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What Does the 'Facebook Spy' Reveal About Israel's Hand in Syria War?

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Druze men look at smoke rising on the Israeli-controlled side of the line dividing the Golan Heights from Syria following fighting near the Quneitra border crossing, August 27, 2014.Credit: Reuters

An indictment filed last week in the Nazareth District Court against a resident of the town of Majdal Shams on the Golan Heights for espionage and assisting the enemy during wartime portrays Sudki Makat, a Druze supporter of the Assad regime in Syria, as the first Facebook spy caught in Israel.

Only one of the crimes he is charged with for now is connected to direct contact with an enemy agent — Assad’s bureau chief — and it is quite doubtful that in light of all the things the Syrian regime has to worry about these days, it has the time to operate a spy in Israel.

The other claims in the indictment relate to things Makat posted on his Facebook page. The Israeli media also broadcast the recordings of interviews he gave from the Golan to Syrian television. The main claim against him in the indictment is that the information he posted — on the Internet and in the press — concerning Israel Defense Forces activities along the Syrian border could have reached hostile organizations which could have used the information against Israel. There were no details on whether this actually happened.

There is still a gag order on part of the case and the police and Shin Bet security service are still holding others in the case. In the part of the investigation that can be published, the State Prosecutor’s Office provides learned explanations as to the differences between “Share,” “Like,” and “Comment” on Facebook.

The prosecution says Makat “incited other Facebook users” to share “extremist statements” against Israel, and posted detailed information of IDF activities, which made this information available to the Syrian regime.

For example, in a Facebook post from September 17, 2014 Makat says he approached the Quneitra border crossing and watched IDF soldiers holding physical training exercises without weapons near the border. This post, says the prosecution, received 39 likes and 18 shares. A video clip showing the activities of the field hospital the IDF opened near the Quneitra crossing was even more popular: It was viewed 6,302 times, had 387 likes and 146 shares.

The indictment and news reports from the courthouse paint Makat as a rather infuriating person, from Israel’s viewpoint. After serving decades in Israeli prisons for security offenses, he still insists — starting immediately after his release from prison — on regularly airing praise for the regime of the most murderous dictator in the Middle East.

Telephone calls to Assad’s bureau head and the Syrian delegation at the United Nations show how eager he was to serve the regime.

It is also quite possible that hostile organizations might exploit the details he posted for their own uses. Even the residents of Makat’s home town of Majdal Shams were quick to publish a statement expressing their reservations about his actions, and declaring that he did not represent the residents.

Still, there is something quite strange in this affair. It is obvious that alongside the potential security damage, which the prosecutor does not necessarily prove by counting likes, Makat succeeded in annoying the Israeli authorities by touching a sensitive nerve. The common denominator of a large part of his information is that it provides testimony from the field that seemingly supports the claims of the Assad regime, Iran and Hezbollah that Israel is taking sides in the civil war in Syria, and has allied itself with Sunni rebel organizations operating on the Syrian side of the border on the Golan.

The radical axis supporting Assad is making clear use of that for its own purposes by accusing Israel of cooperating with the most extreme Sunni elements near the border, the Jabhat al-Nusra (Nusra Front) organization, which is identified with Al-Qaida.

Makat echoes those claims in his material. He describes broad contacts between the Sunni rebels and the IDF, hints that Israel may be supplying them with weapons, claims he has seen a joint operations room serving Israel, the United Nations and the rebels at the Quneitra crossing and accuses the IDF of allowing the rebels to fire at Syrian army positions near the border.

What is happening in the area of the Khader enclave, a Druze village next to the Syrian part of Mount Hermon, worries him in particular. He has investigated IDF activities near there on the Israeli side of the border and reported to Assad’s bureau chief that it seems Israel has told the Druze on the Golan of its intention to take control of the Druze village in Syria - which seems to be an unfounded claim.

The Syrian regime has an interest in emphasizing two claims: The Israeli attempts to subvert it (in hope — baseless, at least at this stage — of receiving renewed Arab support); and the second, on the alliance between Israel and Al-Qaida, in order to say — at least relatively — that in the mutual slaughter going on in Syria there are even worse criminals than Assad. But it seems the Syrians are also truly convinced that there is a conspiracy against them. The regime’s senior officials, as well as Hezbollah, repeatedly express the concern that Israel will help the Nusra Front and its ilk mount an attack toward Damascus and southern Lebanon from the border area on the Golan.

None of the information revealed by Makat or found in media reports necessarily proves that the Syrians are right and Israel has allied itself with the rebel groups, including such extremists as al-Nusra. But there is a suspicion that links between the parties are more complex and broad than described in the official reports — and that Makat has succeeded in embarrassing Israel with his series of reports. It seems that this is at least part of the explanation for his arrest, along with the claims he documented IDF operations — and the worrying number of likes he earned on Facebook.

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