Token Israeli funding for anti-Iran fighters in Syria withdrawn amid rebel claims of betrayal

Token Israeli funding for anti-Iran fighters in Syria withdrawn amid rebel claims of betrayal
Israel had paid anti-Iran fighters $75 a month, but had not supported rebel groups in their fight against Bashar al-Assad.
4 min read
09 September, 2018
Reports emerged last year that Israel provided funds and weapons to some rebels [Getty]
Syrian fighters targeting Iranian paramilitaries received small payments and weapons deliveries from Tel Aviv, according to Foreign Policy magazine. Armed groups fighting the brutal regime of Bashar al-Assad were not given the support.

Some rebels were paid $75 a month, plus money to buy weapons on the Syrian black market, but funding was stopped in July, leaving commanders of armed groups angry that Israel had misled them.

The "assistance" from Tel Aviv is understood to have been significantly less than Syrian fighters have received from other international powers, both in the region and further afield, and can not be thought to be representative of funding for the opposition as a whole.
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Nevertheless, the funds reportedly received from Israel created an expectation among those who received them that Tel Aviv would intervene if Bashar al-Assad's troops tried to advance in southern Syria.

But in June, the Russian-backed Damascus regime pressed a deadly campaign in southern Syria in a bid to retake the strategic area bordering Jordan and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

Israel did not intervene.

"This is a lesson we will not forget about Israel. It does not care about… the people. It does not care about humanity. All it cares about it its own interests," a fighter from Forsan al-Jolan told Foreign Policy.

The Quneitra and Daraa offensives - which had been backed by massive Russian airpower - saw hundreds of thousands of civilians flee their homes, some to the Golan and Jordan borders.

Some rebels reached out to their Israeli military contacts to ask for asylum, but Israeli officials only allowed a handful of rebel commanders and their family members to enter Israel.

Others are reported to have travelled on to Jordan and Turkey.

Israeli forces staffing the frontier on the illegally occupied side of the Syrian territories warned refugees to head back to their camps or face further violence.

"Israel's main interest is in securing its northern border. It sees the [Syrian] regime as the best guarantor of this," the University of Stirling's Idrees Ahmad told The New Arab.

"Even the regime, since the beginning has acknowledged this. As far back as 2012, it was telling Israel that if it were replaced, its northern border would no longer be secure. But at the same time Israel does not want an Iranian presence on its northern border, so it used the limited support [to Syrian rebels] as a shot across the bow: to deter the regime from sending Iranians to the border."

Israel has carried out some 200 strikes in Syria over the past 18 months against mainly Iranian targets

It is understood Israeli authorities had established contact with Syrian rebels by offering to treat several injured fighters in Israeli hospitals as early as 2013, according to interviews carried out by the Wall Street Journal.

The motivation was not purely humanitarian - with Tel Aviv flatly denying Syrian requests for asylum since the outbreak of the conflict in 2011. But Israel's assistance to rebel groups expanded significantly last year, coinciding with a more aggressive Israeli policy to keep Iranian-backed militias away from southern Syria, after a deal between the US, Russia, and Israel failed to materialise.

Israel itself has carried out some 200 strikes in Syria over the past 18 months against mainly Iranian targets, and maintained military relations with Syrian fighters to create an anti-Iran buffer zone on the other side of the Golan Heights illegally occupied by Israel.

The military transfers, which ended in July, reportedly included transport vehicles, assault rifles and mortar launchers.

A deal was reportedly reached that month between Israel, Russia, and the United States for Moscow to keep Iranian-backed militias away from the Golan Heights and not to hinder Israeli airstrikes on Iranian targets.

"If Israel really wanted to overthrow Assad, it could have done it before 2015 [when Russia lent its military support to prop up Damascus], by simply destroying his airforce - which Israel could easily do," added Idrees Ahmed.

"So the whole narrative [around Israel's support for Syrian rebels] is based on exaggerating a small tactical move while ignoring Israel's larger strategic objectives."

Israel has also reportedly provided fire support to rebel factions fighting a local Islamic State group affiliate in the Yarmouk Basin, carrying out drone strikes targeting IS commanders and missile strikes against the group's fortifications, Foreign Policy reported.

No such fire support was provided to rebel groups fighting regime forces.

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Article and headline updated 10/09/2018 to clarify funds received from Israel went to support anti-Iran fighters rather than armed opposition groups as a whole.