Although the Israeli media and United Nations observers in the occupied Golan Heights have openly reported wounded Syrian rebels being transported into Israel for medical treatment, active support for the fighting has not surfaced – until now.
According to the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) Israel has been secretly providing aid to Syrian rebels in the Golan Heights for years with the goal of maintaining a buffer zone of friendly forces to keep the Islamic State (IS) and forces aligned with Iran at bay.
The support has been substantial and direct, including cash funds, food, fuel and medical supplies, creating a reality in which several armed groups and much of the civilian population in the area are reliant on Israeli aid, the WSJ reported.
The report’s finding are based on information provided by "half a dozen rebels and three people familiar with Israel's thinking," who said that Israel's secret dealings with the rebels began as early as 2013 under former Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Ya'alon and that they continue to this day, with the goal of keeping pro-Iranian groups, like Hezbollah, away from the border.
The WSJ’s sources stated that the cooperation involved a special Israeli army unit which provided aid. Furthermore, this cooperation had advanced to the point where a specific budget had been set aside by the Israelis for continued cooperation.
The main group coordinating with Israel, the Fursan Al Joulan (Knights of the Golan), receives approximately $5,000 per month which is used to pay salaries and to purchase weapons.
However, it receives no other Western support and is unaffiliated with the Free Syrian Army (FSA).
"Israel stood by our side in a heroic way," the group's spokesman, Moatasem Al Golani told WSJ.
"We wouldn't have survived without Israel's assistance."
Golani explained that cooperation began when wounded fighters from among the group's ranks managed to reach the Israeli border where they begged for help from Israeli soldiers who spoke Arabic.
Subsequently a secret channel was established after they were taken for medical care. Fousan Al Joulan comprises approximately 400 fighters and is allied with four other groups on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights, all of whom are being aided by Israel and some of whom receive Western backing and are affiliated with the FSA.
There are fears that these revelations could exacerbate tensions between the Jewish State and Syria with the two countries still technically at war despite many years of a cold peace. The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) has refused to comment on the issue.