UN reports Israeli support for Syria rebels

The United Nations Disengagement Observer Force, which patrols the Israel-occupied Golan Heights, has reported Israeli contact with Syrian rebels over 18 months. Syria accused Israel in attacks near Damascus today.

Bernat Armangue/AP
Israeli soldiers participating in an Aug. 2013 training exercise in the Golan Heights.

The Israeli military has been in direct contact with Syrian rebels for more than 18 months, facilitating the treatment of wounded fighters and at times exchanging parcels and ushering uninjured Syrians into Israel, according to UN reports.

The quarterly reports bolster speculation over the past year that Israel’s humanitarian assistance to more than 1,000 wounded Syrians had also opened a channel of communication with Syrian rebels.

Today, the Syrian military accused Israel of carrying out two airstrikes near Damascus. The Israeli military declined to comment on that claim.

Though some in Israel appear to support the Assad regime as the lesser evil, Israel is no doubt interested in gleaning intelligence from rebel groups in order to better assess and defend itself against jihadi activity in the occupied Golan Heights.

In August this year, the Al Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra (Nusra Front) took over the Quneitra border crossing, raising concerns of infiltration and attacks on Israeli targets.

Israel seized the Golan Heights in 1967 after conquering it in a war with Syria and annexed it in 1981. The cease-fire line is today patrolled by the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF).

In the most recent report, from December 1, UNDOF stated that it observed soldiers from the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) allowing two individuals to pass from the “Bravo” line – the Syrian side – to the “Alpha” line on the Israeli side. It added, “UNDOF sporadically observed armed members of the opposition interacting with IDF across the ceasefire line in the vicinity of United Nations position 85.”

Position 85 is located about 15 miles south of Quneitra and away from any Israeli population centers. It appears to have been a key crossing point for wounded Syrians seeking treatment in Israel. According to the eight previous UNDOF reports, covering the past two years, Syrian rebels often were the ones to hand over the wounded and receive them after treatment.

For example, the June 10, 2014 report details 59 incidents at Position 85 during which UNDOF “observed armed members of the opposition transferring 89 wounded persons from the Bravo side across the ceasefire line to IDF and IDF on the Alpha side handing over 19 treated and 2 deceased individuals to the armed members of the opposition on the Bravo side.”

At least some of those being treated are wounded fighters. In the spring of 2013, for example, after the permanent representative of Syria wrote to the UN secretary-general and the president of the Security Council about the reported transfer of injured Syrians to Israeli hospitals, the liaison officer of Israel “informed UNDOF that IDF had provided emergency medical treatment to 20 armed members of the opposition.”

It appears that the coordination may have other purposes as well. The June 2014 report notes “on one occasion, UNDOF observed IDF on the Alpha side handing over two boxes to armed members of the opposition on the Bravo side.”

When asked whether the Israeli military disputed UNDOF’s reports of direct contact between the IDF and Syrian rebels and shown the relevant excerpts, an IDF spokesman said the military didn’t have any comment on the UN’s observations.

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