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Israeli hypocrisy regarding the fight against terrorists

Israel’s actions in Syria, including arming rebels and caring for Jabhat al-Nusra fighters in its hospitals, make it clear it has no problem supporting terrorist groups when it serves Israel’s interests, explains PATRIK PAULOV

ISRAEL’S bombing campaign in Gaza was said to be about fighting the “terrorists” in Hamas.

If we take a look at the actions of Israel in Syria, it is obvious that this is not true.

Around the world, people are expressing solidarity with the Palestinian people and their right to resist the occupying power, regardless of whether the Palestinians gather around Hamas or other organisations.

In the solidarity demonstrations for Gaza, Syrian “revolutionary flags” have been seen among the Palestinian flags.

The green-white-black flag with red stars has since 2011 been a unifying symbol of the opposition and its armed groups backed by Nato countries and the Gulf states.

The flag is also an official symbol in the Idlib province, ruled by the terror group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (better known by its former name, Jabhat al-Nusra).

There is nothing strange about the fact that the Syrian opposition are against Israel’s air strikes on Gaza and Hamas.

When the protests and the armed uprising in Syria started 10 years ago, the Syrian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood played a central role. Hamas also has its roots in the Muslim Brotherhood.

As the war in Syria escalated, the Palestinian organisation chose to support the uprising.

Hamas broke off relations with the Syrian government, closed its exile office in Damascus and moved to Qatar. However, Hamas maintained close ties with Iran, one of the pillars of the Syrian government.

Although the attempt to overthrow the Syrian government has failed, Hamas and parts of the Syrian opposition still have a common religious and ideological foundation.

However, there is an issue that causes many friends of Palestine to react negatively to the Syrian “revolutionary flag.”

In Syria, Israel and several Syrian armed opposition groups have not only fought on the same side but also co-operated.

As early as January 2013, the first Israeli air strikes were carried out in Syria. Former Israeli Army chief of staff, Gadi Eisenkot, told the British Sunday Times on January 13, 2019, that thousands of bombings had been carried out on Syrian soil.

The attacks mainly targeted the military installations of the Syrian army or its allies and therefore benefited the armed groups.

Some Syrian opposition figures have expressed gratitude for Israel’s actions.

In May 2013, Kafranbel Syrian Revolution, a group that was highlighted in the media around the world at the time, made a statement on its Facebook page: “Israel is bombing Assad right now! Please continue… ”

Air strikes have not been the only support from Israel. In early 2014, Israeli media drew attention to the fact that hundreds of wounded Syrian rebel fighters were being cared for in a secret field hospital on the Golan Heights.

According to the UN the area is a part of Syria but has been illegally occupied by Israel since 1967.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu himself paid a visit to the field hospital and was photographed by the hospital beds.

Co-operation between Israel and armed groups in Syria was recognized early on by UNDOF, the UN peacekeeping force that guards the border between the occupied Golan Heights and Syria.

From 2013 and onwards, UNDOF regularly reported on contacts between Israeli authorities and Syrian armed groups.

The wounded were handed over to the Israeli side while the healthy went to the Syrian side. Boxes of unknown contents were carried across the border.

Later on, Newsweek (June 19, 2017) and Foreign Policy (September 6, 2018) revealed that Israel paid the salaries of Syrian fighters, supplied weapons to 12 different armed groups and provided them with food, fuel and medicine.

Among the recipients were groups of the Free Syrian Army, in which the Muslim Brotherhood played an important role.

Efraim Halevy, former head of the security service Mossad, admitted in an interview with Al Jazeera on May 31, 2016, that Israel had also had contacts with the terrorist group Jabhat al-Nusra and cared for its members in Israeli hospitals.

Why pay attention to Israel’s support to armed groups in Syria when Gaza has been indiscriminately bombed?

In Gaza, it is easy to see what the conflict is about and who is facing each other. On the one hand, there is an occupying power that terrorises almost defenceless residents.

On the other, there are the Palestinians and their organisations with the right to resist the occupation.

If we look at the political power game in the Middle East, the reality is much more complex.

Bitter enemies in one conflict may be allies in another. Like when Israel and Hamas’s friends in the Syrian opposition were united in the attempt to topple the government in Damascus.

It is important to see this complexity, if you want to understand what is happening in the Middle East.

Israel’s actions in Syria also make it clear that the occupying power has no problem supporting terrorist groups when it serves Israel’s interests.

The Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon even said, according to Times of Israel on January 19, 2016, that in Syria he prefers the terrorists in the Islamic State (Isis) over Iran, as Isis is less dangerous to Israel.

In the case of Gaza, Hamas has never been the main problem. Israel’s branding of Hamas as Islamist terrorists has rather been a viable excuse to legitimise continued occupation, oppression and ethnic cleansing.

Israel’s real problem — and the real target when the bombs fell on Gaza — is the Palestinian people who refuse to give up the right to their land and refuse to give up their national, democratic and human rights.

This article was first published in Swedish weekly Proletaren www.proletaren.se.

Patrik Paulov is a freelance writer based in Gothenburg, Sweden. He is the author of the book Syria’s Silenced Voices.

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