Israel's Syrian Minefield

The army has pledged to protect a Druze village on the other side of the border, but military intervention could unleash worse threats

Druze at Majdal Shams using a megaphone to communicate with Syrian Druze on the other side of the border, November 4, 2017.
Menahem Kahana / AFP

The prime minister sent a clear and powerful message to the leaders of Israel’s Druze community: Israel will not allow the capture of the Druze village of Khader on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights. This isn’t only a declaration of unequivocal support for the Druze community, but also a threat against the radical militias, especially the Al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front, not to dare attack the village. It’s a message that turns Israel into an active partner in the Syrian arena because it may be forced to carry out its threat if the militias attack the village.

It should be noted that not the entire Druze leadership in Syria, and in Khader in particular, supports Israeli involvement. Some Druze are loyal to the regime and see President Bashar Assad as the country’s legitimate leader; they've even volunteered to serve in the army.

The prime minister’s announcement doesn’t make clear whether he also intends to warn the Syrian regime not to take the village — officially under Syrian sovereignty — or only the radical militias. Is he prepared for an overall conflict, or is he sure intervention in one village won’t affect the entire arena?

There’s a big difference between military intervention and Israel’s willingness to send food and help Syrians, including Druze, treat the wounded. Military intervention could put the residents of the Israeli side of the Golan in danger of a Syrian response. The sporadic attacks against the arms convoys destined for Hezbollah aren’t the same as military intervention to defend a community in Syrian territory.

A warning, and even an Israeli operation, could have been acceptable had Israel been ready to defend Syrians from the regime’s brutality and attacks on civilian areas; the number of victims is estimated at over half a million. It also could have been acceptable if Israel had been willing to absorb several thousand Syrian refugees from among the millions of displaced persons.

Presenting Israeli support for the Druze as based on the community’s “blood alliance” with Israel is surprising. Where was the Israeli army when Druze were massacred near the city of Idlib about two years ago? We can also assume that the Druze in the Syrian Golan couldn’t have expected an Israeli umbrella had they not been considered a forward base against the spread of Iranian forces, or Hezbollah, in Syria.

Israel is obligated to guarantee the welfare and security of all the country’s citizens — Druze, Arabs and Jews — against an external threat. But it must not insert itself in a stormy front that could generate new and uncontrollable threats against it.

The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel