February 20, 2015 | Quote
Friend and Foe in Syria
The evidence that the Israelis have no such immediate concerns regarding the Sunni rebels fighting against the Assad regime is that this was the first time Israel targeted the region around Quneitra, Syrian territory that the rebels have controlled for a year. Presumably, for the present at least, the Israelis have turned a blind eye to rebel activities—even though those units surely include fighters from Nusra, one of the groups that Gantz says should be defeated.
“Israel has been reportedly working with rebel brigades in southern Syria for a while,” says Tony Badran, research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “Israel has provided medical treatment not just to Syrian civilians but also fighters. It’s a channel of communication, then, they’re talking to them, and likely sharing intelligence, in the full knowledge that these rebel units cooperate with Nusra against the Assad regime, Hezbollah, and the IRGC.”
The issue, as Badran notes, is that Israel perceives the Iranian axis not just as the strategic threat, but also as the immediate threat. There may come a day that the anti-Assad rebels, especially Nusra, will be a serious problem for Israel, but at present Jerusalem’s chief concern isn’t nonstate Sunni militants with rocket-propelled grenades, but a state sponsor of violent extremism that is seeking a nuclear weapon. Moreover, as the regional press has reported, the IRGC campaign to retake Quneitra, with Iranian officers not simply advising Assad’s forces and its Hezbollah allies but actually fighting, is apt to force a direct confrontation between Israel and Iran for the first time. It’s hardly surprising then that Jerusalem sees a vital interest in keeping IRGC troops off its border, even if that involves coordination with rebel groups that include Nusra forces.
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