Itongadol.-IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot on Friday told leaders of the Druze community in Israel that the country is not in any kind of contact with extremist rebel groups involved in the Syrian civil war, rejecting a recent claim by a Druze member of the Knesset.
Eisenkot said there has been no change in Israel’s policy, and that the military recently relayed a message to the rebels that they should not enter the Druze enclave in Syria, on the eastern side of the Golan Heights border with Israel.
The Druze community in Israel is tied by family bonds and marriage to communities on the Syrian side of the border. The recent renewal of battles between Sunni rebels and forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad has affected the Druze community there, with several incidents of firefights occurring in Hader, a Druze town on the Syrian side of the Golan.
A Druze girl was killed recently in a bombing of Hader by forces loyal to Assad.
Druze MK Akram Hasson of the Kulanu party this week attacked the policy of Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, and accused the IDF of assisting the Fateh al-Sham Front (a Sunni al-Qaeda offshoot formerly called al-Nusra Front) in the attacks in Hader.
“We received information from all fronts and from people inside [Hader] that the Nusra Front is acting with unprecedented Israeli support, in that the fighters of the group are taking posts where previously the IDF attacked Syrian army positions. This way the organization strengthens its position in addition to the logistic and medical support it receives from Israel,” Hasson wrote on Facebook.
Hasson said the “new strategy is led by Liberman.”
Eisenkot visited the town of Julis on Friday, meeting with the Druze spiritual leader in Israel, Sheikh Muafak Tarif, and other senior community leaders, including heads of local councils and retired IDF officers.
The chief of staff was accompanied by the head of the IDF Northern Command, Brig. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, and the head of the IDF Manpower Directorate, Brig. Gen. Hagai Topolansky. According to Haaretz newspaper, Eisenkot was adamant in his denial of any contact between Israel and extreme Islamist elements among the rebels.
“Islamic State, Nusra Front, Ahrar a-Sham – I look you in the eye and tell you: We have no contact with them,” Eisenkot told the Druze leaders. He confirmed, however, that Israel was in occasional contact with local militias who are considered to be moderate, in order to ensure that the border remains calm.
Eisenkot said that Israel warned the rebels against attempts to overtake Hader, but added that if strikes on Israeli territory are found to come from inside Hader, the IDF will respond in kind.
Tariff said that such a response would be justified in these circumstances, Haaretz reported.
Brig. Gen. Kochavi dismissed claims the IDF was helping Nusra Front as baseless. “This is a denial stronger than some Facebook post,” Kochavi said in a jab at Hasson’s accusation on social media earlier this week.
The residents of Hader, who remain on Assad’s good side, recently refused an Israeli offer of humanitarian aid, fearing it would spoil their relations with the regime, Haaretz reported.