The Druze citizens of Israel are brave, loyal citizens who also volunteer in large numbers for service in the IDF, with many reaching high levels of command. They live mostly in the Galilee and on the Golan Heights. In the Galilee they are considered full Israeli citizens, but on the Golan they still consider themselves Syrian citizens. Lately of course, the term “Syrian citizen” has been emptied of all meaning as Syria turns in on itself, devouring itself with the active participation of President Bashar Assad killing his own citizens by the hundreds of thousands, causing millions to flee.
The Israeli Druze community is now justifiably extremely worried about their Syrian brethren just over the border on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights as Syrian rebels surrounded a Druze village on the border last week. These rebels are not only anti-Assad (which would make them the “good guys”) but are rather affiliated with Jihadist groups.
After fierce clashes with pro-government forces, rebels, including Islamist fighters, surrounded the village of Hader on Wednesday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said.
“Hader is now totally surrounded by rebels, who just took a strategic hilltop north of the village,” Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.
The village lies along the ceasefire line with the Israeli-occupied Golan to the west, and by the border with Damascus province to the northeast.
He said the rebels had received reinforcements from elsewhere in Quneitra province, which covers much of the Golan.
“The regime has not sent reinforcements yet, but the Druze villagers are standing with the government,” Abdel Rahman said.
Fighting around Hader, which began Tuesday, has left at least 10 rebels and 14 pro-regime fighters dead so far, he added.
The encirclement of Hader comes amid rising fears in Syria’s Druze community.
Last week, 20 Druze villagers were killed in an altercation with members of Al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate Al-Nusra Front in Idlib province in the northwest.
Shortly after the deaths, rebel forces in southern Syria briefly overran a government air base in majority-Druze Sweida province, in their first such advance in the government-controlled region.
While the rebels were eventually expelled from the air base, fighting has continued nearby.
The Druze are followers of a secretive offshoot of Shiite Islam, and made up around three percent of Syria’s pre-war population of 23 million.
As mentioned above, counter-intuitively, the Syrian Druze are allied with the Assad regime. However that is more likely to do with expedience than ideology – generally the Druze are loyal to the ruling regime in their host country:
The community has been somewhat divided during the war, with some members fighting on the government side and others expressing sympathy for the opposition.
Thousands of Druze men have evaded military service in the Syrian army’s dwindling ranks and have mostly taken up arms only in defense of their own areas.
In Sweida, Druze have formed a local militia to protect themselves from the rebels, residents say.
Israel has been trying to stay out of the Syrian conflict altogether, but the Druze battle looks like it might be drawing us in against our will. In this respect Israel has sent a message to the jihadist Nusra Front – the “rebels” in the previous story – to cease their attacks on the Syrian Druze:
Concerns for Syria’s 700,000 Druse has risen in recent days amid the Nusra Front’s advances near Hader and the advancement of Islamic State in the region known as Mount Druse, 60 km. from the Jordanian border and 50 km. from Israel’s Golan Heights.
The Druse community in Hader and in Israel is concerned over the development because the Nusra Front has sought to control Hader for some time in order to gain control of the entire Golan Heights. The al-Qaida-linked fighters number several hundred men as well as dozens of tanks that they have seized. Five Druse have been injured in the fighting, and they have been offered the chance to come to Israel for treatment, but they refused because they fear the response of the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Amid the threat to Syria’s Druse community, the IDF began setting up a field hospital on the border, but they have frozen the process, as the situation has calmed. The IDF has sent messages to the Nusra Front through the Free Syrian Army, warning the Islamist group not to harm Syria’s Druse.
The IDF Spokesman’s Office stated that IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon held a situation assessment about the plight of the Syrian Druse and spoke with the OC Nothern Command Maj.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi who reported to them that the siutation is currently calm. The defense minister ordered continued surveillance of the events and instructed the IDF to take steps to maintain the quiet.
Likud MK Ayoub Kara, who himself is a Druse, plans to ask Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon to allow Israeli Druse to cross the border to Hader in order to provide humanitarian aid. Entering Syria without permission is illegal for Israelis and Druse who do so can be charged with entering an enemy state, or aiding the enemy.
Dr. Mordechai Kedar,a renowned Middle East expert, is of the very firm opinion that Israel absolutely must help the Druze. First he explains the background of the relationship and the moral reasons why Israel must come to the aid of the Druze, even those over the border:
It is rare for a country to have to rethink its strategic roadmap. Nevertheless, Israel may be approaching the point in time when it will have to reboot and restart its geo-strategic thinking, if that has not yet been done. In fact, that point in time is staring us in the face and we simply must think out of the box to see and address it, before a head-on collision shatters that very same box without our having plans prepared for a changing reality.
The catalysts that brought Israel to realize that there is a turning point are the Syrian Druze. Israel must, and I repeat, must, do everything and even beyond everything, to help the Druze minority in Syria survive as it faces the Islamist forces who intend to destroy it. Whether it is Islamic state or Jabhat al Nusra who are preparing the “Final Solution” for the Druze in Syria is of no matter. When Islamic State overcomes Jabhat al Nusra, any understanding Israel has made with this organization will vaporize exactly like the ones Israel signed with the Syrian regime.
There are about 700,000 Druze in Syria, concentrated in three main areas: the Mountain of the Druze (Druze Mountain) in southern Syria adjoining the Jordanian border, the Khader enclave on the southeastern slopes of the Hermon east of Majdal Shams, and the Aleppo-Idlib region in northern Syria, near the Turkish border. No one expects Israel to reach northern Syria to help the Druze who live there, but many of those who live in Southern Syria – on Druze Mountain and in the Khader enclave – expect Israel to do something to prevent the ISIS butcher knives from reaching their necks.
Their brothers in Israel are citizens with equal rights and duties, serving in the IDF – in combat units for the most part. The proportion of Druze who volunteer for combat units is greater than that of Jewish youth. The silence of the military cemeteries in Druze villages shouts the oath of loyalty they have sworn, the pact of blood that this wonderful group has made with the Jewish people in its resurrected homeland. And they are the brothers, cousins and in-laws of the Druze in Syria.
The Druze in Israel say to themselves quite simply: “if the residents of Druze Mountain were Jews, the State of Israel would do everything to protect and rescue them. If there is a pact of blood between the Jews and the Druze, then it is being tested now on Druze Mountain and the Khader enclave.” Their reasoning is also simple: The pact of blood cannot be one-sided, where the Druze go out to battle, are killed and wounded for the Jewish State. Either it is a two way pact, in which the state goes out to save the Druze who are under a clear and present threat, the most immediate and severe ever, or it is no pact at all.
Israel must view Druze Mountain as vital territory to all intents and purposes, and in the same vein, view those living on it as blood brothers. There were times when Israel did not come to the aid of those who had helped it (the Southern Lebanese Army – Tzadal – for example), but now, Israel must take every step necessary to prove to the Druze that it stands faithful to them no less than it is to Jews, in Israel and everywhere else. This is a moral stand with civilian, political and security implications.
There are people in Israel who say “Why get involved in saving the Druze in Syria, when they were loyal subjects of Assad for years, both Hafez and Bashar, and even acted against us more than once.The Druze in the Golan Heights refused Israeli citizenship so they never became Israelis.” My answer: The Druze in the Golan were afraid, after the 1967 war, that Israel would return them along with the Golan one of these days. And then they would find themselves in the torture chambers of the Syrian secret service, so in order to protect themselves from those torture chambers they remained loyal to Syria. Who can blame them?
Israel can take several steps, all or some of them, depending on developments on the ground:
Kedar goes on to list the practical steps that Israel can take, including forming small fighting forces of Druze soldiers for cross-border attacks, setting up field hospitals, providing arms and civilian aid. I’m not sure the IDF would agree with all his recommendations.
He then doubles down on his insistence that Israel set up a “minority pact” to protect all the minorities of the region who are facing the lethal threat from Jihadist forces:
The Druze are not the last of these problems, because in Syria, Iraq and every other place the Jihadists have conquered, each minority lives in fear of being the next on line. This is a perfectly justified fear, and encompasses the Druze, Yazidi, Christians, Alawites, Zoroastrians, Bahais, Sabians, Mandeans – all of them non-Muslim, but also the Shiites, the Hezbollah and their people, all of them living in fear of the Sunni Jihadists as well.
Israel must work to establish the “Middle East Minorities Pact” which will place all these minorities under one umbrella, even if they once fought each other, as the Shiite Hezbollah and Jews do. The logic behind this is the fact that they are all facing the same enemy and must work together to defeat it. If they don’t, they will weaken themselves by constant infighting and bring about their own end.
Kedar admits that this proposal might sound delusional, and he even thinks that Iran wouldn’t interfere with such a pact.
He is the expert, not me, but I would like to hear a second opinion about such a proposal. However his demand for Israeli intervention to save the Syrian Druze sounds justified. I just wonder how it will eventually be carried out in practice.