Last November Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his country “won’t allow Islamic State figures or other enemy actors, under the cover of the war in Syria, to set up next to our borders,” but it appears this has already happened, to the point that a sizable ISIS training camp has been set up just across the Golan Heights border with Israel. Though Syrian al-Qaeda has long been a mainstay in southern Syria along Israel’s border, this constitutes the first widespread public acknowledgement and confirmation of a significant ISIS base of operations in the Golan region.
Israeli media this week is reporting news of the base camp after Israel’s Channel 2 aired an extensive report with video and photographic evidence of what’s being described as a training and recruitment center which has already attracted hundreds of new terror recruits. Channel 2 is one of Israel’s most visible and established news broadcast channels and operates under “The Second Authority for Television and Radio” licensed by the Knesset and the Ministry of Communications. According to the Times of Israel:
Israel’s Channel 2 said the commanders have made their way to an Islamic State-controlled enclave “close to the border” with Israel. They have set up a training camp to which they have recruited 300 local youths, said the report, which showed footage apparently of the camp and training sessions.
Among the commanders is one of Islamic State’s most notorious recruiters, Abu Hamam Jazrawi, the TV report said.
The commanders are also now running Islamic State internet propaganda campaigns from their new base, in place of the former campaign headquarters in Raqqa, the extremists’ former de facto capital in northwest Syria where the fight to oust them has entered what appear to be its final stages.
Featured in Israel’s Channel 2 broadcast: Islamic State training camp (Channel 2 screenshot)
Channel 2 screenshot purporting to show the ISIS base camp just across Israel’s border.
The Channel 2 exposé further notes the presence of multiple senior Islamic State commanders at the camp, which suggests the terror group could be attempting to relocate its assets to Syria’s south as it appears to be crumbling with the onset of SDF, Syrian Army, and Russian forces in the eastern part of the country.
The Times of Israel acknowledges another shocking fact, which has itself become an open secret of sorts among Israeli defense and policy officials: what it calls the long lasting “live and let live” relationship with al-Qaeda in the region. The Times of Israel explains:
Both the IS-affiliated Khalid ibn al-Walid Army and the Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, formerly the al-Nusra Front, which is linked to al-Qaeda, have been set up on Israel’s borders for years.
Despite a relatively long-lasting “live and let live” relationship with these groups, the IDF has warned of a potential — some say inevitable — conflict with them and has been preparing to respond to cross-border attacks.
Though the IDF has “warned” of some “potential” direct action against the most notorious terrorist groups in the world which seem to be comfortably ensconced within eyesight of Israeli border posts, it has never taken significant direct action against these groups, instead routinely targeting the Syrian army, Iranian-linked militias, and Hezbollah with airstrikes. This is a general reflection of the Israeli strategy of regime change in Syria, which has resulted in a well-documented history of assistance to al-Qaeda affiliated rebel groups.
A Wall Street Journal investigation found that this relationship involved weapons transfers, salary payments to anti-Assad fighters, and treatment of wounded jihadists in Israeli hospitals, the latter which was widely promoted in photo ops picturing Netanyahu himself greeting militants. As even former Acting Director of the CIA Michael Morell once directly told the Israeli public, Israel’s “dangerous game” in Syria consists in getting in bed with al-Qaeda in order to fight Shia Iran.
Channel 2 News and the The Times of Israel also featured an image from a prior video of a lone ISIS militant holding an Islamic State flag with the Israeli side of the Golan border in clear view.
The Times of Israel featured the above image: “Threats from across the border in a video released by an Islamic State affiliate on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights on September 3, 2016.”
In recent years, multiple current and former Israeli defense officials have gone so far as to say that ISIS is ultimately preferable to Iran and Assad. For example, former Israeli Ambassador to the US Michael Oren in 2014 surprised the audience at Colorado’s Aspen Ideas Festival when he said in comments related to ISIS that, “the lesser evil is the Sunnis over the Shias.” Oren, while articulating Israeli defense policy, fully acknowledged he thought ISIS was “the lesser evil.”