Palestinian Authority claims Israel backs al-Qaeda in Syria

Ramallah says IDF promise to defend village of Hader was a ‘tactical retreat’ following pressure from Israeli Druze

Dov Lieber is a former Times of Israel Arab affairs correspondent.

Druze men in the Israeli Golan Heights congregate near the Syrian border, waving their community's flag, after they heard about a suicide bombing in the Syrian Druze village of Hadar, on November 3, 2017. (Jalaa Marey/AFP)
Druze men in the Israeli Golan Heights congregate near the Syrian border, waving their community's flag, after they heard about a suicide bombing in the Syrian Druze village of Hadar, on November 3, 2017. (Jalaa Marey/AFP)

The Palestinian Authority Foreign Ministry on Saturday claimed the Israeli government was supporting terrorist groups that attacked a Druze town in southern Syria, but that Israel reversed its policy after the Druze community in Israel protested.

In a highly unusual move, Israel on Friday said it would intervene in the Syrian Civil War by defending the Syrian Druze village Hader, hours after a terrorist from the al Nusra Front terror group killed nine people in a suicide bombing just across the border, sparking clashes between Syrian government forces and rebels.

After the attack hundreds of Druze residents of the Israeli Golan Heights gathered near the border fence with Syria. A number burst through the fence on Friday afternoon in order to reach Hader, but were stopped by the Israeli army.

The PA’s foreign ministry charged in a statement on Saturday that Israel’s announcement that it would defend the village of Hader was actually a forced reversal of Israeli policy.

Israeli soldiers close a road near the border in the Golan Heights in order to prevent Druze residents from crossing into Syria after a suicide bombing in the Druze Syrian village of Hader on November 3, 2017. (Jalaa Marey/AFP)

The Israeli government “tactically retreated” from its decision to “support the so-called Syrian opposition from occupying the Syrian Druze village of Hader,” the ministry’s statement said.

The retraction, the statement added, came “under pressure from Druze reactions in Israel” to “the suspicious relationship between the regime in Tel Aviv” with al-Qaeda and al-Nusra.

The Nusra Front last year changed its name to the Fateh al-Sham Front and stated it had cut ties with al-Qaeda, though most analysts believe the two organizations are still linked.

After the suicide bombing on Friday morning, the IDF promised to “support the [Hader] village residents and work to prevent any harm or the occupation of the village, out of a commitment to the Druze population.”

The IDF statement reflected ongoing pressure on Israeli leaders from the Druze communities in the Galilee and on the Golan to help their coreligionists across the border who are often caught in the crossfire between Sunni rebels and Alawite and Shiite pro-government forces.

The PA ministry’s statement accused Israel of supplying al-Nusra with weapons, salaries, medical aid and intelligence in exchange for keeping Israel’s northern border with Syria safe.

The head of the IDF’s Northern Command, Maj. Gen. Yoel Strick, meets with the head of Israel’s Druze community, Mowafaq Tarif, and other Druze leaders in northern Israel on November 3, 2017. (Israel Defense Forces)

The PA ministry’s statement reflects the opinion of the Syrian government, which accuses Israel of supporting terrorist groups in Syria.

Israel has denied giving support to al-Nusra or any other terrorist groups in Syria.

However, according to foreign reports, Israel has financially supported other southern Syria opposition groups in order to ensure forces friendly to Israel control the Syrian side of the northern Golan border.

Israel denies those reports.

“We do not interfere in this terribly bloody conflict. We do, however, provide humanitarian aid to young boys and girls,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in June. “It is expensive, but we will continue to invest.”

The Jewish state has provided thousands of injured Syrians with medical care in Israel since the civil war began, saying it does not discriminate among the injured who come to its border asking for help.

Over the past six years, Israel has clung to a hands-off policy toward the war, only getting involved when one of its “red lines” is transgressed. Those include the violation of Israeli sovereignty through deliberate or accidental attacks, Iranian-supported militias taking positions on the Golan border, and attempts to transfer advanced weapons to the Hezbollah terrorist group.

In 2015, then defense minister Moshe Yaalon said attacking Druze villages was also a red line. The announcement came after some Druze residents in northern Israel attacked an ambulance carrying wounded Syrian fighters who they said belonged to al-Nusra.

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