Jun 24,2015 – JORDAN TIMES – Michael Jansen
The attempts by Druze living in Israel and the occupied Golan to interdict en route to hospital ambulances carrying Syrians wounded across the ceasefire line in battles with Syrian government forces have put the Israeli army in a difficult position.
In the first incident, which took place in northern Israel, Druze demanded to know whether the passengers in the ambulance belonged to an insurgent group.
The ambulance managed to escape and none of those inside were injured. In the second, 100-150 Golan Druze confronted an ambulance near the occupied Golan town of Majdal Shams, smashed the windshield, dragged out two wounded Syrian men and beat them, killing one and critically injuring the other.
Two Israeli soldiers were also hurt.
Israel has replied with a “wave of arrests” guaranteed to deepen Druze anger and alienation.
Although Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, an Israeli military spokesman, said the Syrians were not fighters from Al Qaeda-affiliate Jabhat Al Nusra, it is clear that Israel can no longer freely aid insurgents operating along the UN-patrolled buffer zone and in the Quneitra area.
Those involved in last week’s offensive against Syrian army positions were said to belong to the so-called “Free Syrian Army”, an umbrella grouping consisting of fundamentalist and secular factions.
Although, Israel says it does not deny treatment to any wounded from this area, Syrian soldiers are not accepted.
Whenever stray missiles land in the Israeli-occupied Golan, Israel responds by attacking Syrian troops.
Ayoob Kara, a loyalist Druze member of Israel’s Knesset, said he had assured leaders of the Druze community that insurgents were not permitted to enter Israel. The Druze dismissed his assurances.
Druze positioned along the line observe activities in nearby Syria through binoculars.
Furthermore, Kara’s statement was disproved by a report on Israeli television which showed a Free Syrian Army fighter under treatment in an Israeli hospital saying that he would not defend Druze from jihadists and contending that pro-government Druze had slain his friends and neighbours.
In addition to providing medical treatment to as many as 1,600 wounded fighters and civilians, Israel has established a camp just across the ceasefire line within the occupied Golan. The camp is said to be for fighters’ families, but may house recuperating fighters as well.
UN observers reported seeing Israeli military personnel handing over boxes of weapons to insurgents and Israeli officers conferring with Nusra and other commanders.
Druze living in Israel, including some serving in the Israeli army, have gone on the warpath because Jabhat Al Nusra and its fundamentalist partners threatened Druze family members and coreligionists in Syria, particularly inhabitants of the village of Al Khader, a pro-Syrian government town located very close to the ceasefire line.
Last week, a Druze girl was killed and 10 residents were wounded when insurgents fired on Al Khader, prompting the US, Jordan and even Israel to warn Nusra not to attack.
Since diverging from Shiism in the 11th century, the Druze faith has incorporated elements from Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism, and became a separate religion.
To survive in a sometimes hostile region, Druze communities have, on occasion, had to pretend to belong to the mainstream faith where they live.
Syrian Druze, numbering 700,000, have, however, lived peacefully for decades under secular governments and generally supported Damascus against sectarian challenges — as have members of the Christian, Alawite and Kurdish minorities.
Druze not only join the Syrian army but also the National Defence Forces and local popular communities established to defend Druze communities.
Druze fighters recently aided the Syrian army in retaking a disused airbase which had been briefly overrun by Nusra-led insurgents.
Nusra and its jihadists allies are not only determined to expand the territory they hold in southern Syria, but also to defeat Daesh.
Therefore, Nusra is under considerable pressure to seize strategic Druze areas.
Recently Druze villages located near the Golan have been caught up in Nusra’s campaign to take deserted and destroyed Quneitra, the main city on the Syrian side of the border, and establish full control along the UN buffer zone.
The Jabal Druze area in the Sweida province had been relatively quiet and stable as the Druze attempted to avoid involvement in the Syrian conflict, although there have been kidnappings for ransom of Druze notables living in Sweida.
Jabal Druze is a strategic area that straddles the Jordanian border, a frontier insurgents have long sought to hold.
Nusra commander Abu Mohamed Al Joulani has threatened that inhabitants of conquered Druze villages would be compelled to covert to Nusra’s version of Salafist Islam or risk the same fate as the 21 Druze murdered recently in a Druze village in Idlib province, in northern Syria.
As his name suggests, Joulani could be from the Golan and is, perhaps, one of the half-a-million Syrians — Arabs, Druze and Circassian — expelled from the heights by Israel in 1967. Therefore, it would be bitterly ironic for Nusra to collude with Israel.
Druze communities in Israel, where Druze serve in the armed forces, and in the occupied Golan, who last week demonstrated for military intervention to protect the Syrian Druze, can exert some leverage on the Israeli government to aid Druze under threat in Syria.
The Israeli army has so far established a field hospital near the buffer zone and may be called upon to create a protected corridor to allow Druze fleeing Nusra persecution and massacre to enter the Israeli-held Golan.
Druze leaders also demanded Israeli air force intervention against Nusra and its partners.
There are 110,000 Druze in northern Israel and 20,000 in the occupied Golan.
Most of the Golani Druze retain Syrian citizenship and have close ties with relatives in Syria.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the Druze who took part in the fatal attack on the ambulance would be made accountable.
“We will not let anyone… prevent the army from carrying out its mission,” giving away the game Israel is playing with Nusra and the insurgents.
“Its mission” is to provide aid and comfort to Nusra and other insurgents.