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Druze May Ensnare Israel in the Syrian Civil War - History

Druze May Ensnare Israel in the Syrian Civil War - History

6/19/15 The Crisis of the Druze May Ensnare Israel in the Syrian Civil War

by Marc Schulman

For the past four years Israel has successfully managed to stay out of direct involvement in the Syrian Civil War. While, it has been horrifying sitting still, as hundreds of thousands of Syrians have been getting slaughtered over the past four years, Israelis are united in their understanding that any intervention by Israel in Syria would most likely backfire. In lieu of intervening, Israel has quietly been providing humanitarian and medical assistance to the Sunni opponents of the Assad regime. Though as Assad’s regime really starts to fall apart, staying out of the Syrian conflict has become ever more difficult.

A few months ago, there was concern the arrival of Hezbollah forces along the Syrian-Israeli border might force Israeli involvement in the conflict. However, Israel took targeted action and eliminated the Hezbollah/Iranian leadership that had come to the Golan Heights. Israel’s actions, together with local Syrian opposition to the Hezbollah operating in the area, effectively ended the immediate Hezbollah threat on an additional Israeli border.

Now, a new crisis threatens to drag Israel into the morass – the plight of the Syrian Druze community. The Syrian Druze are now threatened by the Al-Nusra Front, (the “moderate” Sunni opposition group, previously tied to Al-Qaeda.) The Al-Nusra Front has been on the offensive, pushing Assad’s forces out of the areas they have held in Southern Syria, including the areas where the Druze live. Syrian government forces have been withdrawing from Southern Syria and concentrating their efforts around Damascus, as well as in the Alawait Coastal area, preparing for what observers believe will be the final fight for the Assad Regime. Abu Mohammad al-Julani, the leader of Al-Nusra, was recently quoted, saying their group has nothing against the Druze – as long as they give up their support for the Assad Regime, renounce their heretical religion, and return to the true faith of Islam. Those were not assuring words to the Druze.

The Druze are a small, community of 1,500,000 people, located mostly in Syria, Lebanon and Israel. Druze are (primarily) ethnically Arab. However, Druze are not Muslim. Druze practice their own monotheistic religion, whose main prophet is Jethro. Other than a very short period when there was an independent Druze state, (in parts of Syria), the Druze have successfully maintained their separate identity, while being loyal citizens in whatever country they live.

The Druze community has always been exceptionally loyal to the State of Israel. Druze serve widely in the IDF, not as volunteers, but are drafted by law. (Christian and Muslim Arabs are not obligated to serve, but are permitted to volunteer). There are approximately 140,000 Druze living in Israeli villages across the Galilee. Of course, like everything in Israel, the State’s relationship to the Druze community is complicated. On one hand, Israelis unanimously express their appreciation for the loyalty of the Druze. On the other hand, as Professor Yitzhak Reiter, a Middle East expert from Ashkelon College says: “Israel declares its Druze citizens, ‘Brothers in Blood’; the State’s relationship with the Druze is a ‘Blood Alliance’. Yet this alliance does not always translate into practical civil rights, when it comes to government investments in the Druze towns and villages".

The Druze who live in the Golan Heights (an area captured by Israel from the Syrians in the Six Day War) have not opted to become Israeli citizens, and continued to profess their loyalty to Syria – both because of their concern that Israel would eventually return the Golan Heights to Syria, and the fact that most Druze there have first degree blood relatives living just a few miles away, just over the Syrian border.

In recent days, (as the Druze community in Syria has been threatened), there has been an outcry to mobilize aid for the Druze. There are currently 700,000 Druze in Syria. Most Druze live in Jabel al-Druze (a mountainous area in Southwestern Syria.) The Syrian army has pulled out of this predominantly Druze area. Although the Druze area is not under immediate threat of being overrun by rebels, that could change at any time. ISIS has been pressing on the North and Al-Nusra pushing on the Southwest.

In the area closer to the Israeli border, the Druze town of Khader is in immediate danger of being captured by Al-Nusra. As a result, the Druze communities – both in Israel, as well those on the Golan Heights have been demanding Israel take whatever actions necessary to avert a massacre of the Druze in Syria. To further complicate the incendiary situation, many Israeli Druze veterans of the IDF have indicated they would – without question – enter Syria to fight on behalf of their brethren.

The Israeli army and government have indicated they would not allow a massacre to take place. Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot stated on Tuesday before a Knesset Committee that Israel will do everything in its power to prevent a massacre of Druze in Syria.

At least for the moment, it is hoped that the threat of a potential Israeli intervention, along with quiet diplomacy will be enough to deter Syrian Rebels from taking any action against the Druze. However, events over the course of the past three years have taught all parties that the unexpected is likely to happen – more often than not. So, the I.D.F. is ready to take action if necessary. The fear in Israel remains the effects of “the law of unintended consequences.” No one can predict what impact Israeli intervention of any kind might have on Israel, or Syria. However, if a massacre is imminent, Israel will reluctantly take that risk of finding out. Israel knows it has a moral obligation to the Druze.


Israel’s Druze rally to prevent ‘genocide’ of Syrian brethren

MAJDAL SHAMS — Syrian flags fluttered in the main square on Monday, hoisted high by a boisterous crowd chanting support for the Syrian army and President Bashar Assad. Women wore scarves emblazoned with Syrian flags and men wore shirts printed with Assad’s face. Children perched atop their fathers’ shoulders waved tiny red, white, and black banners. The scene wasn’t in a far away Syrian village, but here in Israel: the Druze village of Majdal Shams, nestled in the shadow of Mount Hermon, where inhabitants still identify strongly as Syrians.

As the Syrian civil war descends further into chaos, the violence is beginning to reach formerly safe Druze enclaves in Syria. Having watched the slaughter and beheadings that have been the fate of other minority groups in the Middle East since the rise of the Islamic State group, Druze across the region are putting aside national differences in a furious effort to fundraise so Syrian Druze can form their own militia.

So far, Druze communities in Israel have collected more than NIS 10 million for the Druze community in Syria to buy weapons and other necessities.

“Israel is not a part of this fighting and doesn’t want to be a part, because if we say we’re going to be part of the fighting it makes it worse for our people in Syria,” Druze MK Ayoub Kara (Likud) said. “But I, as a Druze guy — I’m going to do what I can to support my nation. I’m very loyal to my nation.”

The 1.5 million Druze in the Middle East are always trying to strike a balance between their proud ethnic identity and the country where they happen to live. Druze reside in Israel, Lebanon, and Syria, and one village in Jordan. Israel is home to approximately 130,000 Druze, with 20,000 in the Carmel region, 80,000 in the Galilee, and 20,000 in the Golan Heights.

While the Druze in the Carmel and the Galilee have sworn allegiance to Israel and serve in the army, the Golan Heights Druze still consider Israel an occupying force and identify as Syrians. They do not serve in the army, and very few hold Israeli citizenship. Almost every single family among the Golan Heights Druze community, spread across four villages in the northeastern corner of the plateau, has close family living in Syria.

Traditionally, most of the Syrian Druze have supported Assad, who used army troops to protect them in the four years of civil war. Druze are an offshoot of Islam whose basic tenets are secretive, but the sect is considered heretical by the radical Sunni jihadists of the Islamic State and the al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra Front.

But over the past two months, with Assad’s grip on power growing increasingly slippery, he has withdrawn army forces from the Druze areas of Sweida and the eastern flank of Mount Hermon, in a bid to hold on to Damascus. This has left the Druze feeling vulnerable to attacks from the extremist rebel groups.

“We’re calling on the international community to take into consideration the dangerous position of minorities in Syria,” said Mada Hasbani, a reserves IDF brigadier general who fought in the 2006 Second Lebanon War and currently heads the local council in the Druze village of Yanuh Jat in the Galilee. “Israel should be aware, as we learned from the Jews during the Holocaust. History should not repeat itself we must help minorities that are under the threat of genocide. The international community must provide all types of help and support so they can protect themselves. Our role as the Druze community is to raise our voices and deliver the message so the international world can know and hear what’s going on.”

Israel is not likely to get involved in any ground operations in Syria, which MK Kara said could do more harm than good. IDF Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot called the proximity of the fighting in Syria to the Golan border “worrying” at a Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting on Tuesday, his first appearance before the committee. He added that the IDF would take action if a large number of refugees started amassing at the border, to prevent a slaughter of the refugees.

Last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged US Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey to boost US aid to the embattled minority. In talks with the other countries as well as the UN and Red Cross, Israel has also reportedly raised the possibility of a humanitarian “safe zone” on the eastern flank of Mount Hermon, which would assist the Druze.

These options came to the forefront after at least 20 Druze were massacred by Nusra Front rebels in the Idlib region of northern Syria last week. Some Druze leaders, including Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, said the massacre was the result of local conflicts and not an ethnically motivated attack. In an unanticipated move, al-Nusra issued an apology for the attacks. But the Druze are worried that it’s only a matter of time before they follow in the footsteps of the Yazidis, Kurds, and other minorities subjugated by radical Islamist rebels in Syria and neighboring Iraq.

“The Druze people feel like the Jewish people during WWII,” said Hassan Safadi, a veterinarian in Majdal Shams who received a scholarship from the Syrian government to study medicine abroad. “It’s always the minorities that suffer in chaos.”

Safadi, who has aunts and uncles in Syria, said his family members told him that local villages have been creating their own militia, called “Sheikh al-Karama,” or “The Sheikhs of Dignity,” in order to defend Druze villages. In the past, Syrian Druze have served in the Syrian army or in Assad-supported local militias. But Safadi said local sheikhs are instructing the young men to disobey those orders in order to protect their homes.

Rather than wait for an international diplomatic response, the Druze are taking matters into their own hands. The Druze in Syria have a proud history of defending themselves, as every Druze is quick to tell the story of the Sweida Druze rising up against the French in 1925.

“According to history, the Druze always protected themselves, so we are sure they’re able to now, but they need to have the means and conditions to defend themselves,” said Hasbani. Support for their Syrian brethren means one thing: money for weapons, a number of Druze activists said.

“They need weapons, not fighters,” said Hamad Awidat, a Druze journalist from Majdal Shams who has a news production company with offices in Lebanon and Syria. “They have 50,000 fighters — that is enough. What they need are weapons.”

Kara, the Knesset member, said the Druze community around the world was raising millions of dollars to transfer to the Druze leadership in Syria. The NIS 10 million raised in Israel was transferred through Jordan to Syria, since it is illegal to transfer money directly to Syria from Israel. Kara said the local leadership will decide how to allocate the money, but that much of it will go toward purchasing weapons. “This is not enough to make a military, but it’s a start,” said Kara.

Awidat said the past week’s furious pace of fundraising is an example of the way that Druze can set aside national differences to focus on their ethnic identity. “If we were one power, there would be a Druze army with 200,000 soldiers,” he said.

“What’s more important is that we are Druze first,” said Hasbani. “Second, according to our location, we do respect the country [where we live] and we prove that we are loyal to that identity. But that doesn’t affect our affiliation as Druze or our duty to help and support each other.”

Which is why more than 400 Druze gathered in Majdal Shams on Monday evening, waving the multi-colored Druze flags along with Syrian flags and posters supporting Assad.

“We are here to give support to all the Druze in Syria,” said Mune Abu Sale, a resident of Majdal Shams who works at a hotel. But he was optimistic that Assad’s army would continue to protect his family in Syria. “They’ve supported us for four years, but now [the rebels] are starting to come to our area.”

“We have no weapons, but our hearts are with them,” said Rima Shufi, as she held her son Elayan. Shufi said two of her cousins had died in Syria when the rebels first started encroaching in the Druze area two months ago.

The Druze protesters took to the streets to raise awareness in the Israeli public about the plight of their families in Syria, and also to protest Israel’s treatment of injured Syrian civilians in Israeli hospitals.

Israel has treated 1,600 Syrians injured in the conflict over the past four years. The IDF maintains a field hospital on the border, and has also treated hundreds of Syrians at hospitals inside Israel. Lt. Col. Dr. Itzik Malka, the area’s chief medical officer, told Ynet that the majority of those treated are women, children, and elderly, who are innocent bystanders of the fighting. However, he noted that sometimes the IDF treats patients they know are members of rebel groups.

“We ask them to stop treating Syrians,” said Sale at the protest. “They are taking sick people, but these are the same people who are shooting at us and killing us. And they’re taking these people to get treated at Israeli hospitals and then return to fighting.”

“We have to put pressure on Israel to stop treating these people,” added Awidat, the Druze journalist. “They are feeling safe because they know Israel is behind them.”

Rima Romia was one of the first Syrian Druze brides to cross to border to get married in Israel, in 1986. She has only returned to visit her family in Syria once, about six months before the civil war began. Even though she is Syrian, she said that any Syrian fighter who comes to Israel for treatment is an “absolute traitor.”

“We are in touch and the situation is very bad,” she said. “I support [Assad’s] army, but they are not doing enough.” She said her brother does not sleep at home because he is out guarding the village all night.

“Each village has its own men protecting the village and towns,” she said. As the situation gets worse, she feels even more anxious about returning. “I feel like there is a fire inside me,” she said, as protesters circled with flags. “I wish they could open the border so we could cross to Syria in support of our people.

“Assad is our leader, but if Assad will fall, we don’t know who it will be,” she added.

The uncertainty is hanging over the entire Middle East. As the Islamic State continues its wanton march of devastation, Assad loses his grip on power, and chaos reigns in Syria, no one is sure where the bloodshed will end.

“This is not a Druze issue, this is not just a threat against the Druze,” said Hasbani. “It’s a wake-up call to America and Israel and everyone.”

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Thousands of Israeli Druze rally for Syrian brothers

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Thousands of Israeli Druze took to the streets in the northern towns of Isfiya and Majdal Shams Monday in a solidarity protest on behalf of members of their community caught up in the turmoil of the ongoing civil war across the border in Syria.

The protest came several hours after Israel’s Druze community announced that it had collected more than NIS 10 million ($2.6 million) for the Syrian Druze community to buy weapons and other necessities after jihadists massacred 20 Druze in the Idlib region last week.

Joined by local Christians, some 4,000 Israeli Druze residents gathered in downtown Isfiya holding signs reading “If necessary, we will cross over into Syria to protect our brothers,” and “We’re willing to die as martyrs for our brothers.”

In the border town of Majdal Shams, where 2,000 Druze had gathered, one protester told Ynet that “The Druze street is burning. Everyone is prepared to fight for the Druze in Syria who are going through a difficult time.”

Another protester said that last week’s unprecedented attack on the minority group “crossed a red line,” and that the Druze community would “not allow this to continue, even if it means endangering our lives.”

Isfiya resident Mahnah Mansour said there was a definite fear for the existence of their community in Syria, and that many Israeli Druze would be willing to cross over into Syria to defend the 800,000 Druze there from the advance of jihadist terror groups.

“We’re asking and hoping, that just as we are loyal to the state (of Israel) with our blood, that the establishment — or anyone else that can help — will help us appropriately.”

On Saturday, The Druze Zionist Council sent a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, urging Israel to avert a Druze “holocaust” by jihadists.

“Non-involvement in Syria will result in a Druze holocaust under our very noses, and who like Israel knows what a holocaust and genocide is,” wrote council head Atta Farhat.

Israel is reportedly mulling the creation of a “safe zone” on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights in order to aid Druze refugees.

The majority of Syrian Druze live in and around the southern province of Sweida in a region also known as Jabal al-Druze, or Mount Druze, close to the Israeli border. Tens of thousands of their brethren live in Israel.

Over the weekend, members of Israel’s Druze minority, many of whom have relatives and friends in Syria, collected money, clothes, food, and other staples to send across the border.

Earlier on Monday, Likud MK Ayoub Kara said that in the last two months, the chaos of Syria’s civil war has acutely affected the small Druze community in Syria.

Kara, himself is an Israeli Druze, said that the situation has deteriorated so significantly that Druze in Syria are looking to buy weapons for self-protection.

Previously, the Druze mostly supported the regime of President Bashar Assad, but in the past two months Assad’s forces have been unable to protect the Druze community in southern Syria from jihadist groups.

Melanie Lidman contributed to this report.

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Israel in the Syrian Civil War

On a recent visit to the Golan Heights, this reporter described the border area stretching from Majdal Shams through Quneitra as “quiet and peaceful.” A clear reason for the relatively quiet border is that the forces behind the border line with Israel are those of the Syrian rebel group called The Nights of the Golan or their Arabic name, Fursan al-Joulan. With a buffer zone manned by fighters of Fursan al-Joulan, Israel is able to keep away its mortal enemy, Iran and its terrorist arm, Lebanese Hezbollah, as well as Iraqi Shiite militias also doing Iran’s bidding. Naturally, it includes the Assad regime forces.

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported on June 19, 2017 that “Israel Gives Cash and Aid to Rebels in Syria.” This headline is somewhat misleading since Israel is not inside Syria, but simply creating a buffer zone next to its border. According to the WSJ, “Israel has in the past acknowledged treating some 3,000 Syrians, many of them fighters, in its hospitals since 2013, as well as providing humanitarian aid such as food and clothing during winter. But interviews with half a dozen rebels and three people familiar with Israel’s thinking reveal that the country’s involvement is much deeper and more coordinated than previously known, and entails direct funding of the opposition fighters near its border for years.”

Moatasem al-Golani, spokesman for Fursan al-Joulan, told the WSJ “Israel stood by our side in a heroic way, we wouldn’t have survived without Israel’s assistance.” According to al-Golani, the group (Fursan al-Joulan) gets roughly $5,000 a month from Israel. The group is not linked to the Western-backed Free Syrian Army and doesn’t get Western funding or arms.

The WSJ article quoted Ehud Ya’ari, a fellow at the Washington Institute and an Israeli political analyst, saying “Israel has dubbed the current Golan operation ‘The Good Neighborhood’ policy.” He maintained that the policy of supporting Syrian opposition militias began under Lieberman’s predecessor, Moshe Ya’alon and has since continued.

The WSJ story is rehashing an old story that appeared in Times of Israel on June 29, 2015, stating, “Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said Monday that Israel has been providing aid to Syrian rebels, thus keeping the Druze in Syria out of immediate danger. Israeli officials have previously balked at confirming, on the record, that the country has been helping forces fighting to overthrow Syrian President Bashar Assad.”

Ya’alon pointed out that Israel assisted the rebel group under two conditions. “That they don’t get too close to the border, and that they don’t touch the Druze.” This means that Israel expects the rebel group to keep Islamic extremist groups like IS and al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front, away from the border. Ya’alon articulated Israel’s policy regarding the civil war in Syria as “we are not getting involved.” He stressed however, that there were certain red lines under which Israel would act, such as the smuggling of so-called game-changing weapons to Israel’s enemies, i.e. Hezbollah.

Israel’s concerns are focused primarily on preventing Iran and its proxies from gaining access to the border with Israel. Israel additionally seeks to prevent Hezbollah from getting anti-aircraft, chemical and other lethal weapons via Syria and into Lebanon. The Jerusalem Post cited a report by Reuters on January 30, 2013 that suggested Israel “targeted a truckload of weapons, going from Syria to Lebanon.” A diplomat added that the cache was not chemical weapons but probably included high-tech anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles.

The Qatari based Aljazeera reported on March 17, 2017 that “Israel carried out air strikes inside Syria.” Aljazeera added, “Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the strikes targeted ‘advanced’ weapons bound for Hezbollah, the Lebanese (terrorist) group that fought a war with Israel in 2006 and is now fighting alongside the Syrian government.”

The Associated Press (AP) stated on April 27, 2017 that “Syria’s military said Israel struck a military installation southwest of Damascus International Airport before dawn on Thursday (April 27), setting off a series of explosions and raising tensions between the two neighbors. Apparently seeking to interrupt weapons transfers to the Hezbollah group in Lebanon, Israel has struck in Syria with increasing frequency in recent weeks, making the war-torn country a proxy theater for Israel’s wider war with Iran.” The AP report failed to mention, however, Iran’s direct involvement in the civil-war in Syria. Iran and its Shiite proxies, including various Iraqi Shiite militias, an Afghani Shiite group, Houti Shiites from Yemen, and of course Hezbollah, have all been recruited by Iran’s Islamic Republic to fight on behalf of Tehran’s agenda.

Israel has targeted arms being sent to Hezbollah from Iran in commercial and military cargo aircraft. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) spokesperson said that one of its Patriot anti-aircraft missile batteries intercepted a target over the Golan Heights, which the Israeli media described as an unmanned drone. It was the second time that the IDF downed a Syrian drone.

Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman held talks in Moscow (April 26, 2017) with his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Lieberman reiterated that Israel will not allow Iranian and Hezbollah forces to be amassed on Israel’s Golan Heights border. Lieberman was in Moscow to coordinate with Russia Israeli actions in Syria and on ways to avoid the risk of Israeli-Russian confrontation. He also expressed to the Russians Israel’s concerns over Iranian activities in Syria, and Iran’s use of Syrian soil for arms smuggling to Hezbollah in Lebanon.

In the Syrian civil war there are several actors. On the side of the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad, there is the Islamic Republic of Iran with its Shiite proxies and Russia. This grouping seeks to keep Assad in power and eliminate the opposition to his dictatorial regime, which has killed about 500,000 people, mostly civilians. Iran hopes that it can control its client, Assad, and thus establish the Shiite crescent that covers Iraq, Syria and Lebanon to the Mediterranean Sea and the border with Israel. Russia wants to demonstrate that it still is a super-power with a major influence in the region. Besides, the Syrian regimes dependence on Russia means that the Russians have full control of the air and naval bases in Latakia and Tartus.


Religion

The origins of the Druze faith can be traced to Egypt in the early eleventh century. Their faith subsequently spread to many regions in the Middle East and North Africa. The basis of the religion is the belief that at various times God has been divinely incarnated in a living person. His last, and final, incarnation was al-Hakim bi-Amrih Alla, who announced himself as the earthly incarnation of God in about 1009. A year later, his followers helped shaped a creed that is still followed today.

The Druze religion is an outgrowth of Islam, although Muslims disavow it. The religion also incorporates elements of Judaism and Christianity. When the religion was established, its founders were influenced by Greek philosophy and Asiatic thought. Their progressive ideas—including the abolition of slavery and the separation of church and state—were considered unorthodox and placed its followers at risk. This cloak of secrecy continues today.

The tenets of the Druze religion are secret and mysterious, even to many Druze themselves, since the faith allows only a limited number of elite men and sometimes women, called uqqal ("the enlightened"), to study and learn all of its aspects. The uqqals oversee the religious life of their particular community, acting almost as intermediaries with God. Other Druze, known as the juhhal ("the unenlightened"), are not permitted to access the religion's six holy books but are given a simplified outline of their faith in the form of a strict code of moral and ethical behavior.

The seven duties that all Druze are required to observe are recognition of al-Hakim and strict adherence to monotheism negation of all non-Druze tenets rejection of Satan and unbelief acceptance of God's acts submission to God for good or ill truthfulness and mutual solidarity and help between fellow Druze. While they are respectful of other religions, the Druze are convinced that a severe judgment awaits all non-Druze.

Religious meetings are held on Thursday nights in inconspicuous buildings without embellishments or furniture, except a small lectern to lay books on during meditation. Men and women may sit together, but with a divider between them. During the first part of the service, community affairs are discussed, and everyone may attend. However, the juhhal must leave when prayer, study, and meditation begin. The secrecy surrounding the Druze faith is meant to protect its followers from persecution.

In order to protect their religion and not divulge its teachings, the Druze worship as Muslims when among Muslims, and as Christians when among Christians. They allow no outside converts to their religion: one must be born into the Druze faith. What is known is that the Druze are Muwahhidun, or Unitarians, who believe in one God whose qualities cannot be understood or defined and who renders justice impartially.

Reincarnation is a key belief of the faith. The Druze believe that the number of days of one's life is fixed, not to be exceeded or diminished by a single day. Since a Druze considers his body a mere robe for the soul, he does not fear death because it is only a tearing of the robe. The Druze believe that as soon as one dies, his soul immediately is reborn into another body. If that person was bad in a previous life, however, his soul may return in the body of a dog. Reincarnation continues until one's soul achieves purification and merges with the Holy One. Hell is the failure to achieve this state.


As Syria crumbles, Golan Druze seek Israeli citizenship

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

The fifth year of Syria’s brutal civil war has marked a sharp increase in the number of Druze residents on the Golan Heights seeking Israeli citizenship.

In contrast to the only two requests filed in 2010, the number of Golan Druze seeking citizenship rose to 80 so far in 2015, Channel 1 reported on Thursday.

Citing government statistics, the television report said that some 151 Druze have become naturalized Israeli citizens since the bloody war broke out in Syria in 2011.

According to the report, the majority of the applications have been filed by Druze youths, whose connection to Syria has likely been marred by the violence there.

The Druze have openly sworn allegiance to Syria ever since Israel captured the Golan Heights in the 1967 Six Day War. Many have maintained strong economic, familial and emotional ties with Syria and have remained outwardly loyal to its embattled president, Bashar Assad.

Of the 20,000 Druze residing in the Golan, only a few hundred have accepted Israeli citizenship since it was first offered in 1981.

At the time, Druze leaders declared that anyone who accepted an Israeli passport and cooperated with the “Zionist enemy” would pay the price of religious and social ostracism by exclusion from community life.

Yet, the Druze, members of a mystic sect that broke away from Shiite Islam in the 11th century, are ideologically loyal to the countries in which they reside. Israel’s Druze speak Hebrew and many of the community’s members in the Galilee region serve in the Israel Defense Forces.

The marked increase in applications could be an indication that the community’s 45-year-long loyalty to its Syrian homeland has become fractured by the raging war across the border.

In addition to disillusioned youth, some Golan Heights Druze are embracing Israeli citizenship out of a fear of widespread persecution in Syria if Assad’s regime — a government that protected the minority group — falls, or is forced out of power.

Druze are considered heretical to Sunni Islam, and have been targeted by the radical al-Nusra Front and Islamic State terrorist groups in recent years in Syria and Turkey.

Members of the Druze community confirmed to the television station the phenomenon was on the rise. But, fearing retaliation in their villages, nobody interviewed for the segment would speak on-camera.

I’ll tell you the truth: Life here in Israel isn’t always easy. But it's full of beauty and meaning.

I'm proud to work at The Times of Israel alongside colleagues who pour their hearts into their work day in, day out, to capture the complexity of this extraordinary place.

I believe our reporting sets an important tone of honesty and decency that's essential to understand what's really happening in Israel. It takes a lot of time, commitment and hard work from our team to get this right.

Your support, through membership in The Times of Israel Community, enables us to continue our work. Would you join our Community today?

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The Druze Militias of Southern Syria

Compared to how much has been written on the Sunni-Alawite dynamics in the Syrian civil war, little analysis exists on the Druze aspect of the conflict. This study hopes to rectify the deficiency by considering the nature of Druze militias operating in the south of Syria, specifically in Suwayda, Deraa and Damascus governorates where Druze populations are concentrated.

The Principle of Self-Defense

The most prominent name for Druze militias appears to be "Jaysh al-Muwahhideen" ("Army of the Monotheists/Unitarians"), echoing the Druze's self-description as "muwahhideen" emphasizing the strict unity of God. Most notably, here is a video from the beginning of this year of a statement from a "Jaysh al-Muwahhideen" militia in Jabal al-Arab (Mountain of the Arabs), also known as "Jabal ad-Druze": a mountainous area of Suwayda governorate primarily inhabited by Druze.

In the video, the speaker declares that the army is "under the leadership of Abu Ibrahim Ismail al-Tamimi…we are the Muslim Unitarian Druze sect…we have been and continue to be defenders of our property and sons, and protectors for them."

He also characterizes the struggle as a "jihad" but it is framed in purely defensive terms: that is, anyone who commits aggression on the Druze land of Jabal al-Arab- regardless of his/her affiliation- will suffer consequences at the hands of the Jaysh al-Muwahhideen, for they are not afraid of fighting in defence of their people. The statement was released in light of attacks on Druze in Suwayda governorate at the hands of gangs coming from Deraa, including the kidnapping of Druze youth referenced in the video.

The reference to my fellow Tamimi tribesman Abu Ibrahim Ismail al-Tamimi is an important part of Druze identity here. Abu Ibrahim was an early Druze leader who succeeded Hamza ibn Ali, who is considered to be the founder of the Druze sect during the reign of the Fatimid caliph al-Hakim in the eleventh century. While Hamza is thought to embody the principle of al-'aql ("mind") in Druze doctrine, Abu Ibrahim represents nafs ("soul"). Within Jaysh al-Muwahhideen social media circles, one finds the name of "Jaysh Abu Ibrahim" being used alongside Jaysh al-Muwahhideen.

The video linked to above illustrates the main Druze priority in the Syrian civil war: namely, to protect the community's land and honor. This principle is corroborated by interviews I conducted with the activists behind a Jaysh al-Muwahhideen Facebook page and a purely online support page called "Katiba al-Muwahhideen"("Battalion of the Unitarians"). Thus, the former stressed that the Druze militia is not concerned with "attacking the terrorists, but defense of land and honor (not aggression). We only defend." The latter similarly emphasized defending the Druze online.

Showing Support for Assad

While the focus on self-defense suggests political neutrality in theory (and indeed, the Katiba stated to me that they are not affiliated with any political faction), in practice the Druze militias will side with the local strong actor who can guarantee the preservation of Druze land.

Combined with concern regarding the likes of Jabhat al-Nusra,[1] who have for many months played a key role in fighting on the Deraa front in particular,[2] working with a variety of factions, and apparently being responsible for a recent bomb attack in Suwayda city, it follows that Jaysh al-Muwahhideen circles make a show of demonstrating Druze loyalty to the Assad regime.

Thus, the Katiba affirmed to me that in Jabal al-Arab and Jabal al-Sheikh, "people's committees for the protection of villages and towns" have been formed to fight against "terrorism," working "in cooperation with the Syrian army." The Katiba also praised the Syrian army as non-sectarian, claiming that "the Syrian Arab Army is for all Syria. In it are Druze, Alawites, Sunnis, and Christians. Not only Druze. We [i.e. the Druze of Jabal al-Arab and Suwayda, where the activists are based] have brought forth a thousand martyrs in the Syrian Arab Army in the defense of the nation and we are prepared to bring forth more."

An important aspect of the concepts of Druze loyalty to the Syrian nation is anti-colonialism, and the Druze role in uprisings against Ottoman and French rule. Hence, the Katiba affirmed to me that "all in Syria know that we [the Druze] do not attack anyone, we only defend, thus we fought Ottoman and French colonization and expelled them from our land." The fighting against the Ottomans is referring to the multiple Druze revolts against the Ottomans.[3]

In 1842, there was a revolt against direct Ottoman rule under 'Umar Pasha following on from conflict with the Maronites. Later, Druze peasant agitation beginning in 1888 developed into a revolt by 1889 in response to repeated attempts by Ottoman authorities to bring Jabal al-Hawran (later to become Jabal ad-Druze, with widespread Druze settlement in the latter half of the 19 th century) under direct Ottoman rule from Damascus. The revolt ultimately failed as Ottoman troops poured into Jabal al-Hawran and bombarded Suwayda in 1890.

Towards the end of the Ottoman Empire, refusal by the Druzes of Jabal to take part in a census ordered in 1908 led to a full-scale Ottoman invasion of the Jabal, followed by disarmament, conscription of Druze into the Ottoman army, and execution of a number of Druze sheikhs. However, Ottoman troops withdrew by 1911, which meant the Druze could revert to autonomy.

While the Druze came to support the "Arab Revolt" in the First World War, dissatisfaction with French rule led to a Druze revolt in 1925 that then took on a nationalist element spurred on by some of the Druze chieftains' sympathy with Arab nationalism. Thus in 1926, Druze leader Sultan al-Atrash insisted that the Druze would not lay down arms unless the French recognized the "complete independence of Syria."

Although the revolt ultimately failed in 1927 and led to the designation of a separate Jabal ad-Druze state, the revolt had inspired a younger generation of Druze with nationalist romanticism- just as many younger Alawites were beginning to adopt ideas of Syrian nationalism- and by 1936 Jabal ad-Druze was incorporated into Syria.

Sentiment about union with Syria was of course sharply divided among the Druze, as was the case among the Alawites. During the 1936 negotiations, both Alawite and Druze leaders sent petitions insisting on remaining separate from Syria, and appealing to Jewish PM Leon Blum's supposed Zionist sentiments. For the Druze militia circles today, however, it is the unionist side that is commemorated.

Conclusion: Separatism? Alliance with Israel?

It would be a mistake to characterize all Druze who have taken up arms in the Syrian civil war as staunchly pro-regime. Some form of distinction from the above evidence can be made between Druze irregulars and those who fight in the Syrian army- principally on the basis that the former are defined by their anonymity.

At the same time, one must be skeptical of narratives pointing to a supposedly growing Syrian Druze separatist trend. For instance, Hussein Ibish contends that Druze "militias are becoming increasingly independent and generally no longer work with government forces." There is no evidence to support this view.

On the contrary, the support for Assad emphasized in Jaysh al-Muwahhideen/Abu Ibrahim media circles (including those featuring anonymous Druze fighters), together with the testimony of Katiba al-Muwahhideen, the apparent Jaysh al-Muwahhideen martyrdoms in Jaramana, and the large and continuous stream of Druze martyrdoms for the Syrian army point to three things.

First, of the Druze who have taken up arms, a majority have done so on the side of the Assad regime. Second, there are still generally close ties between Druze irregulars and the Syrian army, mainly under the guise of people's protection committees. Third, even if actually autonomous, Druze militiamen generally want to show ties of loyalty to the regime and the Syrian nation.

Could this all change? Yes. A loss of willingness to support the regime might occur, for example, if it were being perceived that regime forces are losing much ground and on an irreversible and major retreat from Suwayda and Deraa governorates. At the present time, nothing points to such a picture on the battlefield. Druze irregulars might also turn decisively against the regime if, say, the Syrian army were forcing Druze off their land to take up firing positions against rebels. Yet this seems unlikely.

We should equally dismiss the notion touted recently in some Israeli press circles of a Druze state emerging from the fragmentation of Syria and aligning with Israel. Besides the problems of the viability of a Druze state (such as the means of supporting an economy), Druze in Syria fall in line with most of the Syrian Arab population (including Alawites and Christians) in having an existential hatred of Israel: that is, not wanting Israel to exist in any form. Indeed, the Jaysh al-Muwahhideen circles continue to highlight the issue of the "occupied Golan."

From the Israeli side, experience has shown that getting involved in multipolar civil wars by propping up one side- as was the case in Lebanon- ends in disaster. In the long-run, the rebel presence in Suwayda, Deraa and Damascus governorates is unlikely to be purged completely. Even in the event of a peace agreement entailing de facto partition, the Assad regime is likely to retain the southern and western areas of Syria. Israeli pundits' hopes of minority allies remain illusory, as Israeli officials maintain a more sober policy of overall neutrality while launching airstrikes to prevent those who might wish to wage war on Israel from acquiring new weaponry and providing occasional medical aid to refugees.

To sum up, the Druze community in Syria as a whole remains tied to the regime, whether out of genuine pro-Assad sentiment or belief in the regime as its only viable protector[iv] and there is unlikely to be a profound shift in the orientation of the Syrian Druze community, at least in the near future.

Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi is a student at Brasenose College, Oxford University, and a Shillman-Ginsburg Fellow at the Middle East Forum.

Notes

[1] Note this Jabhat al-Nusra Deraa council statement from May warning the Druze against supporting the Assad regime and highlighting a supposed policy of protecting Christian villages.
[2] The increasing prominence of Jabhat al-Nusra on the Deraa front has recently been noted by some analysts (e.g. Kirk Sowell). Previously, some saw Deraa as an example of a shift to a more 'mainstream'/Salim Idriss SMC-aligned insurgency. I would clarify that while Jabhat al-Nusra and Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham may be smaller numerically than in the north and east, nothing supports the idea of a contrast whereby southern rebels are more likely to be hostile to these jihadi factions than in the north.The picture is rather of mixed views on the whole. At any rate, there is a risk of downplaying Jabhat al-Nusra's role in Deraa in earlier months (see my articles here and here). The group has consistently maintained overall good working relations with a variety of rebel factions in Deraa.
[3] In the account of the anti-colonial Druze history narrative that follows I am reliant on Kais Firro's "A History of the Druzes," Brill (Leiden, 1992).
[4] To be contrasted perhaps with an overall display of neutrality earlier on when the outcome of the unrest in Syria seemed highly uncertain.

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How Israel Navigated through the Hurricane of the Syrian Civil War

The Syrian civil war is a disaster of historic proportions that shows no sign of ending anytime soon. The latest figures suggest that it has killed nearly half a million people, making it the greatest catastrophe to hit the Levant since 1945, dwarfing earlier crises in terms of its human cost. But throughout all this carnage, only one country that borders Syria has managed to remain largely immune to the side effects of the war. That country is Israel.

With constant fighting on the other side of the border, life in the Israeli-controlled part of the Golan Heights and in the Galilee goes on much as before the Syrian war began in 2011. This is not simply the result of good luck. It represents a quiet but notable success for an Israeli policy pursued over the last four years. This policy avoids taking sides on the larger question of who should govern Syria. Instead, Israel has sought to forge local alliances with rebel elements close to the border in order to prevent Iran and its allies from establishing a new platform for attacks on Israel, and keep Islamic State-aligned forces away from the border. So far, they have mostly worked.

Jerusalem has also worked to strengthen the physical infrastructure on the border. It has reordered its military presence, invested in a new border fence, deployed drones and other means of electronic surveillance, and created a new Combat Intelligence Collection Battalion.

Israel has managed to remain largely immune to the side effects of the Syrian civil war.

At the same time, Israel has acted on a number of occasions to prevent the transfer of sophisticated weapons systems to Hezbollah in Lebanon, and has probably carried out targeted killings on Syrian soil.

With the Syrian war now transformed as a result of Russian intervention, it is an appropriate time to look at the emergence of this policy and the reasons for its success.

The Israeli political and security establishments have been beset by differences over the Syrian war since it first broke out. Prior to the war, a powerful body of opinion within the country's defense establishment regarded the regime of dictator Bashar Assad as the "weakest link" in an Iran-led regional axis. The hope was that a blow could be dealt to the Iranians by tempting the non-Shia, non-ideological Assad regime away from its alliance with Iran and toward a pro-U.S. stance, mainly through Israeli territorial concessions on the Golan Heights.

These assumptions were among the first casualties of the Syrian war. The support of Iran and Russia was clearly of central importance to the Assad regime. Unlike authoritarian regimes aligned with the West (Mubarak in Egypt, Ben Ali in Tunisia), the Assad regime was not rapidly abandoned by its patron at the first sign of serious internal unrest. Instead, Iran and Russia mobilized all necessary resources to preserve the regime, leading to the current situation in which Assad's survival in at least part of Syria seems assured.

The Israeli political and security establishments have been beset by differences over the Syrian war.

With the prospect of "turning" Assad no longer of immediate relevance, and with a coherent pro-American alliance no longer discernible in the region, the Israeli security establishment, like many others, first presumed that the regime's survival was unlikely. In late 2011, then-Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak predicted that the dictator would fall "within weeks" and welcomed his supposedly imminent departure. "The Assad family and its faithful have killed more than 4,000 people in Syria to date," he said. "It is impossible to know who will rule Syria in the future, but in any event, it will be a blow to the axis between Iran and Hezbollah."

However, as Sunni Islamist and jihadi forces rose to prominence in the course of 2012-13, and Iranian and Russian assistance kept Assad in place, a "minority" view emerged. It held that the rise of Salafi jihadist forces among the Syrian rebels meant that the overall victory of the rebellion would not be in Israel's interest. It further posited that the Sunni Islamists had become the greater danger to Israel. This view failed to win the support of the policymaking elite. The Sunni Islamist threat was recognized, but the primacy of the Iranian threat remained.

The result has been a synthesized view that goes something like this: Iran and its allies, of which the Assad regime in Syria is one, remain the most potent and dangerous threat facing Israel. As such, the primary goal of Israeli policy should be to prevent Iranian gains, and stop Iran and its allies from using the situation in Syria to improve their position against Israel. But given the nature of the rebellion against Assad and the forces dominating it, their victory could also be harmful to Israel. There is a danger that Assad's fall could produce a Sunni Islamist regime no less hostile than Iran, and perhaps more determined to act on this hostility.

The fragmentation of Syria into rival enclaves is not necessarily bad for Israel.

As a result, Israel has no incentive to align with or actively support the rebels. The Israeli establishment's strong aversion to interfering in internal political processes in neighboring countries – deriving from the institutional "trauma" of the unsuccessful alliance with the Lebanese Christians in the 1980s – has also militated against any overt efforts at backing the rebellion in Syria. Indeed, from a perhaps harsh but realist standpoint, the war itself, and in particular the fragmentation of Syria into rival enclaves, is not necessarily bad for Israel.

However, the acceptance of the Syrian "status quo" should not induce excessive passivity. Rather, Israel should work to secure its border against spillover from the war, while actively preventing the Iranians and their allies from gaining an advantage. In addition, Israel needs to be aware of the smaller but significant threat represented by Sunni jihadi forces. These forces should be prevented from reaching the border, where they would be in a position to launch attacks against Israeli communities.

Up to now, Israeli policy has been conducted along these lines. What practical form has their implementation taken?

Syrian rebels

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits an IDF field hospital for treatment of wounded Syrians on February 18, 2014. Photo: FLASH90

It is an open secret in Israel that the country maintains relations with Sunni rebel elements in the area adjoining the border in Quneitra Province. The reason is to ensure that they remain the dominant force on the border, rather than elements aligned with the Assad regime, Iran, or the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah. The Israeli policy of providing medical aid to Syrian civilians and wounded rebel fighters from this area is clearly an aspect of this policy (in addition to purely humanitarian considerations). The precise nature of the assistance afforded the rebels is not known. No evidence, however, has emerged of direct military aid. Given the great efforts to which Israel goes in order to ensure a clear intelligence "picture" of events in southwest Syria, it may be assumed that intelligence sharing probably forms part of the relationship.

The rebels located close to the border are a mixed bunch. In the southern corner is Liwa Shuhada al-Yarmouk, a rebel group of long standing which is now clearly affiliated with the Islamic State. Israel has closely followed the movement of this organization in the direction of IS and is concerned about it. The relations between Israel and the group are hostile, though they have not yet resulted in open violence. There are Israeli concerns that a second rebel group in the area, the Harakat al-Muthanna al-Islamiya organization, may also be moving closer to the Islamic State.

Israel has fostered small-scale cooperation with rebel groups regardless of their ideological sympathies.

According to informed sources, Israeli contacts with rebel elements close to the border are not limited to the Western-supported rebel coalition called the Southern Front. They also include elements sympathetic to and affiliated with Sunni Islamist groups. Israeli sources note that the rebellion is a fragmented, localized phenomenon. As such, it has been possible to foster small-scale cooperation independent of the broader ideological sympathies of these groups. As a result, one former senior security official described the area east of Quneitra Crossing as a "virtual security zone" for Israel.

The delicate and sensitive nature of such relationships is obvious. But nearly five years into the Syrian civil war, the success of this policy speaks for itself. As of today, with the exception of the small area controlled by Shuhada al-Yarmouk in the south and another small area controlled by the regime in the far north, the greater part of the area abutting the Israeli border is in the hands of non-IS rebels. And these groups, thus far, have not mounted cross-border attacks on Israel. Furthermore, according to media reports, Israel's influence over the rebels in this area has been used to prevent a small pro-regime enclave in their midst, the Druze village of el-Khader, from being harmed. The fact that the residents of el-Khader are themselves fanatically hostile to Israel adds another layer of irony to this complex reality.

Israel's influence over Sunni rebels has prevented Hezbollah and other pro-regime forces from threatening its borders.

This quiet policy of cooperation, which has kept the Iranians, the regime, and Hezbollah away from the border, has of course been accompanied by more kinetic action on the part of Israel. This has included action close to the border to prevent Iranian-led attempts to construct infrastructure to facilitate attacks on the Golan Heights. The January 2015 killing of Hezbollah terrorist Jihad Mughniyeh, along with IRGC Colonel Ali Reza Tabatabai and a number of Hezbollah operatives in an area close to the border, was the highest-profile demonstration to date of Israel's willingness to act directly to frustrate Iranian intentions in this regard. The death of Samir Kuntar in the Jaramana area of Damascus alongside a number of other Hezbollah operatives may be another example of Israel's "long arm," though Syrian rebels also claimed responsibility for the attack.

Israel does not claim responsibility for attacks on regime, Iranian, or Hezbollah weapons convoys on Syrian soil. But it is likely that Jerusalem has been responsible for a number of attacks of this kind over the last half decade. Such actions are intended to prevent or disrupt the transfer of weapons systems across the border from the regime and Iran to their Hezbollah allies. These attacks have taken place over regime heartland areas including the Damascus area, the Qalamoun mountains region, and on at least one occasion in Lebanese territory. While Israel does not comment on specific incidents, Israeli leaders have made clear that they will act to prevent Hezbollah from obtaining "game-changing" weapons technology. In April 2015, Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon stated openly that Israel would not permit Iran to arm Hezbollah with advanced weapons systems.

Of course, it is much harder to measure Israeli success in this regard. The quiet on the border, however, is testimony to at least some success. With regard to weapons transfers, it is impossible to independently assess what weapons systems may have passed into Hezbollah's hands. A conclusive answer to this question will become available only in the event of a new war between Israel and the terrorist group.

However, the ongoing engagement of Iran and Hezbollah in the Syrian war itself provides an inadvertent benefit to Israel. Hezbollah probably has around 10,000 fighters deployed in Syria at any given time. The movement has lost over 1,000 dead in the war. Hezbollah has forces deployed in the northern Bekaa area to hold off the ongoing possibility of cross-border attacks by Sunni forces. With all this to deal with, renewed aggression against Israel may well be a luxury the movement is currently unable to afford.

Russia

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin during the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, November 30, 2015. Photo: Flash90

Russia's direct entry into the Syrian civil war on September 30, 2015 appears to have ended the long stalemate. As of now, regime, Iranian, Hezbollah, and allied forces are moving decisively against the Sunni Arab rebels in Aleppo province. The regime has also made gains further south in Hama and Deraa provinces. Bashar Assad made clear in an interview in February 2016 that his intention is to eventually reconquer the entirety of the country. It appears that the goal of the regime and its allies is to eliminate the non-IS rebellion and secure western Syria, along with the majority of the country's population, for the regime.

This raises the possibility of the regime's eventual return to Quneitra province, which would also imply the return of the Syrian army to the border area. While such an eventuality cannot be ruled out, it should be noted that it does not appear imminent. The regime will need to complete the reconquest of Aleppo and Idleb provinces before such a task can be contemplated. This remains a mammoth task that is only now beginning. The rebellion has proven tenacious and hard to uproot over the last half decade.

Russian air power of course enormously increases the regime's strength. But the old situation in which the regime is able to reconquer areas but then proves unable to police them remains in effect. When it comes to pacifying reconquered areas, air power will be of limited use, unless the regime wishes to simply depopulate the area in question. So while the regime's return to the border area cannot be ruled out, it does not appear imminent.

It is no less important that Israel has been careful to maintain communication with the Russians, and a "deconfliction" regime appears to be in effect between Russian and Israeli air power over Syria. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, and Military Intelligence chief Herzl Halevi travelled to Moscow immediately following the Russian intervention, presumably to lay the groundwork for a channel of communication. As of now, this appears to have permitted Israel to continue to operate in the skies over Syria. Thus, while the emergence of a fledgling Russian-Iranian strategic alliance in the Middle East is surely of concern to Israel, the evidence to date suggests that the alliance by no means implies carte blanche for the Iranians to pursue all their regional goals under the umbrella of Russian air cover. On the contrary, the Russians, as the senior partner in the relationship, dictate when and to what extent cooperation takes place.

Netanyahu, according to the Times of Israel, told Russian President Vladimir Putin in "no uncertain terms" that Israel would not tolerate Tehran's efforts to arm Israel's enemies in the region, and that Jerusalem has taken and will continue to take action against any such attempts. The Times quoted the prime minister saying, "This is our right and also our duty. There were no objections to our rights. There was readiness to make sure that whatever Russia's intentions for Syria, Russia will not be a partner in extreme actions by Iran against us."

Israel appears to have taken at least two actions over Syrian soil since the Russian intervention, indicating that, for now, the agreement appears to be holding. Nevertheless, given Israel's general satisfaction with the situation east of Quneitra under the present arrangement, Jerusalem will no doubt be watching the situation carefully and with some concern regarding the possible return of the regime and other Iran-backed forces to the area.

In this regard, it should be noted that Russia and the Assad regime's stance on current efforts toward a ceasefire include the demand for the exclusion of "terrorist" groups. Thus, even if the efforts were to reach fruition, it is unlikely to have a major impact on Russian-backed regime efforts to reconquer rebel-held areas in the southwest of the country.

Israeli policy with regard to the Syrian civil war offers an example of modest, pragmatic aims pursued with a notable degree of success. Israel is now the only state bordering Syria that has not suffered major fallout from the war. Iraq and to a lesser extent Lebanon have seen the war erupt on their own soil. Jordan and Turkey have been faced with a wave of refugees and, in the latter case, the return of a Kurdish insurgency. Israel has managed, thus far, to avoid all of this.

Given the massive, historic dimensions of the events taking place in Syria and Iraq, this represents a significant achievement. A few kilometers from a conflict in which nearly half a million lives have been lost, normal life is going on unimpeded in the Israeli and Druze communities on the Golan Heights. The lesson for other countries may well be that a sober, pragmatic, realist policy, with clearly set aims and absent grand ambitions for the reshaping of other societies, offers the best route toward success.

Jonathan Spyer is director of the Rubin Center for Research in International Affairs and a fellow at the Middle East Forum.

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Keywords

Author's note: I am indebted to Efrat Ben Ze'ev, Cyrus Schayegh, Faten Ghosn, and William Miles for reading earlier drafts of this article and making valuable comments. I am also thankful to the anonymous reviewers for their constructive critique. Yusri Khaizran deserves special gratitude for helping to set up some of the interviews and for deciphering for me complex Druze social and political practices. Finally, I am grateful to the Institute for Scholarship in the Liberal Arts at the University of Notre Dame for supporting my research trips to northern Israel.

1 Hasan Shaʿalan, “Alfei Druzim Hifginu: Anahnu Muhanim la-Mut le-maʿan Aheinu,” 15 June 2015, accessed 6 November 2015, http://www.ynet.co.il/articles/0,7340,L-4668864,00.html ʿAdi Hashmonay, “ha-Druzim Mitgaysim le-maʿan Aheihem be-Suriyah,” 14 June 2015, accessed 6 November 2015, http://news.walla.co.il/item/2863276.

2 Hassan Shaʿalan and Roi Kais, “Thousands Call on Israel to Save Syrian Druze in Mass Protest,” 13 June 2015, accessed 6 November 2015, http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4667999,00.html. See particularly the embedded video of this piece.

3 See, for example, Yahya Dabuq, “Hal Tatadakhal Yisraʾil ʿAskariyyan bi-Dhariʿat Himayat al-Duruz?,” al-Akhbar, 5 June 2015, accessed 6 November 2015, http://www.al-akhbar.com/node/234815 and Muʾassasat al-ʿIrfan li-Duruz Suriya: Siyasat Yisraʾil Marfuda wa-Lastum bi-Haja ila Tadakhuliha,” al-Manar, 22 June 2015, accessed 11 June 2015, http://www.almanar.com.lb/adetails.php?eid=1229039.

4 Noa Shpigel and Jackie Khury, Be-Mehaʾah ʿal ha-Tipul ha-Yisraʾeli be-Mordim Surim: Druzim Takfu Ambulans Tsvaʾi, Haaretz, 22 June 2015, accessed 6 November 2015, http://www.haaretz.co.il/news/politics/1.2665855.

5 ʿAdi Hashmonay, “Meʾot Druzim Hifginu: Aheinu be-Sakanat Haim, Yisrael Tsrikhah le-Hitʿarev,” 15 June 2015, accessed 6 November 2015, http://news.walla.co.il/item/2863597.

6 Agnew , John , “ The Territorial Trap: The Geographical Assumptions of International Relations Theory ,” Review of International Political Economy 1 ( 1994 ): 53 – 80 CrossRefGoogle Scholar .

7 See two recent examples of studies whose analysis intentionally and conceptually goes beyond the nation-state: Tawil-Suri , Helga , “ Cinema as the Space to Transgress Palestine's Territorial Trap ,” Middle East Journal of Culture and Communication 7 ( 2014 ): 169 –89CrossRefGoogle Scholar and Schayegh , Cyrus , “ The Many Worlds of ʿAbud Yasin or, What Narcotics Trafficking in the Interwar Middle East Can Tell Us about Territorialization,” American Historical Review 116 ( 2011 ): 273 – 306 CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed .

8 Howitt , Richard , “ Scale ,” in A Companion to Political Geography , ed. Agnew , John et al. ( Malden, Mass .: Blackwell Publishing , 2003 ), 138 Google Scholar .

9 Taylor , Peter J. and Flint , Colin , Political Geography: World Economy, Nation-State and Locality , 6th ed . ( New York : Routledge , 2011 )Google Scholar Delaney , David and Leitner , Helga , “ Political Construction of Scale ,” Political Geography 162 ( 1997 ): 93 – 97 CrossRefGoogle Scholar . See also Jonas , Andrew E. G. , “ Scale ,” in The Wiley Blackwell Companion to Political Geography , ed. Agnew , John et al. ( Chichester, UK, and Hoboken, N.J. : Wiley , 2015 ), 26 – 27 CrossRefGoogle Scholar .

10 Howitt , Richard , “ Scale as Relation: Musical Metaphors of Geographical Scale ,” Area 30 ( 1998 ): 49 – 58 Google Scholar .

11 Anzaldúa , Gloria , Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza ( San Francisco, Calif. : Anunt Lute Books , 1987 ), 3 Google Scholar .

12 I borrow the term “alienated border” from the famous borderland typology of Oscar Martínez who defined it as one where “cross-boundary interchange is practically nonexistent owing to extremely unfavorable conditions.” Martínez , Oscar , Border People: Life and Society in the U.S.–Mexico Borderlands ( Tucson, Ariz. : University of Arizona Press , 1994 ), 5 – 10 Google Scholar .

13 For a Lebanese perspective on the connection between northern Palestine and southern Lebanon, see Bazzi , Mustafa , Jabal ʿAmil wa-Tawabiʿihi fi Shimal Filastin ( Beirut : Dar al-Mawasim , 2002 )Google Scholar .

14 Dana , Nissim , The Druze in the Middle East: Their Faith, Leadership, Identity and Status ( Brighton : Sussex Academic Press , 2003 ), 18 – 19 Google Scholar Firro , Kais M. , The Druzes in the Jewish State: A Brief History ( Leiden : Brill , 1999 ), 16 Google Scholar .

15 Harris , William , Lebanon: A History 600–2011 ( Oxford : Oxford University Press , 2012 ), 115 –16Google Scholar .

16 Hazran , Yusri , The Druze Community and the Lebanese State between Confrontation and Reconciliation ( Hoboken, N.J. : Taylor & Francis , 2014 ), 17 Google Scholar . See also how marriage patterns have largely reflected the separation between the two camps in Alamuddin , Nura S. and Starr , Paul D. , Crucial Bonds: Marriage among the Lebanese Druze ( Delmar, N.Y. : Caravan Books , 1980 ), 74 – 88 Google Scholar .

17 Firro, The Druzes in the Jewish State, 22–25, 71–127 Firro , , “ Druze maqāmāt (Shrines) in Israel: From Ancient to Newly-Invented Tradition ,” British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies 32 ( 2005 ), 217 –39CrossRefGoogle Scholar .

18 See, for example, Halabi , Rabbah , Ezrahim Shvey Hovot: Zehut Druzit ve-ha-Medina ha-Yehudit ( Tel-Aviv : ha-Kibutz ha-Meyuhad , 2006 )Google Scholar .

19 See the use of this phrase in the context of the solidarity of Israeli and Lebanese Druze with their Syrian coreligionists: “Hamlat Tabarruʿat li-Duruz Suriya Taht Shiʿar Tabaq al-Nahhas,” 5 June 2015, accessed 18 November 2015, http://www.hona.co.il/news-16,N-11700.html and “Tahlilat Ikhbariyya,” al-Diyar, 1 March 2014, accessed 19 November 2015, http://www.addiyar.com/article/581797.

20 Interviews with the author, Hurfish, 21 January 2016. See also Abou-Hodeib , Toufoul , “ Sanctity across the Border: Pilgrimage Routes and State Control in Mandate Lebanon and Palestine ,” in The Routledge Handbook of the History of the Middle East Mandates , ed. Schayegh , Cyrus and Arsan , Andrew ( London : Routledge , 2015 ), 383 –94Google Scholar .

21 Jewish Agency, Political Department, Arab Section, 1 November 1942, S25/10226, Central Zionist Archives (CZA), Jerusalem.

22 Firro, The Druzes in the Jewish State, 25.

23 Tarif , ʿAbd Allah Salim , Sirat Sayyidina Fadilat “al-Shaykh Amin Tarif” wa-Sirat Hayat Sayyidina al-Marhum “al-Shaykh ʿAli Faris” ( Julis : n.p., 1987 ), 82 Google Scholar .

25 Ibid., 64–66 Fallah , ʿAli Nasib , Maqam al-Nabi Shuʿayb wa-Ghurfat al-Shaykh Nasib ( Kafar Samiʿ, Israel : ʿAli Nasib Fallah , 2003 ), 57 – 70 Google Scholar . See also Junblatt , Kamal ’s account of frequent visits of Palestinian Druze to Mukhtara, his hometown, in Kamal Joumblatt , Pour le Liban ( Paris : Stock , 1978 ), 90 − 91 Google Scholar .

26 Firro, The Druzes in the Jewish State, 21−22.

27 A report on the celebrations of Nabi Shuʿayb, 24 April 1944, S25/21107-8, CZA Abou-Hodeib, “Sanctity across the Border,” 390–91.

28 See also Muʿadi , Mansur , Rajul al-Karamat, al-Shaykh Jabar Dahish Muʿaddi ( Yarka : printed by author , 2014 )Google Scholar . The book contains documentations and accounts of diverse relationships between Palestinian, Syrian, and Lebanese Druze before 1948.

29 Scholarship on Israeli Druze tends to be broadly divided into two approaches. The first argues that Israel (even during the Yishuv years in Mandatory Palestine) has shrewdly used divide-and-rule policies to artificially separate Arab Druze from other Arab-Palestinian communities. Kais Firro's previously referenced book can be squarely placed within this group. See also Halabi, Ezrahim Shvey Hovot. The second approach points to a disconnection between Palestinian Druze and other Arabs in Palestine during the Mandate years. In 1948, it is argued, Druze strategically decided to align themselves with Israel and consequently a “blood oath” was established between them and the Jewish state. Nissim Dana's The Druze in the Middle East is a clear illustration of this line of argument. See also Nisan , Mordechai , “ The Druze in Israel: Questions of Identity, Citizenship, and Patriotism ,” Middle East Journal 64 ( 2010 ): 575 −96CrossRefGoogle Scholar . Both approaches, however, acknowledge that since 1948, Druze have been discriminated against by the state. But while the former sees this discrimination as a structural condition inherent in the definition and practices of Israel as a Jewish state, the latter sees it as an unfortunate reality that should and could be amended.


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