The IDF is establishing a special liaison unit to manage its growing contacts with Syrian civilians living across Israel’s northeastern border in the war-ravaged nation.
The Syrian regime of Bashar Assad holds almost no sway on the country’s Golan Heights perimeter with Israel, with large sections of the border held by various rebel and jihadi factions, including the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front and Islamic State-affiliated Yarmouk Martyrs’ Brigades.
Since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011, which has claimed the lives of at least 250,000 people and displaced as many as half the country’s population, Israel’s army has treated some 2,000 Syrians who arrived wounded at the border fence.
Israel has also tracked — and occasionally responded to with airstrikes — a growing Iranian and Hezbollah presence on the Syrian Golan, especially in certain Druze villages bordering Israel, and has worked to protect Druze communities in southern Syria who are threatened by the many-sided fighting.
According to Channel 2 television, the new unit is modeled on the Yakal, the IDF’s liaison unit in southern Lebanon during Israel’s military presence in the country that ended with Israel’s withdrawal in 2000. Yakal coordinated IDF and allied South Lebanese Army operations, and served as the army’s interface with civilians living in areas controlled by the IDF.
The new unit is likely to help facilitate easier access to Israeli medical facilities for wounded Syrians, as well as help the IDF keep a closer watch on developments across the border.
With the exception of occasional reported airstrikes against Hezbollah weapons smuggling convoys and other similar targets, Israel has maintained neutrality in the war on its northern border. The IDF is said to coordinate its strikes on the Assad-allied terror group with Russian forces fighting alongside Hezbollah to prop up Assad’s rule.