Syrian regime, opposition swap charges of collaboration with Israel

May 6, 2013

By Nuha Shabaan and Ahmed Kwider

AMMAN: As state-run media charged the opposition with coordinating with the enemy, Syrians ranging from hardline jihadists to secular politicians labeled Israel’s airstrikes on alleged heavy-weapons sites as “suspicious,” saying the strikes obscured two massacres by government forces.

“The regime is killing us and with this move Israel provides [Syrian President Bashar al-Assad] cover for what he is doing,” says Abu Amareh, founder of the eponymous battalion in Aleppo province operating under the auspices of the Free Syrian Army. Like other activists and fighters, Abu Amareh said that Israel’s actions have successfully deflected increasing pressure on the regime in light of a massacre in the coastal town of Baniyas last week that killed up to 150 Syrians.

“International public opinion is busy with what Israel did and forgets about the massacres that happened over the past week in Aleppo and Baniyas,” said the former Syrian army officer, who defected at beginning of revolution in 2011.

The official Syrian state news agency SANA on Monday posted excerpts of a letter it sent to the UN Security Council protesting Israel’s “aggression.” In the communiqué, the Syrian Foreign Ministry “stresses the coordination between Israel and the terrorist groups and the takfiris who are affiliated to Jabhat al-Nusra, which is an offshoot of al-Qaeda.”

The ministry said the collaboration between Israel and the “terrorists” comes as the rebels fail to capture ground from the regime, and called Israel’s public declarations to halt significant weapons transfers to Hezbollah a “pretext.”

State media claims that Israeli planes attacked three sites, without specifying their nature, in Jamraya, Maysaloun and at a paragliding airport in the al-Dimas area in Damascus at 1:40am Sunday morning (March 5).

A spokesman for the FSA’s Political Office of the Revolutionary Council in Outer Damascus was quick to refute the government’s narrative that the opposition serves Israel. “Coordination between Israel and the opposition is unlikely to happen,” the spokesman said. “Israel recognizes no line, and they pursue their goals without coordinating with anyone, even America.”

FSA battalion leader Abu Amareh denied contact with Israel, and stressed that “as FSA we do not accept any attack on our country – chemical weapons or not, [the airstrikes are] considered as an assault to our country.”

In a statement over the weekend, the Syrian Coalition declared the timing of the airstrikes “suspicious,” adding that “these strikes have given the regime the necessary time to draw attention away from its crimes and massacres on the Syrian coast.”

Late Monday a spokeswoman for the Syrian Coalition reiterated the group’s condemnation of the Israeli Air Force Strike at Jamaraya, ruling out the possibility that Israel acted for any motives other than self-interest.

“Israel is an invading entity and moves only for its own benefits,” said coalition spokeswoman Sarah Karkor.

Speaking from the Coalition’s current headquarters in Istanbul, Karkor declared the IAF strike to be an attack on the both the Syrian nation and its people.

“The Syrian regime and Israel are partners in destroying the infrastructure of Syria and killing Syrians,” she said. 

In its statement, the Coalition said Israel’s actions “demonstrate a fear of losing the years of peace that the Assad regime provided for Israel.”

The Coalition’s distrustful dismissal of the IAF’s operation reflects a common belief among regime opponents: that the Assad family has served as willing collaborators with Israel, as evidenced for decades by strictly observing a cease-fire, one that Israel has repeatedly violated.

Activists point to the fact that these strikes were once again met with no reaction on the Syrian side other than the letter of complaint to the United Nations.

“I have no idea where the regime’s air defenses are,” said the spokesman for the FSA’s Political Office of the Revolutionary Council in Outer Damascus.

“Where was the anti-missile firing?” asks Ayman, 27, a resident of Damascus who asked that her name not be used for security reasons. She said that she and others in the capital felt the Israeli attacks, which she described as “three earthquakes” one after the other, adding that they were “really different from the bombings we face daily in Damascus.”

“While the regime was committing massacres to eliminate Sunnis from the Syrian coast [in Baniyas], the raids distracted the world’s attention about what is happening” there, said a statement issued by Liwa a-Tahrir Wa Benaa, a moderate Islamist brigade in Idlib province operating under the umbrella of the Syrian Jabhat Tahrir Islamiya.

The Liwa also said that the raids “polish the regime’s image.” Independent political activist Amjad Siwar agrees. “Now it looks like Israel is backing the revolution and the rebels appear to be Israel’s agents, which harms the revolution,” said Siwar, 53, the pen name of an activist from Al-Hasakah who fled to Berlin in 2000 after Syrian authorities accused him of being a communist.

“There will be new international and Arab policies backing the authorities because they’ve been hit by Israel,” Siwar said.

Mahmoud Ali al-Khalaf, the London-based General Secretary of the Syrian Moderate Party says that Israel’s strikes “will motivate Arab states and lobbies that support the authorities to argue that Israel is assisting the revolution,” said al-Khalaf, 53, whose faction opposes both the Syrian Coalition and the regime.

What remains unclear is whether Israel met its ostensible goals to eliminate weapons that could or would have been transferred to Hezbollah. The Arabic Al-Mayadeen satellite channel cited a “high-ranking Syrian source” as saying that Syria has positioned missiles aimed at Israel and will continue to supply the Lebanese militia with even more advanced weapons. The channel was founded by former Al Jazeera journalist Ghassan bin Jeddo, who has close ties with Damascus and Hezbollah.

Activists say the international community’s lack of action over the possible use of chemical weapons and Israel’s air raids distract from the accelerated pace of regime offensives. Even the Syrian Coalition, FSA battalion head Abu Amareh says, “argues in our names and diminishes the revolution with stupidity.” What Syrians inside Syria figured out long ago, he says, is that “we have to take this regime out by ourselves.”