It is rare for a country to have to rethink its strategic roadmap. Nevertheless, Israel may be approaching the point in time when it will have to reboot and restart its geo-strategic thinking, if that has not yet been done. In fact, that point in time is staring us in the face and we simply must think out of the box to see and address it, before a head-on collision shatters that very same box without our having plans prepared for a changing reality.
The catalysts that brought Israel to realize that there is a turning point are the Syrian Druze. Israel must, and I repeat, must, do everything and even beyond everything, to help the Druze minority in Syria survive as it faces the Islamist forces who intend to destroy it. Whether it is Islamic state or Jabhat al Nusra who are preparing the “Final Solution” for the Druze in Syria is of no matter. When Islamic State overcomes Jabhat al Nusra, any understanding Israel has made with this organization will vaporize exactly like the ones Israel signed with the Syrian regime.
There are about 700,000 Druze in Syria, concentrated in three main areas: the Mountain of the Druze (Druze Mountain) in southern Syria adjoining the Jordanian border, the Khader enclave on the southeastern slopes of the Hermon east of Majdal Shams, and the Aleppo-Idlib region in northern Syria, near the Turkish border. No one expects Israel to reach northern Syria to help the Druze who live there, but many of those who live in Southern Syria – on Druze Mountain and in the Khader enclave– expect Israel to do something to prevent the ISIS butcher knives from reaching their necks.
Their brothers in Israel are citizens with equal rights and duties, serving in the IDF – in combat units for the most part. The proportion of Druze who volunteer for combat units is greater than that of Jewish youth. The silence of the military cemeteries in Druze villages shouts the oath of loyalty they have sworn, the pact of blood that this wonderful group has made with the Jewish people in its resurrected homeland. And they are the brothers, cousins and in-laws of the Druze in Syria.
The Druze in Israel are deeply anxious about the danger that threatens their brothers in Syria if Islamic State conquers the southern part of thecountry. They know for certain that the lot of the Druze will echo the lot of the Yazidi in Iraq; the men will be slaughtered and the women sold in the marketplace as slaves. The Druze in Israel fear that the world will view the suffering of their brothers with equanimity and will not act decisively and rapidly, the way it failed to do when ISIS came close to totally destroying the Yazidi on Mount Sinjar in Iraq. The reality of the past year makes every scenario – even the most horrendous ones imaginable – a real possibility.
The Druze in Israel say to themselves quite simply: “if the residents of Druze Mountain were Jews, the State of Israel would do everything to protect and rescue them. If there is a pact of blood between the Jews and the Druze, then it is being tested now on Druze Mountain and the Khader enclave.” Their reasoning is also simple: The pact of blood cannot be one-sided, where the Druze go out to battle, are killed and wounded for the Jewish State. Either it is a two way pact, in which the state goes out to save the Druze who are under a clear and present threat, the most immediate and severe ever, or it is no pact at all.
The situation in Syria forces Israel to take a stand, as President Rivlin said eloquently in his call to the Secretary General of the UN to protect the Druze in Syria. Except that words are not going to save the Druze, only actions can do that, and the more decisive these actions are, the more effect they will have.
Israel must view Druze Mountain as vital territory to all intents and purposes, and in the same vein, view those living on it as blood brothers. There were times when Israel did not come to the aid of those who had helped it (the Southern Lebanese Army – Tzadal – for example), but now, Israel must take every step necessary to prove to the Druze that it stands faithful to them no less than it is to Jews, in Israel and everywhere else. This is a moral stand with civilian, political and security implications.
There are people in Israel who say “Why get involved in saving the Druze in Syria, when they were loyal subjects of Assad for years, both Hafez and Bashar, and even acted against us more than once.The Druze in the Golan Heights refused Israeli citizenship so they never became Israelis.” My answer: The Druze in the Golan were afraid, after the 1967 war, that Israel would return them along with the Golan one of these days. And then they would find themselves in the torture chambers of the Syrian secret service, so in order to protect themselves from those torture chambers they remained loyal to Syria. Who can blame them?
Israel can take several steps, all or some of them, depending on developments on the ground:
1. Israel can create a military unit, made up of minorities, whose soldiers are Druze, and who will go to help on Druze Mountain if and when the need arises. Druze fighters doing compulsory service, career officers and reservists who normally belong to other units can be moved into this unit. It is important to form the unit and begin to train its fighters right away, so that if the need arises they can be sent to the battlefield as soon as the decision to do so is reached. A Druze project manager, preferably high-ranking, should push for the wherewithal to establish the unit, man it, and receive equipment, weapons and training.
2. Israel should be making plans for attacking concentrations of ISIS fighters near Druze Mountain from the air.
3. In the event that the Syrian regime collapses and the country falls apart, Israel must immediately take over the area tangent to the Jordan-Syrian border in order to create a dry land corridor between the Golan and the Druze Mountain. This corridor will make it possible to transfer armed forces as needed to protect Druze Mountain.
4. Israel must set up a field hospital in the Golan to offer medical care for the Druze, in order to keep them separate from hostile forces.
5. Israel must organize transfer of civil and military aid (arms, medicine, food and funds) to the Druze fighters on Druze Mountain, as needed.
Israel cannot stay on the sidelines when the Druze of Syria are facing extermination. This would be immoral, inhuman and self-destructive. We will pay the price for doing nothing when we look in the mirror and search for the moral person reflected there.
The Minority Pact
The Druze are not the last of these problems, because in Syria, Iraq and every other place the Jihadists have conquered, each minority lives in fear of being the next on line. This is a perfectly justified fear, and encompasses the Druze, Yazidi, Christians, Alawites, Zoroastrians, Bahais, Sabians, Mandeans – all of them non-Muslim, but also the Shiites, the Hezbollah and their people, all of them living in fear of the Sunni Jihadists as well.
Israel must work to establish the “Middle East Minorities Pact” which will place all these minorities under one umbrella, even if they once fought each other, as the Shiite Hezbollah and Jews do. The logic behind this is the fact that they are all facing the same enemy and must work together to defeat it. If they don’t, they will weaken themselves by constant infighting and bring about their own end.
This may seem delusional, but as times goes by, it becomes clear that this most large and expanding enemy will force all the minorities to join forces against it.
Israel must find a secret channel for talking to Hezbollah, the most problematic of the minorities because of its blood soaked past and our animosity towards the Lebanese Shiites.
We are left with only one question; what will Iran’s stand be vis a vis a coalition of minorities which has Israel on the same bench as Hezbollah? In my opinion, Iran will not prevent the coalition from forming because it is going to be the only way to ensure the continued existence of the Shiites in Lebanon, a group whose continued existence is more important to the Iranians than the destruction of Israel.
Reprinted with author’s permission from Israel National News