With rebel forces having consolidated control over much of Syria’s border with Israel, hundreds of Druze IDF veterans reportedly wish to cross the border into the war-torn country to defend their brethren against the anti-Assad forces that have attacked them in recent weeks.
Members of the Druze community in Syria are seen as largely pro-Assad, like their coreligionists in Israel. Last week, rebels from the al-Qaeda-linked Al-Nusra Front targeted the Druze village of Khadr, near the Israeli border, and killed seven villagers, a member of the Druze community was quoted by Maariv as saying on Sunday.
“We’ve received hundreds of phone calls from young men, who called and announced, ‘We will do anything to protect our brothers in Syria,’” the spiritual leader of Israel’s Druze community, Sheikh Mowafak Tarif, was quoted as saying. “These young men are ready for anything: to enlist, to fight, to fundraise.”
The border between Israel and Syria runs along the eastern edge of the Golan Heights, a plateau that Israel captured from the Syrians during the Six Day War in 1967 and annexed, granting citizenship to its Druze inhabitants. Although many Druze serve in the IDF, Syrian nationalism is also prevalent in the community, which considers itself part and parcel of the large concentration of Druze in Syria.
“Today the Golan Heights is part of Israel, but people can hop the fence and run into Syria without anyone seeing, hearing or knowing about it. That’s definitely a realistic scenario,” Mendi Safadi, the bureau chief of former Likud party minister Ayoob Kara, a member of the Druze community, was quoted as saying.
In recent weeks, rebels have made significant advances in the southern provinces of Daraa and Quneitra bordering Jordan and Israel, seizing towns and villages near the cease-fire line between Syria and Israel in the Golan Heights and along the international highway linking Damascus with Jordan.
They also seized several army checkpoints, clearing a 25-kilometer (15-mile) stretch along the Syrian-Jordanian border. Last week, rebels seized a major air defense base near the village of Saida.
“Anyone who touches Syria’s Druze will be putting their life on the line,” Salim Safdi, the former mayor of Mas’ade in the Golan Heights, reportedly said. “The Druze in Syria have no ambition to seize power there, and they lead quiet lives. But in the event of actual killings, all bets are off, as far as we’re concerned. Many of our men are willing to sacrifice their lives for our Druze brothers in Syria.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.