Israel has been regularly supplying Syrian rebels near its border with cash as well as food, fuel and medical supplies, The Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday.
According to the report, the IDF is in regular communication with rebel groups and its assistance includes undisclosed payments to commanders that help pay salaries of fighters and buy ammunition and weapons, according to interviews with about half a dozen Syrian fighters.
An unnamed source told the newspaper that Israel has established a military unit that oversees the support in Syria, and set aside a specific budget for the aid.
Israel has not confirmed the report.
Israel has in the past treated some 3,000 wounded Syrians, many of them fighters, in its hospitals and has provided humanitarian aid such as food and clothing to civilians near the border during winter. But half a dozen rebels and three people familiar with Israel’s thinking who spoke to the Wall Street Journal claimed that the country’s involvement is much deeper and more coordinated than previously known and entails direct funding of opposition fighters near its border for years.
“Israel stood by our side in a heroic way,” said Moatasem al-Golani, spokesman for the rebel group Fursan al-Joulan, or Knights of the Golan. “We wouldn’t have survived without Israel’s assistance.”
Israel’s aim is to keep Iran-backed fighters allied to the Syrian regime, such as Hezbollah, away from the 45-mile stretch of border on the Golan Heights, the three people said.
Fursan al-Joulan’s commander, who goes by the nickname Abu Suhayb, told The Wall Street Journal that his group gets roughly $5,000 a month from Israel. It is not linked to the Western-backed Free Syrian Army and doesn’t receive Western funding or arms.
The office of Prime Minister referred questions on the issue to the IDF, which didn’t respond to requests for comment on whether it was sending cash to or dealing directly with rebel commanders in the Golan region.
The IDF only told the newspaper that it was “committed to securing the borders of Israel and preventing the establishment of terror cells and hostile forces … in addition to providing humanitarian aid to the Syrians living in the area.”
Israel has never taken a side in the Syrian civil war, but the regime of Bashar Al-Assad regularly accuses Israel of supporting rebel groups, to which the Syrian regime refers as “terrorists”.
The Syrian opposition in the past has claimed the exact opposite, that Israel was collaborating with Iran and Hezbollah to keep Assad in power.