On one recent evening, IDF troops from the 366th Division operating in the Golan Heights received an urgent request for help from the Syrian people across the border - to evacuate a severely wounded Syrian citizen who would die if not immediately taken to a hospital in Israel.
The soldiers, who were familiar with the Syrian source as a credible one, immediately answered in the affirmative. The division's medical officer and soldiers from the Givati reconnaissance battalion began preparations to receive the wounded man.
Several weeks ago, the rebel groups were able to force out Assad's army and the militias supporting it from most of the area of the Syrian Golan Heights, driving both them and Hezbollah out to the foothills of Mount Hermon. As a result, the hostilities subsided and the number of Syrian wounded seeking medical treatment in Israel has dropped significantly.
The majority of Syrian citizens who were still being evacuated to Israeli hospitals were children, elderly people suffering from severe medical problems, and women with complications from giving birth. For the most part, these citizens were not in need of urgent medical care on the ground. Consequently, the IDF made the decision to close down the special field hospital it had set up in one of the army outposts near the fence, and instead transferred those in need of medical care directly to hospitals in the Galilee area.
However, heavy fighting on the Syrian Golan has recently erupted again. This time, it is between rebel groups who are brutally fighting over control of an area they had taken from the regime's hands.
It is due to this reason that mortar shells have landed in Israel during the past two weeks as part of the internal Syrian conflict spilling over into the country, and it is also why wounded Syrians have been arriving almost daily to the security fence, seeking medical help. It is likely that most if not all of these nationals are rebels from the rival jihadist Islamic State and al-Nusra Front groups.
A day before the division headquarters were notified of the wounded Syrian, the same Syrian source asked to transfer a woman in labor who required a cesarean delivery.
The medical teams, including the Division Medical Officer and other physicians, stationed themselves near the fence and were prepared for the delivery. However, the Syrian official then informed the teams that the woman had successfully given birth on the way to the fence. The humanitarian operation was cancelled and the troops left the area.
On the next day, when a medical evacuation request was made by the Syrians for the severely wounded citizen, there were no doctors present near the transfer point.
The decision was then made that Givati paramedics would meet him near the fence, and transfer him in an armored vehicle to a hidden spot a few hundred meters away, where an ambulance would be waiting to take him to one of the hospitals in the north.
It was almost two years ago when members of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) first initiated the transfer of wounded Syrian citizens from the Syrian Golan to Israel. Most of them had no chance of reaching a hospital without being transferred to one in Israel.
Since then, almost 1,600 wounded Syrians have been treated in Israel. Meanwhile, however, UNDOF posts were attacked and the Quneitra crossing was closed, and communication between the two sides is now conducted between trusted intermediaries.
Naturally, one cannot elaborate on the subject for fear of endangering contacts on the Syrian side. All armed groups on the ground, both insurgents or regime fighters, mainly Islamists, refuse to have direct contact with Israel.
In practice, however, at least some of them turn a blind eye, as the issue at hand is saving lives and they have no other alternative.
In addition, it is no secret that the villages on the Syrian Golan Heights and even the Islamist rebels who control them and operate near the border fence have a strong interest in avoiding clashes with the IDF. Israel shares a similar interest in not disrupting routine life in its territory. It is in this way that the humanitarian relationship broadly serves both sides.
At around 8 pm on the day the wounded Syrian was transferred, parties on the Syrian side announced they were approaching the fence. The Israeli ambulance and paramedics readied themselves, while Givati troops received a briefing and then headed out to the fence area. Their role is to make sure that those who sent the wounded citizens to the area had not laden them with explosives, as well as to ensure that the wounded person was not bait in a scheme designed to lure IDF troops into an ambush.
Considering the information Israel has on its new neighbors across the border on the Golan Heights – these extra precautions are necessary. Half an hour later, the commander of the forces stationed near the border gave approval to send out the armored vehicle carrying the paramedics to collect the wounded citizen, who was already waiting on the Israeli side.