikely to be the same group, especially considering Fouj al-Joulan’s commander, Majd Himoud, is an implacable Israeli enemy, whom it has attempted to assassinate twice.

With approximately 400 fighters, Fursan al-Joulan would appear to be a local militia. It undoubtedly has an affiliation with a larger Islamist group like al-Nusra or al-Qaeda, but I haven’t been able to determine that. The Journal makes clear that it isn’t affiliated with the Free Syrian Army, which increases the likelihood that Fursan al-Joulan is an Islamist group. It’s also quite possible there are other groups, perhaps numerous ones, which Israel is aiding in a similar fashion.

On 22 June, Yediot Achronot’s chief military-security correspondent, Alex Fishmanconfirmed the Journal’s report and explored the motivation behind it:
“A not insignificant portion of the Syrian rebels in the Golan have adopted the extreme Salafist ideology of Jabhat al-Nusra, an offshoot of al-Qaeda…The Israeli view is that the religious extremist views of the Syrian rebels are less relevant [than their capacity to combat Israel’s enemies – Iran and Hezbollah]. Israel believes that what interests them [the rebels] above all is survival; and that it’s possible to buy their loyalty through material aid which helps guarantee their own security. 
“The Journal article gives one the impression that Israel doesn’t always examine closely the views of its allies as long as it gets from them a useful security exchange. According to Israel’s perspective, the enemy of my enemy is my friend. And if Jabhat al-Nusra fights against IS in the southern Golan, and each of them in turn fights against Hezbollah and the Syrian army in the Deraa region – all the better.”
This exchange-based mode of interaction may work for Israel in the short run, but the history of the region is replete with such temporary alliances which quickly devolved into outright hostility when circumstances changed. A former ally can easily and quickly become one’s worst enemy.

And in fact the goods, experience and skills transmitted during the alliance permit the former ally to become an even more formidable foe (just think the Mujahadeen-Taliban in Afghanistan). Any number of actors inside Syria from IS to al-Nusra could at some future time decide that Israel is a riper target than their former enemies. This short-term alliance of convenience could easily become a nightmarish Golem of Israel’s own making.

What Israel wants

These new reports confirm several years of my own reporting which have documented extensive Israeli intervention in the Syrian conflict, including numerous air strikes against Hezbollah and Iranian arms convoys, the shooting down of a Syrian jet which had strayed a few metres into Israeli-occupied Golan, assassinations of Hezbollah and Iranian commanders, equipment drops to al-Nusra units allied with al-Qaeda, and direct intelligence briefings between IDF officers and rebel commanders.

All this has belied the repeated false claims in the media (including in this WSJ article) that Israel is a neutral party to the conflict – which is what Israel would have the world believe. However, it is deeply involved in it and seeks to weaken or topple Bashar al-Assad, because Israel’s arch enemies, Hezbollah and Iran, are his chief allies.

[Posted at the SpookyWeather blog, July 5th, 2017.]

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