Even if Druze tempers are temporarily calmed over the fate of their Syrian brethren, the fallout from the Syrian civil war has already spilled over into Israel from an unexpected quarter. For nearly five years, Israel carefully kept its hands off the conflict raging on its northern border, restricting itself to responding ad hoc to dangers and building a quiet aid mechanism for selected Syrian rebels. But in recent months, Israel has re-channeled its military intervention into areas close to its border.
The way this involvement is disavowed by Israeli officials is seriously detrimental to the government’s military credibility.
When IDF spokesman Brig. Motti Almoz reiterated past statemants that the military does not identify or assort by organization the injured Syrian rebels reaching the Israeli Golan border for treatment, he found that the Druze serving in Israel’s armed forces and those living in Golan villages knew better. Israeli Druze and Golan villagers – many loyal to Bashar Assad – were so incensed by this and past evasions that they came together for violent action – hence the attacks Monday, June 22, on two IDF ambulances ferrying injured Syrian rebel fighters to hospital.
After the first ambulance was attacked, the second should have been much better secured. It turned out that the military police escorting it were not up to fighting a raging Druze lynch mob outside Majdal Shams on the Golan. The Syrians were badly beaten up and one died later.
Israeli and Golan Druze have found a common cause, in itself a destabilizing factor, in the conviction that Israel is aiding the Syrian Al Qaeda arm, the Nusra Front, although some of the information from South Syria is disinformation slanted by hostile elements for stirring up trouble for Israel.
The thousand-year old secretive sect is treated as heretic by jihadis, including the Nusra Front. When a rebel alliance neared Jabal Druze in Syria, Nusra leaders promised not to harm the Druze provided that they “retreat from their religious mistakes.” They then forced several hundred Druze to convert to Sunni Islam and desecrated their shrines.
Nusra Front is therefore a red flag for the Druze bull
This is just one more complicating factor in considering the ill-defined, fractious rebel alliance fighting in South Syria across from the Israeli Golan.
Israeli protestations that it doesn’t support Al Qaeda-linked rebels may hold true one day, while the next day, that same group may break up and join a jihadi faction. Some of them are constantly on the move in and out of Al Qaeda.
Saudi Arabia ran up against this phenomenon in recent weeks when it bought and armed 3,000 Nusra Front fighters on condition that they leave their group and join up under an umbrella anti-Assad rebel front called the Southern Front, or the Southern Army of Conquest.
The Saudi step relieved Israel of charges of supporting jihadi movements. But it was no means let off the hook as far as the Druze were concerned, because of the notoriously volatile nature of the rebel movement.
Most of Nusra’s commanders did indeed repudiate their allegiance to Al Qaeda to win Saudi backing, but they soon switched back after Nusra in the north spearheaded major rebel victories. Clearly, victorious groups hold a fatal attraction for the hundreds of hazy rebel factions
The Druze demand for Israel to abandon the Nusra Front is tantamount to its repudiating the Syrian rebel cause at large. For the IDF this is a non-option: Ditching its under-the-radar links with certain Syrian rebel groups is the recipe for ending the relative calm on its Golan border with Syria. And withdrawing from its cooperation with the US-Saudi-Jordanian backed rebel force would endanger their effort to capture southern Syria, in the same way as comparable forces attained control of most of the north.
At the same time, the Israeli government must persuade its up-in-arms Druze citizens that IDF actions in South Syria will not bring harm to their Syrian brethren. This is an uphill task that may not prevent further Druze violence.