Writing in Al-Monitor, Ben Caspit speculates that Israel might well intervene in Syria on behalf of the Druze minority in the south of the country, adjoining Israel and with a substantial population of co-religionists inside the Jewish nation-state.
While Israel is gearing up for the “day after Assad,” without knowing what that day without President Bashar al-Assad will bring, Israel’s neutrality with regard to the civil and ethnic war in Syria is being challenged by an interesting turn of events. In the past few weeks, the heads and leaders of the dominant Druze sect in Israel have turned to Israeli authorities with the request to extend help to the hundreds of thousands of Druze in Syria. These Druze are very concerned about the steady advance of the Islamic rebels toward Jabal al-Druze, or Mount Druze, where the majority of Syrian Druze are concentrated.
The contacts were conducted so quietly that were not revealed until June 12 in the Israeli daily Haaretz. The Druze are characterized as being loyal citizens of the central regime of the country in which they live. The Druze, who are dispersed across Syria, Lebanon and Israel, are viewed as an especially close-knit community that maintains tight cultural and familial connections, despite the borders and even wars that play a role in separating their various population centers in the Middle East. They tend to settle and establish their villages on high, mountainous areas, to improve their self-protection and defense capabilities. In Lebanon they are concentrated around Mount Lebanon and in Syria, at Jabal al-Druze, as well. Most of the Druze villages in Israel are located in the mountainous Galilee region.
There are about 136,000 Druze in Israel today; they signed “a covenant of blood” with the Jews even before the establishment of the State of Israel, taking part in Israel’s wars and battles. They have sacrificed their youngsters in Israel’s defense. Thus, they are viewed as patriotic Israelis. Members of the Druze community serve in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and rise to high-level command positions; the conscription percentages among the Druze minority (those who are Israeli citizens are drafted, unlike Golan Heights Druze, who are not drafted) are even higher than that of Jewish Israelis. On average, 83% of them serve in the IDF, compared with 75% among Jewish Israelis.The military cemeteries are full of graves of Druze soldiers. In short, the vast majority of the Israeli Druze identify themselves with the State of Israel.
When Israel conquered the Golan Heights in 1967, about 20,000 additional Druze, residents of the Heights, found themselves living in Israeli territory. In contrast to their Israeli-Druze brethren, most of the Golan Heights Druze remained loyal to Hafez al-Assad’s regime and refused to accept Israeli citizenship, even though it was offered to them. Nevertheless, and despite their strong affiliation to Syria and their refusal to take Israeli citizenship, good relations and mutual trust prevailed between the Druze in the Golan Heights and the Israeli authorities.