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In Support of Rania Khalek and Debate on Issues of Justice and Equality.

Originally posted on The South Lawn:

I really should not even have to write this post. I doubt that most would ever understand what makes this post necessary.

In fact, whenever I have to explain the stuff that happens on social media to people who spend little to no time in that world, they express a sense of puzzlement at best. It is almost as if I have told them that the oceans are purple, or that I have a third eye in the back of my head.

So you can imagine the time that I have had explaining the stuff that has happened to Rania Khalek — a journalist that is committed to anti-imperialist struggle both here and in Palestine, as well as a dear friend — over the last few days. Rania made the dastardly mistake of lightlyquestioning an organizing strategy being forwarded around by luminaries in a section of Twitter popularly known…

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Podcast: Right-Wing Attacks on Outspoken Muslims and Anti-Muslim Racism in the UK

Telegraph writer Andrew Gilligan has a history of right-wing attacks against radical Muslims in the United Kingdom and smear them in his reporting. Gilligan’s latest attack was against Abdullah al-Andalusi, an Islamic lecturer and writer.

Al-Andalusi was the target of Gilligan’s slimy attack because he has worked for the public sector in the UK. Gilligan questioned whether Muslims should be permitted to work civil service jobs and tried to gin up additional fear by shamefully distorting al-Andalusi’s previous writing to make him seem like an Islamic State sympathizer. He is this week’s guest on the “Unauthorized Disclosure” podcast.

Astonishingly, despite the fact that al-Andalusi has a public persona and six years of lectures, writings, and television appearances, Gilligan still managed to cut-and-paste sentences from an article denouncing the Islamic State in order to argue al-Andalusi supported the Islamic State.

Al-Andalusi had crossed the line in the eyes of reactionaries in the British press when he compared ISIS practices to previous atrocities committed by British or US armies in the Middle East. However, as he points out, he is not the first person to put forward this analysis condemning any entity, including Western governments, which commit crimes against humanity.

He explains during the interview how he is cast as some kind of terrorist sympathizer because he is Muslim, even though others like writer/lecturer Noam Chomsky have also made similar arguments.

“That kind of discrimination is the epitome of the kind of unequal treatment and consideration Muslims are given vis-à-vis non-Muslim citizens,” in the United Kingdom, al-Andalusi adds. He goes on to address programs, such as PREVENT, and other tactics by the British government to address Islamic extremism and describes how these policies fuel and are reinforced by anti-Muslim racism.

During the discussion portion, hosts Rania Khalek and Kevin Gosztola discuss the Chattanooga shooting, Saudi Arabia rounding up over 400 people suspected of involvement in Islamic State plots, the Iran nuclear deal, Obama’s NAACP speech, and Sandra Bland.

The podcast is available on iTunes for download. For a link (and also to download the episode), go here. Click on “go here” and a page will load with the audio file of the podcast. The file will automatically start playing so you can listen to the episode.

Please follow the show on Twitter at @UnauthorizedDis.

Israelis share photos of children demanding death to “terrorists”

Photos of Israeli children posted to Facebook holding signs calling for the death penalty against “terrorists” (faces obscured by The Electronic Intifada).

Crossposted from The Electronic Intifada

A Facebook campaign demanding the execution of “terrorists” went viral in Israel last weekend, with Israelis posting photos of themselves, their children and their pets holding signs demanding the death penalty.

The campaign was launched by Sharon Gal, a former journalist and first-term lawmaker from the far right Yisrael Beiteinu party.

Gal recently sponsored legislation that would have made it easier for judges to sentence ”convicted murderer[s] motivated by nationalism” to death both inside Israel and the occupied West Bank.

Though Israel already has a death penalty option on the books, a death sentence hasn’t been carried out since the hanging of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann in 1962. The true purpose of the bill was not the death penalty, it was racist incitement catering to the right-wing chauvinism surging through the Israeli Jewish public after reaching its peak during last summer’s brutal assault on Gaza.

Indeed, the bill is the partial fulfillment of one of many fanatical campaign promises by Yisrael Beiteinu chair Avigdor Lieberman, who rallied his right-wing base during election season by calling for the execution of Palestinian prisoners and the beheading of Palestinians disloyal to the state of Israel.

Bezalel Smotrich, a freshman lawmaker from the ultra-nationalist Habeyit Hayehudi (Jewish Home) party and a deputy speaker in the Knesset, attempted to outdo Gal by offering to personally carry out the executions during an appearance on Israel’s Knesset Channel.

“Death to terrorists”

On 8 July, in the lead up to the death penalty bill vote that was ultimately shelved by Netanyahu at the last minute, Gal initiated a Facebook campaign calling on Israelis to pressure the government to support the bill by sharing photos of themselves on social media holding signs that read ”I too am in favor of the death penalty for terrorists.”

“Terrorist” is a loose term in the Israeli lexicon that is interchangeable with “Arab” and applies exclusively to Palestinians. In effect, “death to terrorists” amounts to a thinly veiled version of the far more common Israeli slogan “death to Arabs.”

The response to Gal’s Facebook post was overwhelming, garnering nearly 24,000 likes and more than 1,500 replies, with all but a handful of people pledging their support.

While the unsettling incitement to violence from Israeli politicians is nothing new, this latest campaign highlighted a disturbing trend. Israelis posted photos not just of themselves but also small children agitating for executions. This comes in the aftermath of the Jerusalem Day march in April, when The Electronic Intifada documented the participation of children in “death to the Arabs” marches, suggesting an alarming pattern of ever younger children being steeped in Israel’s culture of supremacist violence.

A commenter named Efrat Trister responded to Gal’s Facebook post with a photo of two little girls clutching the pro-death penalty message. Trister added ”They may be small but they are also smart.”

 “My 12-year-old niece also joins the campaign, representing the children,” wrote another commenter who shared a photo of a smiling girl posing with the sign.

Gal jubilantly responded, “More power to you and your niece. You have no idea how much this affects the ministers, who will decide on Sunday whether or not to give their support. We’ve got to continue this until Sunday — more and more Israelis — the more photos the better, here and around the Internet.”

Shira Pahima posted a photo of a happy little girl and a man, possibly her father, holding the same sign, which reads, “Stop tying up the soldiers’ hands, if someone sets out to kill you — kill him first, long live the Jewish state of Israel, all respect to the IDF [Israeli army].”

Obviously these children cannot be held responsible for the views they are advertising, which is why The Electronic Intifada has chosen to pixelate their faces in all these photos (the originals were posted to Facebook without any such protection). Many of the children are too small to even read the messages they are holding. This does however reflect how the violent extremism coursing through Israeli society travels from the top down, incited by government officials like Sharon Gal and Bezalel Smotrich.

It also speaks to the normalization of Jewish extremism within Israel, which has become so casual and accepted that parents see no problem with posting photos of their children championing execution.

Israelis similarly staged photos of their pets holding pro-death penalty signs:

Selection of photos posted to Facebook by Israelis of their pets with messages demanding the death penalty for ”terrorists.”

Israelis are not ashamed to publicize their racism and bloodlust.

A man by the name Oren Shtinberg was elated to see his photo featured on Israeli television.

“I’m honored to have had my photo appear today on Oded Ben Ami’s six o’clock news show. I’m crossing my fingers that this law will pass and be implemented without delay!!!” wrote Shtinberg in a Facebook post. Gal replied, “More power to you, Oren. Every photo brings us closer to the goal. The ministers in the committee will not be able to ignore 87 percent of support among the nation of Israel on Sunday.”

A commenter by the name of Lana Letichevski seemed to view the scourge of police murders of US citizens as a source of inspiration, saying: ”This has got to be put into place. It’s not possible that in the US cops can shoot terrorists and here they can’t!!! Instead, they’re sent for a 5-star prison to study for a degree!!”

Oz Maoz added, “I’m also for the death penalty for terrorists and stone-throwers!!!”

Shlomi Eliyahu remarked, “I hope it passes, they [Palestinians] should start to think twice before they pick up a rock even if it’s to play hopscotch.”

Udishiri Ohayon, who identified as a US military veteran, said, “I too, as a former US soldier and a proud Israeli definitely death to terrorists, founders and supporters of terror. Add in various stone throwers, suicide-committers, and firebomb throwers. No excuse, no pity. I’m in!”

The conflation of throwing of rocks at Israeli soldiers with terrorism is a common view among Israelis. Some have even agitated for executing stone throwers on sight, even if they are children.

A commenter by the name Moshe Shecheter posted a photo of a gun with magazine clips full of ammo surrounding the message, “Bibi, unchain our hands.”

Israelis often complain that occupying soldiers are unfairly restrained when dealing with Palestinians, despite reality being the complete opposite.

A commenter named Vered Ben Shitrit shared a photo of herself holding the pro-death penalty sign while wearing her military uniform.

Nir Balinco shared an image of the US flag with the comment, “All of us also want a death penalty for terrorists!!!! Including their family!!!”

While there was little pushback against Gal’s incitement campaign, the few who publicly opposed it were deluged with vitriolic threats. Social justice and human rights blogger Yossi Gurvitz was one of them.

Appalled by Gal’s Facebook campaign, Gurvitz replied with a photo of himself holding a sign that reads:

I also support the death penalty FOR SHARON GAL after a short but fair trial.

(Based on the precedent of JULIUS STREICHER at Nuremberg, who was executed for racist incitement, which was found to be a crime against humanity.)

(Google that, Gal. And try to think of better last words than his. You’re both “journalists.”)

Gurvitz was instantly deluged with an unprecedented volume of threats, some of which he posted to Twitter.

“I wish everyone here painful death, you are haters of Israel, sharmutas [Arabic for whore] of Arabs, you are not Jews, you’re rabble,” cried one angry commenter. ”People like you should be stoned in the city square, you garbage can,” added another. “Sometimes I wonder why Hitler only did half the job,” another remarked.

“I wanted to remind people that incitement to racism may become, if people act on it, a crime against humanity, and that people have been punished for it,” Gurvitz told me over email. “I expected some hatred in return — I’m rather used to it — but I was frankly surprised by the volume of it,” he continued. “I received more death threats and rape threats in the last two days than I received in the last two years.”

Racist incitement

Gurvitz attributed the lack of opposition to the incitement campaign to a weak Israeli left.

“There was some push-back, aged leftists expressing their shock and dismay (which is a specialty of the species), but hardly any coherent action against it. The signs themselves are of course legal, but the Israeli left has little power in it to actually oppose it,” he wrote.

Meanwhile, the ritualistic incitement to violence by Israelis on social media, encouraged by top government officials, has proven deadly for Palestinians.

A new report by a group called the Coalition Against Racism finds that a sharp rise in anti-Arab attacks since 2013 coincided with racist incitement by Israeli elected officials and decision makers.

Netanyahu’s incitement to revenge for the killing of three Israeli teens last year led to the burning alive of Muhammad Abu Khudair by Jewish extremists who met at a right-wing “death to the Arabs” rally the day before that may have been organized online.

Emboldened by an Israeli public and its leaders cheering for executions, trigger-happy Israeli soldiers will more than likely crank up the violence. As for the vigilantes, there’s no predicting who or where they will target next, but when they do, they will not have acted alone.

With translation from Hebrew by Dena Shunra.


Podcast: The Threat of Unspecified Terrorism Attacks by People Who Shall Not Be Named is Very Real

There were no Islamic State-inspired terrorism attacks on or around the Fourth of July in the United States, but CNN and other major US media organizations expended much energy spreading fear far and wide so Americans would be on edge throughout the holiday weekend. And, when nothing happened, FBI Director James Comey fabricated claims that terrorism suspects arrested in June were at one point prepared to attack on July 4.

At least ten individuals were said to have been arrested with Islamic State ties. These were the people, who the FBI allegedly stopped from attacking Americans on Independence Day, and that justified all the hysteria in the media around potential terrorism. However, the government’s own complaints against them contain no allegations that any of their planned acts were being timed to coincide with the holiday.

Officially, the FBI would not back up its claims with specifics. “We are not providing any information beyond what you’re seeing in media reports. There was no information provided on specific individual[s] or what they hoped to do,” an FBI spokesperson replied to a request for evidence.

On the “Unauthorized Disclosure” podcast this week, Adam Johnson (@adamjohnsonNYC), associate editor at and contributing writer to Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), joins the show. Johnson has been aggressively questioning and exposing all aspects of the bogus terror warnings hyped by the government and media recently. He details what drives media outlets like CNN to hype terror warnings that cannot be backed up by specific threats and talks about the FBI being at least zero for forty when it comes to issuing terror warnings that resulted in attacks.

During the discussion part of the episode, the show’s hosts, Rania Khalek and Kevin Gosztola, cover a federal judge’s order to prepare the release of videos of a former Guantanamo prisoner being force-fed, a major review showing American Psychological Association officials protected national security psychologists involved in US torture, the one-year anniversary of Israel’s Operation Protective Edge, US strikes which killed over 100 people in Afghanistan, and Lindsey Graham saying peace activists make the world dangerous as he bellowed about bombing Iran.

The podcast is available on iTunes for download. For a link (and also to download the episode), go here. Click on “go here” and a page will load with the audio file of the podcast. The file will automatically start playing so you can listen to the episode. And please follow the show on Twitter at @UnauthorizedDis.

Expert: Obama ignored surge of rightwing extremism that inspired Charleston killer

Crossposted from The Electronic Intifada

As lead author of a suppressed 2009 Department of Homeland Security (DHS) report on the rising threat of rightwing extremism, Daryl Johnson was not the least bit surprised by last week’s terrorist attack on the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.

On the evening of 17 June, white supremacist Dylann Roof entered the Charleston, South Carolina, church and shot dead nine African Americans after they had welcomed him into their Bible study.

“Here we go again. That was my first thought. It reminded me of the Sikh temple shooting,” Johnson told The Electronic Intifada, referring to the August 2012 attack by a neo-Nazi in Wisconsin that killed six people.

Johnson, who spent 15 of his 24-year career in government studying rightwing extremism, made headlines in 2011 when he accused DHS of gutting his unit due to a conservative uproar against the 2009 report.

Since then, Johnson says the US government has continued to ignore the growing danger posed by homegrown rightwing extremism while focusing obsessively on Islamic “jihadists.”

DHS has a total of three people analyzing non-Islamic domestic extremism, down from eight prior to the release of Johnson’s report in 2009.

In stark contrast, up to 100 analysts are employed by DHS to evaluate homegrown Islamic extremism, Johnson said. DHS did not return The Electronic Intifada’s request for comment.

This lopsided balance is reflected across federal agencies, according to Johnson, who keeps in touch with sources within DHS who tell him nothing has changed since he left.

“If you look at the government as a whole, there are thousands of counterterrorism analysts looking at al-Qaida and its affiliates versus dozens on domestic non-Islamic extremism,” Johnson said, noting that a vast majority of rightwing extremism analysts operate under the auspices of the FBI.

Johnson added that most federal law enforcement agencies, including the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms, the US Marshal Service and the presidential protection agency the Secret Service, have no full-time analysts monitoring rightwing extremism.

White supremacist “lone wolves”

Johnson’s prophetic 2009 report predicted that the election of America’s first Black president coupled with an ailing economy would spark a resurgence in rightwing extremism, with “white supremacist lone wolves” posing “the most significant domestic terrorist threat because of their low profile and autonomy – separate from any formalized group – which hampers warning efforts.”

Johnson’s report also drew attention to the danger of extremists recruiting military veterans.

Though intended exclusively for law enforcement, the report was leaked immediately after publication, generating a firestorm on the right.

Whipped into a frenzy, conservative media outlets and Republican lawmakers mischaracterized the report as an Obama administration conspiracy to smear all conservatives as potentially violent extremists.

In a stunning display of political cowardice, the Obama administration caved in to the pressure.

Within days of the leak, newly appointed DHS secretary Janet Napolitano apologized for the report and Johnson’s DHS unit was slowly disbanded over the following year, leaving behind just one analyst to assess all non-Islamic extremist threats for DHS.

Six years later, Johnson’s prescient warnings have been tragically vindicated again and again.

In 2012, US army veteran and neo-Nazi skinhead Wade Michael Page stormed into a Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, and fatally gunned down six worshippers.

Last year, Frazier Glenn Miller, the former “grand dragon” of the Carolina Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and a longtime anti-Semite, killed three people outside a Jewish community center in Overland Park, Kansas.

Two months later, anti-government extremists Jerad and Amanda Miller killed three people in Las Vegas.

The married couple shot two police officers execution style and then draped their bodies in a Revolutionary War era flag bearing the slogan “Don’t tread on me.”

These are just a handful of the better-known instances of rightwing terrorism in recent years.

Lethal terror

The New America Foundation, a liberal think tank close to the Obama administration, has documented that 48 Americans have been killed by rightwing extremists in the US compared to 26 by so-called jihadists since the 11 September 2001.

Yet US law enforcement agencies seem more invested in entrapping Muslims in manufactured plots, harassing Palestine solidarity activists and monitoring Black Lives Matter protesters than tackling the rising tide of deadly rightwing extremism.

Dangerous denial

Meanwhile, Republican leaders predictably contorted reality to avoid labeling Dylann Roof’s violence an act of terrorism, or even racism for that matter.

US government officials are similarly reluctant to identify ideologically inspired violence committed by non-Muslims as terrorism.

Speaking at a press conference three days after the Charleston attack, FBI director James Comey told reporters that Dylann Roof’s racially motivated massacre was not terrorism because it was not a “political act.”

But Roof has been clear that his motive was to ignite a race war. One of his victims was South Carolina State Senator Clementa Pinckney, whose presence Roof reportedly requested when he entered the church.

If assassinating a Black elected official and murdering Black worshippers to start a race war isn’t enough to prove Roof’s violence was political, then perhaps his own admission is.

Roof reportedly let one churchgoer live precisely so she could inform the world what he did and why.

More evidence of Roof’s ideological motives can be found in the trove of photos he posted to his website.

The images show him embracing the Confederate flag, a notorious white nationalist symbol.

Roof is also pictured sporting a coat adorned with the flags of white minority ruled South Africa and Rhodesia, highlighting the convergence of white nationalism globally.

In case his motive still wasn’t clear, Roof posted a 2,500-word anti-Black manifesto on his website laying out his racist ideology.

Even President Obama failed to label the attack an act of terrorism, focusing instead on the issue of gun violence.

“Government officials are reluctant to call it terrorism because of the political ramifications,” former DHS analyst Johnson said. “If you’re justifying money and resources for a war on terror, then you are going to talk about al-Qaida, which comes at the expense of other forms of terrorism that might be less sensational.”

“The general public is inundated with media and government scrutiny of al-Qaida and its affiliates. It’s ingrained in the American public mind to think of terrorism as a foreign threat from people with dark skin,” he said.

“The ongoing danger is that by not labeling it terrorism it’s being perceived as something else,” Johnson added. “If you label the Charleston shooting as a hate crime, people think of it as a local issue. If you label it terrorism, it’s a national issue.”

Lopsided countermeasures

Though Johnson concedes that it is difficult to thwart lone wolf attacks, he believes there are preventive measures the US government has failed to implement. Chief among them is “counter-messaging.”

“Educating the public on these issues and that these movements are dangerous is vital,” Johnson said. He noted that “today’s white supremacist and white nationalist is an Internet junkie.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which monitors rightwing groups, found that nearly 100 people have been murdered since 2009 by registered users of the world’s largest online hate forum Stormfront.

Stormfront users have included Wade Michael Page and mass killer Anders Behring Breivik, who murdered 77 people in Norway in 2011 supposedly to halt the “Islamization” of Europe.

Charleston killer Dylann Roof was a regular commenter at another neo-Nazi website.

He also wrote in his manifesto that he was influenced by the white supremacist group the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC), following the killing in Florida of unarmed Black teenager Trayvon Martin by vigilante George Zimmerman.

The leader of the CCC, which grew out of the White Citizens Councils opposed to desegregation in the South, has donated tens of thousands of dollars to Republican elected officials in recent years.

While the White House has launched several campaigns to counter Islamic State, or ISIS, propaganda directed at impressionable youth, no such measures exist to counter rightwing extremism of the kind that apparently mobilized Roof and others to kill.

The Obama administration’s skewed approach was on display in February when it convened a White House summit on countering violent extremism that focused almost exclusively on Islamic fundamentalism.

It is impossible to know whether the Charleston massacre could have been prevented had federal authorities invested more resources in countering rightwing terrorism.

But denying that the problem exists and doing nothing only makes the next attack more likely.

Podcast: The Dominican Republic’s Plan to Racially Cleanse the Country of Black Haitians

The Dominican Republic is set to purge its country of hundreds of thousands of black Haitian migrants or black Dominicans of Haitian descent. The government has stripped anyone born in Haiti after 1929 of their citizenship and rendered this entire population stateless. Numerous Haitians have fled or are hiding as they wait to see what the immigration agency will do next.

Army General Ruben Paulino, who leads the immigration agency, said his agency would conduct patrols of neighborhoods with “large numbers of migrants” after June 18. Any “non-citizens,” who were unregistered, would be “repatriated.” The individuals would be loaded on buses, trucks, or ambulances—and then expelled from the country.

On the “Unauthorized Disclosure” podcast this week, Dr. Jemima Pierre, a professor at UCLA of African Diaspora Studies & an editor for Black Agenda Report, joins the show to talk about the Dominican Republic. She describes the history of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, as well as the United States’ role since the US once occupied the island where Haiti and the Dominican Republic are located. She details the anti-black racism that has deep roots in the Dominican Republic.

During the discussion part of the show, the show’s hosts talk about Dylann Roof’s manifesto and share thoughts on the political and media reaction to the church massacre in Charleston. They also talk about a Louisville FOP president and his vitriolic open letter directed toward Black Lives Matter activists. And the show wraps with some quick thoughts about a court ordering US officials to intercept a Guatemalan mother and her child, who were deported, and return them to the United States.

The podcast is available on iTunes for download. For a link (and also to download the episode), go here. Click on “go here” and a page will load with the audio file of the podcast. The file will automatically start playing so you can listen to the episode. And please follow the show on Twitter at @UnauthorizedDis.

Below is a partial transcript of the interview.
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Why has Israel embraced al-Qaida’s branch in Syria?

Crossposted from The Electronic Intifada

During his 2014 address to the UN General Assembly, Benjamin Netanyahu declared that “fighting militant Islam is indivisible.”

The Israeli prime minister’s crude attempts to conflate ISIS with Hamas should not be allowed to conceal an important truth: Israel aids the forces of “militant Islam” when it is considered opportune to do so.

The most egregious example of such aid in recent times has been Israel’s support for Jabhat al-Nusraal-Qaida’s franchise in Syria, as witnessed by UN peacekeeping forces stationed in the occupied Golan Heights.

Israel’s collusion with al-Qaida has been virtually ignored by the American media, with a few exceptions. For example, The Wall Street Journal reported in March that Israel has been treating wounded al-Nusra fighters and then sending them back into the Golan to battle Hizballah and the Syrian army.

Other media outlets have danced around the issue.

The Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, a frequent conduit for information from official sources, mentioned, in passing, last month that “Jordan and Israel have developed secret contacts with members of the Jabhat al-Nusra group along their borders.” But he failed to elaborate.

In a video report released by Vice News in December — in which Israeli soldiers are shown transferring wounded Syrian opposition fighters to an Israeli hospital — the narrator acknowledges that the fighters could be affiliated with al-Nusra.

Israeli media has been slightly more open about Israel’s embrace of al-Qaida. The news website Ynet has posted footage of Israeli army medics treating wounded Syrian opposition fighters, noting, “It is likely that most if not all of these nationals are rebels from the rival jihadist Islamic State and al-Nusra Front groups.”

This raises questions about the legality of sending members of one of the world’s most notorious and active armed extremist groups back into battle, especially since this particular group has been the primary target of a global war for more than a decade led by Israel’s greatest benefactor, the United States. (To be fair, though, the US is no stranger to backing al-Qaida and ISIS to undermine its adversaries.)

A US Defense Department spokesperson declined to comment for The Electronic Intifada about Israel’s apparent alliance with al-Qaida. The US State Department did not respond to a request for comment.

Material aid

As Israel’s neighbors absorbed millions of displaced Syrians fleeing a war that, according to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has killed more than 220,000 people, the Israeli government has painted its medical care for those wounded in Syria as altruistic. But only a third of the 1,500 treated by Israel have been women and children, according to the March report in The Wall Street Journal.

The rest have been fighters who Israeli officials admit are not screened and likely belong to al-Nusra.

Once it became undeniable, Israel confessed it was treating fighters, but claimed that they were moderates.

But after al-Nusra captured and ejected UN peacekeepers in the Golan Heights last August, there was no longer any doubt that al-Nusra was the dominant force among opposition fighters in the area.

Since then, Ynet has resorted to whitewashing al-Nusra’s connections to al-Qaida. Citing unnamed Israeli officials, the publication claims that al-Nusra’s members are “simply local residents who joined the organization to benefit from the logistical and financial support it offers them.”

Retired Brigadier General Michael Herzog, a former chief of staff for Israel’s defense minister, told The Wall Street Journal that “Nusra is a unique version of al-Qaida. They manage to cooperate with non-Islamist and non-jihadi organizations in one coalition … They are totally focused on the war in Syria and aren’t focused on us. But when Hizballah and Iran and others are pushing south, they are very much focused on us.”

Israeli soldiers have also been seen providing Syrian opposition fighters dominated by al-Nusra with material aid.

Dozens of interactions between Israel and opposition fighters, as far back as 2012, have been documented by the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), the peacekeeping mission responsible for monitoring the 1974 ceasefire line between Israeli and Syrian forces in the Golan Heights.

The UN has good reason to observe these interactions closely.

In August last year, al-Nusra detained 43 UN peacekeepers and seized their equipment, prompting the UN to evacuate many of its soldiers to the Israeli-occupied side of the ceasefire line.

Quarterly UNDOF reports since the pullback reveal an ongoing pattern of Israeli coordination with those armed groups.

According to the December 2014 report, UNDOF observed two Israeli soldiers “opening the technical fence gate and letting two individuals pass from the [Syrian] to the [Israeli] side” on 27 October. Unlike most fighters seen entering the Israeli side, these individuals were not wounded and the purpose of their visit remains a mystery.

UNDOF “sporadically observed armed members of the opposition interacting” with the Israeli military across the ceasefire line, the report states.

The next UNDOF report, released in March, notes that UN forces witnessed Israeli soldiers delivering material aid to armed Syrian opposition groups.

“During the evening of 20 January, in the area north of observation post 54, UNDOF observed two trucks crossing from the [Syrian] side to the [Israeli] side, where they were received by IDF [Israeli military] personnel,” the report states. “The trucks were loaded with sacks before returning to the [Syrian] side.”

The coordination between Israel and armed opposition groups continued into May, according to the June UNDOF report.

Israel appears determined to keep the nature of these interactions as low key as possible, something Sidqi Maqt, a Druze resident of the Golan Heights, understands better than most.

In February, Maqt was arrested by Israeli intelligence for posting photos and videos to his Facebook page of Israeli army interactions with armed opposition groups. Maqt paid particular attention to documenting encounters he believed demonstrated the Israeli army’s alliance with al-Nusra.

Released in 2012 after serving 37 years in prison for engaging in armed resistance against Israel’s occupation of the Golan Heights, Maqt is once again behind bars. He has been charged with “espionage, assisting an enemy during wartime and contact with a foreign agent,” according to Al Jazeera.

On top of providing al-Nusra with material aid and punishing those who expose it, Israel has launched airstrikes almost exclusively against forces fighting al-Nusra.

On 18 January, for example, an Israeli air strike on a convoy near Quneitra killed six members of Hizballah and a general in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

Days later, rockets landed in the Golan Heights, according to UNDOF. The Israeli army retaliated by shelling a location it said was the source of the fire.

A Syrian army official, however, told the UN that “terrorists” had fired the rockets and that the Syrian army planned to target their positions. The UN relayed this message to the Israeli army, which responded with airstrikes against two Syrian army artillery positions.

Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, has said that some in Syria joke, “How can you say that al-Qaida doesn’t have an air force? They have the Israeli air force.”

While Assad’s policies, including the bombardments that have devastated cities and towns forcing millions to flee their homes, have contributed to the chaos and vacuum that has enabled extremist groups to flourish in some areas, Israel’s actions on behalf of those groups grant credence to his claim.

Cheering on ISIS

Amos Yadlin, a retired Israeli general, has offered a candid explanation for Israel’s partnership with al-Nusra.

“There is no doubt that Hizballah and Iran are the major threat to Israel, much more than the radical Sunni Islamists, who are also an enemy,” he told The Wall Street Journal. “Those Sunni elements who control some two-thirds to 90 percent of the border on the Golan aren’t attacking Israel. This gives you some basis to think that they understand who is their real enemy — maybe it isn’t Israel,” he reasoned.

Hizballah, which is aligned with Bashar al-Assad’s regime, has been fighting al-Nusra in the Golan Heights with Iranian support. Given Hizballah’s growing capacity and proven willingness to defend against Israeli aggression, Israel appears to favor al-Qaida on its northern front and to view the destruction of Syria as an opportunity to incapacitate Hizballah in southern Lebanon by draining its resources in Syria.

This does not mean Israel wants Assad to fall. On the contrary, Israel prefers a region fractured into small sectarian enclaves that are too busy fighting one another to unite against it. It is for this reason that Yair Golan, the Israeli army’s deputy chief of staff, recently celebrated the conditions on Israel’s northern border as “better than ever.”

The Jerusalem Post’s security correspondent, Yossi Melman, has echoed Golan, depicting Syria’s descent into chaos and fragmentation as a strategic boost for Israel.

Gilad Sharon, son of late Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon, has gone even further by arguing that an ISIS takeover in Syria would offer an opening for Israel to acquire the Golan Heights permanently.

In the event of an ISIS takeover, Sharon wrote last month, “There would be no international pressure for Israel to give back the Golan Heights either — and that’s a very good thing. The Golan will remain an important part of Israel forever.” He added that Israel could rely on the West’s so-called anti-ISIS coalition to defeat a victorious ISIS next door, allowing Israel to bask in its newly annexed territory without lifting a finger.

Israel would not necessarily “welcome the presence of the Islamic State lunatics on our border,” Sharon wrote, “but it’s certainly no worse, and may even be better, than the presence there of Hizballah, which is the Lebanese proxy of the Iranian regime.”

Naftali Bennett, Israeli education minister and leader of the ultra-nationalist party Habeyit Hayehudi (Jewish Home), appears to be following Sharon’s advice.

Speaking at the Herzliya conference, a key event in Israel’s political calendar, this month, Bennett called on Israel to invoke the threat of ISIS expansion to compel governments around the world to legitimize its annexation of the Golan Heights.

“Who do they want us to give the Golan to? To Assad? Today, it’s clear that if we listened to the world we would give up the Golan and ISIS would be swimming in the Sea of Galilee. Enough with the hypocrisy,” said Bennett, agitating for expanding the number of Israeli settlers in the Golan from 20,000 to 100,000 in the next five years.

Support for al-Qaida in Syria, then, serves at least two purposes from Israel’s perspective: sapping the strength of the foe it fears most — Hizballah — and solidifying its occupation of the Golan Heights.

In addition to sowing chaos and bloodshed, Israel’s machiavellian schemes — as its decades of meddling in Lebanon show — have a poor record of achieving their goals.


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