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Israel, Jordan Consider Involvement in Syria to Stymie al Qaeda

Local militias considered a barrier to prevent al Qaeda from establishing foothold in Syria

Fighters from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) try to calm civilians demonstrating against the rebel infighting in Aleppo
Fighters from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) / Reuters
• February 3, 2014 5:00 am

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JERUSALEM—As Israel steps up humanitarian assistance across its border in southern Syria, a leading Israeli analyst has raised the prospect that Israel and Jordan, which also borders the area, may consider active involvement in order to prevent al Qaeda from establishing bases in the area adjacent to their borders.

Ehud Yaari, Arab Affairs correspondent for Israel’s Channel Two, noted last week that local militias in southern Syria have come to look upon Israel as "a temporary ally" as they fight government troops. Israel has not taken part in the fighting but in instances where stray government shells land on the Israeli side of the border Israel has on several occasions fired missiles at the artillery positions.

"The local militias formed in the region’s villages are recognized as a potentially effective barrier to a takeover by al Qaeda disciples," Yaari wrote in an article published by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Although al Qaeda affiliates have a relatively small presence in the area, they have not attempted to descend in force to southern Syria because of heavy fighting in the north. Should they attempt to send substantial forces south it is questionable if the local, village-based militias would be able to repel them.

"Israel apparently may be obliged to take unpublicized measures aimed at preventing or at least slowing the movement of such fighters south of Damascus," wrote Yaari.

There have been unconfirmed but persistent reports that an international operations room has been functioning in Amman where Saudi and Western officers work alongside Jordanian counterparts in coordinating military assistance to the south Syrian militias. Jordan itself has been organizing militias among its own villages abutting the Syrian border.

The two principal al Qaeda militias in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), number about 40,000 fighters, according to Israeli intelligence.

Over the past year, more than 600 wounded Syrians, both fighters and civilians, have been brought to the Israeli border for treatment. Some have been treated on the spot in a field hospital, others are sent to hospitals inside Israel for more prolonged treatment.  That assistance has recently been extended to shipments from Israel across the border of food, fuel, medications, clothes, and heaters among other things.

"A significant operation of this type," says Yaari, "indicates that a system of communication and frequent contacts have been established with local militias since the evacuation of the injured and their return to Syria seem to function flawlessly."

Published under: Israel, Jordan, Syria, Terrorism