Israel reportedly armed and funded at least 12 rebel groups in southern Syria to prevent Iranian-sponsored insurgents affiliated with Islamic State from becoming embedded near the Golan, according to a report in Foreign Policy magazine.
Testimonies from more than 20 commanders in Foreign Policy noted that Israel supplied the weapons and cash to rebel groups throughout “Operation Good Neighbor” – launched in 2016 and shut down in July once the Assad regime regained control of the Syrian side of the Golan Heights – to keep troops belonging to Hezbollah and Iran away from the border of the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights.
On Monday, the IDF maintained its position that the IDF did not interfere in the Syrian Civil War.
In addition to allocating funds for Syrian insurgents to purchase arms on the Syrian black market, Israel reportedly paid $75 monthly per soldier, according to testimonies from journalists and rebel fighters in Syria.
Through Operation Good Neighbor, the Israeli military provided more than 1,524 tons of food, 250 tons of clothes, 947,520 liters of fuel, 21 generators, 24,900 palettes of medical equipment and medicine.
Reports first surfaced of Israel providing arms and cash to rebel groups several years ago. The regime of Bashar Assad claimed Israel was providing arms to terrorist groups, and that its forces regularly seized arms and munitions stamped in Hebrew.
According to The Wall Street Journal, Israel had been arming at least seven different rebel groups in Syria’s Golan Heights, including the Fursan al-Joulan rebel group which had around 400 fighters and was given an estimated $5,000 per month by Israel. “Israel stood by our side in a heroic way,” the group’s spokesperson, Moatasem al-Golani, told the The Wall Street Journal in a January 2017 report. “We wouldn’t have survived without Israel’s assistance.”
Israel has repeatedly warned against Iran’s entrenchment in Syria, has stressed that the country cannot serve as an Iranian forward operating base, and warned against Damascus becoming a way station for arms smuggling to Hezbollah in Lebanon.
While Israel’s military had been carrying out operations against Iranian targets in Syria for several years, its extent only became public after an IAF F-16 was downed by Syrian air defenses in February.
On Monday, the military announced that in the past year and half alone, Israel has carried out 200 strikes against Iranian and Hezbollah targets in Syria.
Last year former Israel Air Force head Maj.-Gen. (res.) Amir Eshel stated that the IAF carried out 100 airs trikes in Syria over the past five years.
The Syrian army, backed by Russian airpower and Iranian Shi’ite militia fighters, has recaptured large swathes of territory formerly held by rebels, and is now believed to have control over 70% of the war-torn country.
While Syrian troops have once again been deployed to the border with Israel, in order to prevent an escalation between the two enemy countries, Russian military police have been deployed along the Golan Heights border along with UN Peacekeepers.