Israel Preparing for Possible Influx of Syrian Refugees

Intelligence agencies believe that if a concerted massacre is carried out against the Druze minority in southern Syria, many refugees are likely to make their way toward Israel.

Members of the Druze community watch fighting in the Druze village of Khader in Syria as they stand on the Israeli side of the Golan Heights, near Majdal Shams. June 16, 2015.
Members of the Druze community watch fighting in the Druze village of Khader in Syria as they stand on the Israeli side of the Golan Heights, near Majdal Shams. June 16, 2015.Credit: Reuters

Israel’s security establishment is preparing for the possibility that Syrian refugees will try to escape the civil war consuming their country by attempting to make their way across the Israel-Syria border.

An alliance of rebels in southern Syria announced a major offensive on Wednesday to capture remaining positions held by the Syrian military in Quneitra province, near Israel's Golan Heights border.

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot expressed concern on Tuesday about the possibility of refugees entering Israel in a meeting of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, and stated that the IDF would do everything in its power to prevent a massacre.

Eizenkot also gave the committee a special briefing about the ongoing war in Syria, and the effect it is having on Syrian Druze villages near the border.

Israeli intelligence agencies believe that in the case a concerted massacre is carried out against the Druze minority in southern Syria, many refugees are likely to make their way toward Israel. Under such a scenario, the IDF plans to form a front line along the border while the Israel Police deal with any refugees that manage to slip through the border. Security forces have studied the May 2011 incident in which large numbers of refugees from the Syrian Druze community managed to break through Israel’s border fence. The fence has been reinforced since then.

In the wake of that incident, the Israel Police is preparing to take action in Israeli Druze villages to prevent any refugees from taking shelter among family members on the Israeli side of the border.

There is also a possibility that the government will allow for a regulated entry into Israel of Syrian Druze refugees, subject to certain conditions. Roughly two weeks ago, however, a senior officer on the IDF General Staff said that while the army is preparing for such a scenario, Israel intends to keep potential refugees in encampments on the Syrian side of the border fence.

The Israel Police has contingency plans in place for various scenarios in northern Israel, from the time of the IDF's 2000 withdrawal when the army left its posts on the Lebanese border and the Israel Police was responsible for securing the entry of thousands of South Lebanon Army personnel into Israel’s northern cities.

At this time, police officials are consulting with the IDF’s Northern Command, and if there is an escalation in the fighting in southern Syria, the army and the police will hold joint exercises to prepare for dealing with refugees. Such a scenario would be a first test for Home Front Defense Minister Gilad Erdan, and the new Israel Police commissioner, who Erdan is expected to name next week.

For two hours on Tuesday, the IDF closed roads in the northeastern part of the Golan Heights near the Syrian border. To enforce the closure, the military set up checkpoints, inter alia at Sa’ar Junction and Wasset Junction.

The closure order was meant to prevent “gatherings near the [border] fence It’s not a consequence of the fighting in Syria,” an IDF officer said.

Several Druze demonstrations took place near the Israeli side of the border fence Tuesday, and according to the IDF officer, in one case, firecrackers were thrown toward the border, setting off a fire. As a result, the IDF decided to prevent large numbers of civilians from congregating near the border.

On Tuesday, sources in the Golan Heights told Haaretz about fierce battles between the Syrian opposition and regime forces near the Druze village of Khadr, located roughly 12 kilometers from Majdal Shams. The fighting hasn’t reached the village itself, but residents have experienced rocket and mortar fire, and they fear the presence of militias such as the Nusra Front. Khadr residents are aligned with Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces, as many rebel groups have not allowed them to work in their fields near the village. Haaretz also learned that community leaders from Majdal Shams were escorted by Israeli security forces to a meeting point at which they exchanged messages with Syrian citizens, apparently in efforts to safeguard the Druze in Khadr.

Israeli Druze leaders have intensified calls lately for Israeli security forces to aid Syrian Druze following attacks by Sunni militias on Druze communities there. Haaretz learned over the weekend that Israel could possibly provide humanitarian aid to the village of Khadr, but is not considering military aid, as Israel is weary of getting directly involved in the civil war in Syria.

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