John R. Bradley

Israel’s ‘neutral’ position towards Syria has created some strange bedfellows

Israel's 'neutral' position towards Syria has created some strange bedfellows
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Over the weekend an Israeli-Arab flew from his home in the Jewish state on a paraglider, evading Israel's formidable air defences to land smack bang in the middle of the Golan Heights. Despite a search by the IDF so intense it provoked a flurry of tweets stating that an Israeli invasion of Syria was underway, he disappeared. No doubt he was hidden by one or other of the assorted jihadist groups based there, predominant among whom is the Al-Qaeda offshoot Al-Nusra Front. They long since booted out the UN peace-keeping mission in the No-Man's Land part of the territory and, to the delight of binocular-wielding day-trippers, have for the past two years been battling Syrian regime forces within a few miles of Israeli border. The intrepid Israeli-Arab's defection came just hours after the Islamic State released its first Hebrew-language video, thought to be narrated by another of the dozen or so Israeli Arabs who had previously joined the terrorists' ranks. In it he calls for all Jews to be annihilated and – almost needless to say – Israel's destruction. Was this video the trigger for the Israeli-Arab to take to the skies? Regardless, he is now presumably even more eager to start screaming Allau akbar while firing mortar rounds at his former homeland than he is to find a pre-pubescent girl to marry and grow his beard down to his knees. And if so, he is in for a huge disappointment.

For the jihadis in the Golan are not from the Islamic State (his paraglider, because of strong counter winds on the evening of the flight, did not take him that far north into Syria), and the Al-Nusra Front-led militias he now finds himself fighting alongside have in fact struck a deal with their one-time Israeli enemy. In return for directing their firepower exclusively at President Bashar Al-Assad's forces (or at each other, whenever the inevitable internecine factional disputes arise), the Israeli air force does not carpet bomb them to oblivion. War makes for strange bedfellows, and on both sides of the Golan, 'my enemy's enemy is my friend' is the cliche embraced by all. Only this shotgun marriage is even more bizarre than it first appears.

Last year, the Israelis allowed a reporter and camera crew from Vice News to wander around the Israeli side of the Golan. No doubt they were expecting another fluff piece about how Israeli medical services were ferrying casualties from the civil war to Israeli hospital for treatment, before sending them back – all regardless of who they are and strictly in the name of humanitarian aid. However, the Vice News crew were having none of it, because they quickly determined that the only wounded they could see be ferried from the front lines were not civilians or the clean-shaven soldiers from Assad's army, but rather exclusively bearded jihadist fighters. They made their way to a local hospital and managed to interview those who – clearly terrified at being filmed while being treated by a Jewish doctor in an Israeli hospital – did not immediately pull the white hospital sheet over the head and play martyred. The reporter, meanwhile, wondered aloud, as the Israeli doctor tried to fob him off with niceties, how ordinary Israelis would react if they knew their government was treating Al-Qaeda fighters in their hospitals. He might have asked, too, what the rest of the world would think about this unprecedented scenario. As it turns out, to date not a single major Western publication has picked up on the extraordinary dispatch.

The revelation in fact illustrates perfectly Israel's approach to Syria's civil war: officially neutral, it is hoping that all sides weaken each other to the extent that none can fight the Jewish state after a political deal is brokered to bring the carnage to an end. This is a carbon copy of the Western powers' cruel pragmatism during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war. Still, it has given the Jewish state's enemies on all sides – who of course all hate Israel even more than they do each other – plenty of ammunition to promote Zionist conspiracy theories (which in that part of the world need little if any basis in reality to take root even at the best of times). So Assad has dismissed the suggestion that the Syrian Air Force has air supremacy when fighting Al-Qaeda, on account of the latter having the support of the Israeli Air Force, which bombs Syrian Arab Army positions whenever a stray rocket lands in Israel regardless of where it originated. The most important Sunni religious figure, the Sheikh of Al-Azhar in Egypt, is on record as saying that the Islamic State is part of a 'Zionist plot' to destabilise the Arab world. The Iranian state-run Fars news agency, in the latest in a string of anti-Israeli ridiculous propaganda pieces, is reporting that an IDF general has just been captured in Iraq leading a brigade of fighters from the Islamic State. That comes on the back of the Sunni block in Iraq's parliament, no doubt under orders from the Gulf Arab puppet masters, calling an alliance with Russia 'high treason' according to the country's constitution on account of Moscow's apparrently close coordination with Israel in Syria.

In a way, the Arab-Israeli jihadi's dramatic descent into the madness of Syria's civil war offers an unintended warning to those in Britain who are still arguing for airstrikes and the establishment of a No-Fly Zone. Only fools rush in where paragliders fear to tread. But for him things may about to get even more surreal. Israel has announced that, once they find out his identity, his nationality will be revoked, and he will be considered an enemy combatant. But Hezbollah and Iranian-backed Shiite militias, sworn enemies of the Sunni militias he has joined, are closing in fast on the Golan, and Israel has made it clear too that if they near the Israeli-Syrian border it will likely enter the war. This means he may soon find himself fighting not only alongside a Sunni militia that tacitly enjoys Israel's support but, at the same time, against the only Arab army to have bought the IDF to its knees (Hezbollah in 2006), who in turn are supporting the only Arab country (Syria) still technically at war with the Jewish state he has betrayed. All this madness may make even him homesick, and if so he does still at least have the option of shooting himself in the leg and then being ferried, no questions asked, back to one of Israel's hospitals for treatment.

John R. Bradley is the author of four books on the Middle East and also writes for The Jewish Chronicle and the Daily Mail.