HAIFA, Israel – The increasingly volatile situation on the Israel-Syria border and the fear of many Israeli Druze that their Syrian brethren are about to be attacked by the Al Qaeda-linked forces sparked a deadly lynch mob attack on an Israeli military ambulance in the Golan Heights region this week that claimed the life of a Syrian being transported for humanitarian medical treatment.
The attack, condemned by Israeli Druze leaders and across the Israeli political spectrum, was the second on an Israeli military ambulance in 24 hours. One of the two patients in the ambulance died and two Israeli soldiers were hospitalized as a result of the unprecedented violence which took place near Majdal Shams. A small number of mainly young Israeli Druze are furious that people they suspect may be injured Syrian fighters are being given medical care in Israel, even as marauding Jihadist forces look set to descend on their endangered relatives in Syria. Syria’s Druze have long backed President Assad and are therefore viewed as likely targets for revenge by the Jihadist groups.
“The IDF has not assisted the al-Nusra Brigade in any way in the last four years, but rather provides medical aid for wounded Syrians that arrive at the Israeli border and will continue to do so,” a spokesperson for the Israel Defense Forces told FoxNews.com.
Israel appears determined not to be drawn into Syria’s internal conflict fearing any action as likely to serve as a rallying point for the many disparate radical Islamic groups fighting on the other side of its northern border.
“I call on the leaders of the Druze community - which is a magnificent community with which we have brotherhood - to calm things down and say to every Druze citizen in Israel, ‘Respect the law, respect the soldiers, do not take the law into their own hands’”, said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking at a conference on Tuesday.
“This is our moment of truth,” Sheikh Muafaq Tarif, the spiritual leader of the Israeli Druze urged his followers. “The Druze religion and tradition opposes any physical harm, especially against wounded people.” Sheikh Tarif added that incidents such as the ambulance attack “harm our interests and those of our Druze brothers over the border.”
In an apparent bid to pour fuel on the flames however, pro-Assad Syrian television described those who attacked the ambulance as “our heroic countrymen”.
Israel’s Druze community has made it clear it doesn’t intend to stand idly by and watch as close relatives are attacked by the Al Nusra Front, and others, in the villages on the Syrian side of the border. Only last week more than 20 Druze were massacred in a village in the Idlib province of northern Syria, while “several hundred [were] forced to convert to Sunni Islam,” according to the BBC.
The Jerusalem Post suggested that Al Nusra, together with as many as seven other Jihadist terror groups, has formed a new Islamist fighting force called Jaish al-Fatah (the Army of Conquest). They have surrounded a number of Syrian Druze villages close to the Israeli border and fears are growing of a potential bloodbath since President Assad’s forces withdrew from the region leaving the Druze undefended.
Significant sums have already been raised by Israeli Druze in order to help their Syrian relatives defend themselves.
“The [Israeli Druze] have collected money from all our citizens in every village and have collected 10 million shekels [more than $2.65 million],” Ayoob Kara, Israel’s Deputy Minister of Regional Cooperation and the country’s most senior Druze politician, told FoxNews.com. “We have good relationships inside and outside of Israel and could use the money for anything the [Syrian Druze] need. I don’t want to say what that would be though, because this could be a problem for them on the other side.”
“The Lebanese Druze have managed to smuggle some light weapons,” the Jordan Times reported at the weekend, “but advanced sophisticated weaponry is needed to match that used by the Jihadi Salafists who could repeat in Syria against the Druze the same abominable atrocities that their colleagues perpetrated in Mosul against the Christians.”
The Druze are seen as heretics by radical Islamists, their religion including elements of Christianity, Judaism, Ismailism, and Hinduism, as well as the teachings of Ancient Greek philosophers such as Aristotle and Plato. Syria is home to the biggest Druze community of around 700,000, while Israel (140,000), Lebanon (215,000) and Jordan (32,000), also have sizeable communities.
“What the youths did at Majdal Shams has caused big problems for the Syrian Druze and for us in Israel as well,” Ayoob Kara conceded. “But I am sure that we will overcome this because the relationship between the Druze and the State of Israel is so strong - and will grow stronger. There isn’t a better partner for the Jews in the Middle East than the Druze nation.”
Paul Alster is an Israel-based journalist. Follow him on Twitter @paul_alster and visit his website: www.paulalster.com.