The Israel Defense Forces on Thursday announced that it had officially shuttered its “Operation Good Neighbor” program, ending over five years of humanitarian assistance that the Jewish state has given Syrian nationals near the border.
“The large and long-running humanitarian effort has come to an end with the return of the Syrian regime to southern Syria,” the army said in a statement.
The military began allowing injured Syrians into Israel for medical care in early 2013, first treating them in field hospitals and later inside Israeli hospitals.
A small number of Israeli non-governmental groups were also allowed to pass humanitarian aid across the border.
This assistance expanded considerably in 2016 with the creation of “Operation Good Neighbor,” which saw far more material assistance being transported into Syria, as well as the creation of a day clinic on the border and a program to allow Syrians into Israeli hospitals for non-battlefield-related ailments, including things like deafness.
Last week, Foreign Policy magazine, which is not subject to Israel’s censor, reported that the Jewish state also gave military aid to rebel groups in southern Syria over the years in exchange for those opposition forces fighting to keep Iran-backed groups out of the region.
According to the IDF, since 2013 over 4,900 Syrians were brought into Israeli hospitals for medical treatment, including 1,300 children.
God-willing, this thing will not be forgotten and we will tell our sons what you did
Another 7,000 people were treated in the day clinic on the border, known as Mazor Ladach, whose name means “relief for the suffering.”
In addition, over the course of five years, Israel transported into Syria 1,700 tons of food; 1.1 million liters of fuel; 26,000 cases of medical equipment and medication; 20 generators; 40 vehicles; 630 tents; 350 tons of clothing; 8,200 packages of diapers; and 49,000 cases of baby food.
Along with the up-to-date statistics, the IDF on Thursday also released a number of testimonials from Syrians helped under the program.
“I wish you the best and want to thank you greatly for the help and for standing beside us. God-willing, this thing will not be forgotten and we will tell our sons what you did,” one man says, in Arabic, in one of the recordings. (For safety reasons, the IDF said it could not release the man’s identity.)
The IDF also received an official letter of thanks from one of the civil defense groups in southwestern Syria.
The Israeli military says that despite the ongoing humanitarian problems in southwestern Syria it is ending the program now that Syrian dictator Bashar Assad has taken control of the area, after an offensive that he launched earlier in the summer forced the remaining rebel groups to surrender.
“The IDF sees in the Syrian regime the responsible party for all that transpires in Syrian territory,” the military said in a statement on September 6, when it froze its humanitarian program.
With “Operation Good Neighbor” frozen, the army earlier this month started breaking down the Mazor Ladach field clinic, with assistance from the non-governmental groups that staffed it for over a year.
In addition to “Good Neighbor,” the military took part in a multinational effort to rescue hundreds of Syrian rescue workers, known as “White Helmets,” and their families.
In a late night operation, Israel helped transport the rescue workers from Syrian into Jordan, at the request of Western countries.
The Israel Defense Forces said it engaged in the “out-of-the-ordinary” gesture due to the “immediate risk” to the lives of the civilians, as Russian-backed regime forces closed in on the area. It stressed that it was not intervening in the ongoing fighting in Syria.
This summer, the Syrian government regained control of the frontier with the Israeli Golan Heights for the first time in seven years, after Islamic State-linked jihadists gave up their last pocket of territory in the area.
The breakthrough, reported by Syrian state media and an opposition-linked war monitoring group, capped a six-week-long bloody campaign to retake the southwest corner of the country.
In response, Israel has reportedly asked Russia to ensure that Syrian government forces do not harm or massacre civilians during the fighting.
Rebels captured the area along the Golan Heights after a popular uprising broke out against Syrian President Bashar Assad in 2011. An IS-linked outfit known as the Khaled bin Al-Waleed Army later seized the area from the opposition fighters.
Israel took control of 1,200 square kilometers (460 square miles) of the Golan from Syria during the 1967 Six Day War and later annexed it in a move never recognized internationally.
The region is strategically important for Syria because it also controls a key highway from the Jordanian border to the capital, Damascus.
UN peacekeeping forces first deployed along the frontier in 1974 to separate Syrian and Israeli forces.
While largely keeping to the sidelines of the Syrian civil war, Israel has said it will not allow Iran or the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah to establish a permanent military presence near the frontier. Both are allied with Assad and have provided crucial military support to his forces.