Israel has ruled out using the military to help hundreds of thousands of Syrian Druze who are facing increasing attacks from Sunni rebel forces.
Government and military leaders reached a consensus on the issue over the past two weeks despite the great risk facing the Druze community, mainly in southern Syria near the Jordanian border.
The government believes that using military power would be a direct involvement in its neighbor’s civil war, which Israel has carefully avoided during the four years of fighting in Syria.
The string of defeats suffered by the Assad regime over the past months has led to a gradual retreat of Syrian forces and Hezbollah combatants from areas seen as less crucial. As the rebels advance, the risk that the ultra-extremist organizations such as ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra will attack the Druze increases. The radical Sunni organizations are clamoring to attack the Druze because of their religion. They see the Druze as an enemy also because of the community’s longtime good relations with Syria.
In the south, a new rebel alliance between Jabhat al-Nusra and other Sunni militias has scored an important victory by taking over a large Syrian Army base close to the Dara’a–Damascus thoroughfare. Now the rebels are moving east, toward the Mountain of the Druze in southern Syria, and yesterday they conquered the airport in the region.
Meanwhile President Bashar Assad is not responding to the Druze leaders’ call for help in Syria and Lebanon. He apparently prefers to use his forces to protect Damascus and the northwest of the country, where most of the Assad family’s Alawite community lives.
Jabhat al-Nusra fighters this week reportedly shot dead some 20 men in the predominantly Druze village of Qalb al-Loza, near the city of Idlib in northern Syria. Arab media reported that the rebels killed the men after they refused to turn in a youngster suspected of fighting with Assad’s forces.
Another source of concern is the large Druze village Khadr on the Syrian Golan Heights, near the border with Israel. The Khadr enclave, near Mount Hermon, is the last place along the border that hasn’t been taken over by the rebels. Earlier this month seven villagers were reportedly killed, apparently by rebels.
The fear for the Syrian Druze’s fate is a major concern among the Israeli Druze community, including those serving in senior IDF posts. The community’s leaders have recently met with President Reuven Rivlin and IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot to warn them of the danger to the Druze in Syria should the rebels advance further. The Druze elders also met Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah this week and asked for his help.
But despite the calls for help, Israel is not likely to intervene on the Syrian Druze’s behalf. It is more likely that Israel will provide humanitarian aid to Khadr’s residents when disaster strikes, due to the village’s proximity to the border. In the Mountain of the Druze, however, the fear is that any military assistance would entangle Israel directly in the civil war.
Israel hopes that the Druze will get help, including weapons, from the Jordanian border.
So far Israel’s leaders have not spoken publicly about the Druze’s distress, and the Netanyahu government appears to be extra cautious in its efforts not to exacerbate relations with the local Druze leadership. However, another humanitarian catastrophe may be looming, in view of the rebels’ progress and the savagery of some of their organizations, especially ISIS, toward religious minorities in Syria.