Israeli defense minister met with Syrian rebels, former IDF commander reveals in a first
Maj. Gen. Gershon Hacohen was speaking at an Israeli Democracy Institute conference when he made a stunning claim – Ya'alon, who was Israel's chief of defense from 2013 to May 2016, held a meeting with a group of Syrian rebels during his tenure. Hacohen, who was Israeli Defence Forces Staff Corps Commander before retiring in September 2014, said that he was also present at the never-before-reported meet-up.
Hacohen refused to specify when the meeting took place and or the subject matter of the discussions. He, however, offered a brief portrayal of his three Syrian 'counterparts,' saying that Ya'alon asked one if he was a Salafist because the minister "wanted to understand who they were."
The rebel Ya'alon addressed was apparently somewhat perturbed by the prospect of cooperation with Israel.
"He [Ya'alon] asked one of them, 'Tell me, are you a Salafist?' And he said, 'I really don't know what a Salafist is. If it means that I pray more, then yes. Once I would pray once a week, on Fridays, now I pray five times a day. On the other hand, a Salafist isn't meant to cooperate with the Zionists," Haaretz reported, citing Hacohen's recollection of the meeting.
Following Hacohen's revelation, the Jerusalem Post reported, citing its own sources, that the meeting did indeed take place and that the main topic on the agenda was “humanitarian assistance.” The JP's sources said the outcome of the talks was an agreement on humanitarian aid deliveries to the residents of the Syrian part of the Golan Heights.
The effort, which reportedly started as a one-time goodwill gesture, expanded to become Operation Good Neighbor, which formally inaugurated its headquarters in June 2016. Since then, Israel has been openly assisting the rebels, but insists that its assistance is strictly humanitarian and includes treating wounded militants and their families, supplying them with fuel, medicine, food, clothing and other essential products.
The operation was reportedly wrapped up this week after Syrian forces retook control over the Golan Heights from the rebels.
However, numerous reports have suggested that Israel's support of the rebels is not as benign as Tel Aviv seeks to portray. The Wall Street Journal reported last year that the alleged humanitarian assistance, that had begun as early as 2013, included cash payments to rebel commanders who, in turn, used the money to pay militants' salaries and buy weapons and equipment. It was reported that one group received a monthly allowance of some $5,000 from the Israeli military. The handouts were conditional upon the rebels' ability to keep Hezbollah, which Israel sees as Iran's proxies, away from the border.
Earlier this year, the Jerusalem Post was forced to hastily remove an explosive report on the IDF’s admission that it provided Syrian rebels with light weapons. The managing editor of the newspaper told RT in September that the story was taken down for "for security reasons evidently," while the IDF declined to comment on the issue.
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