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The Border Of The Islamic State Is Not In Syria And Iraq

By Missing Peace

This article first appeared at Western Journalism.com in the USA.

Israeli tanks near Syrian border on June 15 2015Israeli tanks near Syrian border on June 15 2015

Missing Peace Correspondent Yochanan Visser reports directly form the Syrian border in Israel

Katzrin is a town in the Israeli Golan Heights some 20 miles from the border with Syria. When I passed the town on my way to the border, I noticed unusual IDF activity in the fields in the vicinity of Katzrin.

Many tanks and armored vehicles were lined up on the outskirts of a temporary army base. IDF Humvees stood next to the private cars of reserve soldiers who were taking part in an exercise.

Ten miles east of Katzrin, close to Syria, I saw more temporary army bases. Merkava tanks and huge IDF bulldozers were visible from the road to Kuneitra.

I was approaching the border. At the Kuneitra viewpoint I noticed black flags on top of buildings on the Syrian side of the border. This was a clear sign that Jabhat al-Nusra is now in control of the Kuneitra area. The abandoned United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) buildings on the Syrian side of the border are also in the hands of the al-Qaeda affiliate. The staff of the UNDOF has been relocated to a camp in the Israeli Golan Heights and elsewhere in the north of Israel.

The ‘peace’ that existed on the Israeli-Syrian border for almost 40 years is gone. In the distance I heard explosions now and then. The fighting in the area next to the border has become somewhat subdued since al-Nusra and the Western-backed Free Syrian Army drove out Assad’s army last month.

Most of the fighting today takes place in the Daraa Province and Suwayda, the area where most of Syria’s Druze live. Just today Syrian helicopters dropped barrel bombs on several towns in Daraa. Regime forces also fired missiles on the town of Eastern al-Kark, as reported by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

In Suwayda province, a fierce battle is taking place in the area of the vital al-Tha’ala airbase. The Syrian Observatory reported that eight fighters of the Islamist coalition led by al-Nusra were killed today; but in Kuneitra everything seemed quiet for the time being.

Several people in the Druze village of Majdal Shams in the Israeli Golan Heights told me the quiet is partly because Israel is in contact with al-Nusra. They said Israel has warned the al-Qaeda branch not to attack the Syrian Druze town of Khader opposite Magdal Shams on the Golan Heights.

I drove to Lake Ram, close to Mount Hermon, where I met Hassan Safadi, a Druze resident of Magdal Shams who is well-informed about the situation in the Syrian Golan Heights. Safadi told me that the Druze in the villages in the Israeli Golan Heights are very suspicious of Israel, but now they have no other choice than to cooperate. Druze leaders have asked Israel to open the border in case the Islamic State launches its anticipated attack on the Druze villages and towns in Suwayda and the Kuneitra area. Safadi said he would prefer that the Druze stay in Suwayda and receive arms and other forms of help.

Safadi also told me that the Druze in Suwayda have established a new militia called Shiugh al Karama (Sheiks of Dignity) and that Israeli Druze and the Druze in the Golan Heights have raised $10 million over the last week to enable weapon purchases for the Druze in Suwayda and Kuneitra. He also reported that 35,000 young Druze in Syria have refused to serve in Assad’s army and now want to fight for the newly established Druze militia.

Druze journalist Hamad Awidat of Majdal Shams reported during the same meeting in a restaurant at Lake Ram that the militia already has 50,000 fighters and that the Druze in Suwayda will launch a preemptive attack on the Islamic State “in the coming days.” He even said that the Druze in Syria, Israel, and Lebanon are able to mobilize a force of 200,000 men to fight against the Islamic State.

Awidat, who works for the Iranian outlet Fars News, told me that the Islamic State is less than two miles away from the border with Israel. Western Journalism was not able to verify Awidat’s report.

Druze IDF Brigadier General Ma’da Hasbani refused to confirm or deny the report in a telephone conversation with Western Journalism yesterday.

Hasbani said that “Israel is not part of the conflict in Syria and should not be part of it. Druze are able and capable of defending themselves. In history Druze were known as good fighters and they are able to defend themselves.”

He also said the Druze will not leave Syria: “They will stay in Jabal al-Arab because a Druze knows that they are the protector of the land and they will not abandon it.” Hasbani also refused to comment on reports that Israel is planning to create a humanitarian buffer zone on the Syrian side of the border in Kuneitra.

Earlier, Druze Deputy Minister of Regional Affairs Ayoub Kara told the Hebrew news site NRG that Israel is carrying out certain “secret efforts to protect the Druze community in Syria.” Kara refused to say more about the matter at the time. “It is forbidden for us to talk about these matters, we are doing everything to help,” he told NRG.

During a meeting at Elyakim Junction, close to the Israeli Druze town of Daliyat al-Karmel, yesterday, Kara seemed to backtrack on his statement to NRG. He told me he does not want Israel to support the Druze in Syria. “They are strong enough,” he said.

He repeated what Hasbani had told me and said, “Israel is not part in this conflict.”

During the same meeting, Kara warned that “the world must understand that the border of the Islamic State is not in Syria and Iraq.”

“They will move to Europe and the United States, so it is in the interest of the whole world to help the Druze and the Kurds in their fight against ISIS,” Kara added.

“Israel is the front of the free world in the war with ISIS. The world must understand that the border is not here. If they fail to understand this it will end as the Third World War,” Kara told me

Today the Israeli Chief of Staff Gabi Eizenkot told the Knesset Foreign Affairs Committee that the IDF will not sit on its hands in the Golan Heights and “will act to prevent a massive influx of refugees but will also take humanitarian action to prevent a slaughter of the fleeing refugees.”