Israel is facing a major moral and strategic dilemma – whether or not to defend the hundreds of thousands of Druze civilians in Syria who are now under dire threat from the relentless advance of the Islamic State. Make no mistake, the Druze are strong supporters of Syrian President Bashar Assad, a bitter enemy of Israel. Several weeks ago, a Druze terror squad even tried to carry out a cross-border attack against Israel on the Golan Heights. When Israel annexed part of the Golan Heights after the Six-Day War in 1967, the Druze inside that area returned their Israeli identity cards and pledged allegiance to President Hafez Assad in Damascus. However, his son, Bashar Assad has abandoned them now by pulling the Syrian Army out of the Druze regions in order to strengthen Damascus and his Alawite enclave along the Mediterranean coast.
Who are the Druze?
The Druze are a closely-knit minority spread mainly over Syria, Lebanon, and last but not least Israel. They live in their own communities and practice their own ‘secret’ religion, an offshoot of Islam, and are considered the worst kind of infidels by Islamic State – with all that that entails. Their policy is to be loyal citizens of the country they reside in, and this not only applies to Syria and Lebanon but also Israel, where they serve in their separate combat units in the IDF. However, recently some unnamed Israeli officials have been leaking to the media that Jerusalem has decided to turn down a request by Israeli Druze leaders for the IDF to go to the aid of their relatives across the border in Syria.
This is the dilemma facing Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu – If Israel lends military aid, it would involve her directly in the four-year civil war which Jerusalem has steered clear of. (Israel’s policy has been to return any fire from the Syrian side of the Golan Heights, to pre-empt any hostile activity on the Golan and to interdict Assad’s transfer of sophisticated weapons from Iran via Syria to Hezbollah in Lebanon). On the other hand, what is to be done if the family relatives of Israel’s loyal Druze citizens face a massacre in Syria? The main concern is for the hundreds of thousands of Druze who live in the ‘Druze Mountain’ region near the Jordanian border. The writing is on the wall – near the Druze town of Idlib, 20 Druze men have been massacred by al-Nusra rebels. Then there is the large village of Hadar, near Mount Hermon, that is adjacent to the Israeli border. Druze leaders in Israel have sought urgent aid in private meetings with State President Reuven Rivlin and also with IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Izenkot.
There are several options, but to do nothing is not one of them. It would be a terrible betrayal of Israel’s Druze citizens…
Obviously the buck will stop with Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu. There are several options, but to do nothing is not one of them. It would be a terrible betrayal of Israel’s Druze citizens, bearing in mind the famous ‘bond of blood’ between Israeli Druze and the State of Israel. But it is also true that lending military aid to the Syrian Druze communities could spark a war with the Islamic State. But does anyone believe that ISIL will not attack the Jewish state, if and when the time is ripe?
In addition to humanitarian aid to the Druze, Israel could also supply weapons. If that is not enough, what about allowing IDF Druze soldiers to volunteer to defend the Druze communities in Syria? This would necessitate IDF back up, after all the Druze are IDF soldiers. ‘If push comes to shove’ there would also be the possibility of air strikes, if need be. In fact, Islamic State should be warned that any onslaught against the Druze communities in Syria would be met with a massive air strike by the Israel Air Force. This would not only solve Israel’s moral dilemma, but also send a startling message throughout the Middle East. What’s more the vast majority of Israelis would salute Netanyahu.
It would not be the first time that Israel took risks for its friends. In 1970, Syrian President Hafez Assad the elder massed Syrian tanks along the Jordanian border, prepared to invade and topple King Hussein. The Jordanian monarch got on the hotline to Washington asking for assistance. President Richard Nixon phoned Jerusalem to consult with Prime Minister Golda Meir. That evening Israeli jets were observed making dummy passes near the Syrian tanks along the border. Back in Damascus, President Assad got the message and called off his planned invasion of Jordan. Isn’t that what friends are for?