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Outgoing chief of staff admits Israel supplied weapons to Syrian rebels: report

A Syrian rebel fighter sits holding a Kalashnikov assault rifle in a fortified area near s frontline in a rebel-held area in the southern Syrian city of Daraa on June 2, 2018
Mohamad ABAZEED (AFP)
Only recently did the Jewish state open up about its activity in Syria

In the wake of his resignation, Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot has been spilling the beans regarding Israel’s policy in Syria, perhaps most shockingly admitting to supplying weapons to Syrian rebels in the bordering Golan Heights region.

The decorated commander reportedly told the British Sunday Times paper in an interview that the Jewish state had indeed provided Syrian rebel groups with light weapons “for self-defense.”

Although previous reports surfaced of Israel’s cross-border arms provision, Israel has in the past only acknowledged humanitarian aid it supplied during the Syrian Civil War.

But previous reports surfaced exposing Israel’s attempt to protect the border from the maelstrom of the Syrian civil war by supplying rebel groups with funding, medical supplies, food and hard cash.

Back in June 2018, Moatasem al-Golani, a spokesman with the rebel group Fursan al-Joulan, lauded Israel’s assistance to his group, the Wall Street Journal reported.

“Israel stood by our side in a heroic way,” he was quoted as saying. “We wouldn’t have survived without Israel’s assistance.”

The group’s commander said they receive around $5,000 per month in Israeli financial assistance. Members of the group, which is said to be the primary rebel faction coordinating with Israel, said the relationship began in 2013. Fursan al-Joulan has around 400 members who loosely work with other groups in the area that also receive some measure of Israeli assistance.

IDF

In September 2018, Foreign Policy reported that Israel covertly provided arms and funding to at least 12 militant groups in southern Syria in a program aimed at preventing Iran’s proxies and Islamist terror groups from expanding their positions toward Israel’s border.

The Jewish State gave about $75 per month to rebels as salary in addition to equipping them with weaponry and other items, the report says.

The rebel Free Syrian Army was reportedly the first group to begin receiving arms and funding in 2013, but Israel expanded its efforts amid concerns about Iran’s growing military presence.

Foreign Policy reported that “the military transfers, which ended in July of this year, included assault rifles, machine guns, mortar launchers and transport vehicles.”

The report claimed the rebel groups began expecting support from Israel to the point where they believed it would invade on their behalf should the Syrian regime carry out an offensive in the south.

When Israel did not intervene during President Bashar al-Assad’s massive re-capture of territory this summer, the groups found their belief was mistaken.

“This is a lesson we will not forget about Israel. It does not care about… the people. It does not care about humanity. All it cares about is its own interests,” a fighter from the group Forsan al-Jolan reportedly told the magazine.

At the same time, Israel announced that it was stopping its “Operation Good Neighbor” program that provided humanitarian aid to Syrian civilians near its border over the previous five years as Assad’s regime reclaimed power over the country’s southern territory.

Israel initially provided aid and materials into Syria in 2013, but expanded its offerings in 2016 by adding a day clinic by the border as well as admitting into Israel hospitals Syrian patients suffering from illnesses other than war wounds.

It has often responded to stray rocket and mortar fire that has landed in Israeli territory from Syria, by attacking small targets across the border.

Jalaa Marey (AFP/File)

The Jewish state has maintained a formal policy of non-intervention with regards to the Syrian Civil War, but at the same time quietly provided humanitarian aid while also conducting various targeted attacks against Iranian-related entities.

Only recently did the Jewish state open up about its activity in Syria, in particular regarding its attacks on Iranian targets.

Even Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu broke with Israel’s traditional policy of “ambiguity”, explicitly boasting about Israel’s attack this weekend on Iranian weapons facilities at Damascus International Airport.

Israel gave no initial comment on Friday’s reported strikes, but has previously acknowledged carrying out hundreds of attacks in Syria over the years against what it says are Iranian military targets and advanced arms deliveries to Hezbollah.

In an interview with the New York Times published over the weekend ahead of his retirement Tuesday, Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot took the opportunity to describe his decision to take on Iran in 2016, elaborating that Israel struck its targets in Syria more than 1,000 times since then.

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