IDF denies involvement in Syrian suicide attack, vows to protect Druze
Denying allegations made by pro-Syrian regime figures, IDF says it was not involved in rebel attack on Druze village of Hader; Syrian rebel forces habitually, intentionally operate near border with Israel; IDF possesses several plans to counteract possible Hader takeover, including cross-border ground operation.
In light of the Syrian accusations levied against the IDF for supposedly helping rebel forces carry out a suicide attack in the Syrian Druze village of Hader Friday, the army published an extraordinary announcement saying it was "Ready and willing to assist the people of the village and would prevent Hader from being harmed or occupied out of a sense of commitment to the Druze people."
National Security Advisor Meir Ben-Shabbat made the same point to the Israeli Druze community's spiritual leader Mowafaq Tarif, telling him Israel will not allow terrorist elements to overtake Hader.
After opening trading at the London Stock Exchange, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu referred to the position Israel is taking in light of the heated hostilities within Syria.
Netanyahu stated that Israel will continue to protect its borders in the north and south, while maintaining sympathy to "our Druze Brethren."
After the attack, hundreds of Druze from the Israeli side of the border rioted near Majdal Shams.
The IDF said the rioters broke through a gate in the border fence and ten of them came within several dozen meters of the fence. IDF forces gave pursuit and returned the Druze protesters to Israeli territory. The rioters were handed over to the police, which will decide whether to further detain them.
The near break-through, the first since the May 2011 riots to succeed despite the new, double fence built on the border, came on the heels of an particularly tense day that started with a suicide bombing in Hader, claiming the lives of at least nine and wounding 23 when al-Nusra Front terrorists detonated a car bomb there.
The riots in Majdal Shams escalated further when some of the village's residents found out their relatives were murdered in Hader.
The heads of the Druze community in Israel stated Friday the community's leaders, including Tarif, met with GOC Northern Command Maj.-Gen. Yoel Strick in the army's Mount Hermon outpost.
Tarif demanded the IDF do its utmost to prevent Hader being overrun or its denizens harmed out of Israel and the army's commitment to the Israeli Druze community. The Druze leaders further maintained senior political and military ranks gave them their word the IDF will not allow Hader to be occupied and will endeavor to return the situation there to normal.
Tarif and the other Druze leaders then called on Israeli Druze to not be led astray by rumor mongering on social media and elsewhere regarding the severity of the situation.
The Nusra Front force, which attacked Hader earlier Friday, entered the village after flanking it by moving on the eastern side of the Israeli border, very close to the border itself. This brought about Syrian and Druze claims the attacks was carried out under Israeli auspices, or at the very least with the army turning a blind eye to it. The army vigorously disavowed the allegations. Syrian rebels oftentimes cling to the Israeli border fence when battling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's army out of the assumption they would not be attacked due to their position.
In a Northern Command status evaluation, it was decided to maintain high alert and readiness near the border while using existing routine security battalions, and to forego sending reinforcements to the forces already active as part of the Golan Division. Northern Command, in fact, made preparations for a possible escalation as far back as three weeks ago, in light of increased fighting in the northern Golan Heights between Assad's army and the Syrian rebels.
In order to calm spirits and prevent further riots in Majdal Shams, Buq'ata and Mas'ade, the three Israeli Druze villages near the border, senior Northern Command officers have been keeping Israeli Druze community elders abreast of all developments.
Hader, a large Druze village under Assad's control, is, in fact, under light Israeli military and air de-facto control: outposts on the Hermon's slopes overlook it, tanks are permanently deployed opposite it and Northern Command has been preparing plans to operate inside it for the past two years.
In response of the fighting in the area, IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, GOC Northern Command Strick and Bashan Division Commander Brig.-Gen. Yaniv Asor held a status evaluation of their own in the early afternoon hours of Friday.
As for the IDF possibly operating within Hader itself, the Northern Command has prepared several alternatives for operation, the most extreme of which entails cross-border ground operations. Should the IDF decide to interfere in the fighting, however, it will be able to attack either from the ground or the air, due to the Israeli oversight over the village mentioned above.
When the status evaluation concluded, the IDF published its announcement saying it would refrain from overtaking Hader. "Claims regarding Israeli involvement and assistance provided to world jihad elements in the Golan Heights fighting were baseless," the army added.
"In contravention of the lies propagated by certain interested parties, Israel does not, has not and will not assist any terrorist element in harming the people of Hader. On the contrary, we will maintain our stance side by side with the Golan Heights' Druze community," IDF Arabic Spokesperson Maj. Avichai Adraee posted on Facebook.
A lie such as the one Adraee was referring to was disseminated by secretary-general of the Quneitra Ba'ath Party, who said, "The Zionist enemy has been continually providing medal services to terrorists and assisting in their attacks."
Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt addressed the people of Hader after the attack and the IDF's announcement it would help them should rebels overrun their village. "Do not believe Israel or those calling for it help will assist you. Unite and count on yourselves alone, as well as on any impartial and honest Arab support," he said.