Analysis |

Implications of Druze Mob Attack on Israeli Golan May Reach Syria

Dozens of masked Druze blocked IDF ambulance, attacked soldiers and dragged wounded Syrians out of vehicle, before killing one of them. Senior officer: Israel must reevaluate its tactics on the Syrian border.

Amos Harel
Amos Harel
The scene where two wounded Syrians were attacked, in Neve Ativ, near Majdal Shams on the Golan Heights, June 23, 2015.
The scene where two wounded Syrians were attacked, in Neve Ativ, near Majdal Shams on the Golan Heights, June 23, 2015.Credit: AFP
Amos Harel
Amos Harel

It is hard to overestimate the significance of Monday night’s incident on the Golan Heights, when a raging mob of Druze attacked Israeli soldiers at the entrance to Moshav Neve Ativ, beat them up and dragged two wounded and helpless Syrians out of a military ambulance. One of the Syrians was beaten to death with clubs, chains and rocks by the mob; the other was left alone in a critical condition – only because the mob thought he was already dead. The IDF soldiers who were supposed to be treating the wounded Syrians could not defend them.

Fifteen years ago, in September 2000, the death of a Druze border policeman, Madhat Yusuf, sparked a serious crisis between the Druze community and the state. Yusuf was not evacuated quickly enough from the Joseph’s Tomb complex in Nablus after he was shot and seriously wounded when Palestinians attacked the site. The Druze, like many IDF soldiers and commanders at the time, blamed the top brass for abandoning Yusuf and allowing him to die.

This time it was almost 200 Druze who beat to death a wounded Syrian in the middle of an Israeli community – and in this case too, the IDF and security forces showed worrying helplessness.

Four crimes happened here, a senior officer from the IDF Northern Command told Haaretz Tuesday evening. “First, a gang of barbarians murdered a wounded [person] in cold blood. Second, they attacked IDF soldiers while they were carrying out their mission – evacuating the wounded. Third, the sovereignty of the state was damaged. And fourth, the Druze who rioted harmed themselves. The community shot itself in the foot. There could very well be revenge that will actually harm the Druze in Syria, whose fate the Golan Druze are so worried about,” he said.

The IDF Northern Command and Israel Police’s Northern District started their preliminary investigations Tuesday of Monday night’s events. The picture taking shape is depressing and worrying. This was not just a case of not being prepared and problems of coordination between the IDF and police. In the end, the soldiers and officers stood facing a mob and were unable to stop it from harming the wounded Syrians. This is a serious operational failure, which requires a full-blown investigation – and may well lead to taking action against some of those involved in handling the incident.

It seems there were large gaps in the IDF and police’s preparedness beforehand for evacuating the wounded, Haaretz has learned. The two Syrians were wounded early Monday morning about 20 kilometers east of the border with Israel, in fighting between Syrian rebels and the Syrian army.

The IDF said Tuesday that the two wounded men did not belong to the extremist Sunni Nusra Front militia, whose members massacred Druze in northern Syria – and this organization has aroused most of the hatred and fears of the Druze community in Israel. The two wounded men had been shot in the legs in battle and their medical condition was described as light to moderate.

The possibility that the Druze in Israel and on the Golan would try to harm wounded Syrians being evacuated to Israeli hospitals is not new. Such threats have been made in recent weeks at a number of opportunities, and there were even demonstrations by Druze near a hospital in the north that treats such patients.

The commander of the police’s Northern District, Maj. Gen. Zohar Dvir, recently even recommended to stop evacuating wounded people from Syria to hospitals in the north and take them by helicopter to hospitals in the center of the country, because of the threats from the Druze. It seems that because of bureaucratic problems involving the health system nothing was done about this. It could be that that the police did not apply enough pressure on the matter to make such a change, and now it may be possible.

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