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Syrian Rebel Force Launches Offensive Near Golan, Israel Acts to Protect Druze

By DEBKAfile

Jaysh Hermon (the Army of Hermon) Wednesday, June 17, launched a broad offensive on Syrian army forces in the Quneitra and Hermon sectors bordering on Israel. Its objective is to capture the Syrian army's 68th Brigade headquarters at Khan al-Shih which commands the main Quneitra-Damascus highway. This would clear the rebels' path to the southern suburbs of Damascus up to Western Ghouta, from which they would encircle the government troops defending the capital.

If the Army of Hermon achieves this goal - and replicates the May success of the rebel Army of Conquest in capturing much of the northern province of Idlib - the Syrian civil war would enter a new phase.

DEBKAfile's military sources report that this feat could be brought off suddenly or entail protracted combat. Syrian government forces showed no signs of folding at the onset of the fresh onslaught. Our sources reveal that two new rebel armies have surfaced in recent weeks on the northern and southern warfronts. Their tactics are clearly stage-managed with a view to driving the Syrian army toward Damascus.

DEBKAfile names the hand guiding the northern rebel force as coming from a joint command based in the big Turkish air base of Dyabakir. It is composed of US, Saudi, Turkish and Qatari officers. The southern rebel front is managed from US Centcom's Forward Command in Jordan, which is quartered north of Amman and run jointly by American, Jordanian, Saudi, Qatari and British officers. This command center collected eight oddly assorted rebel militias to build the Jaysh Hermon. Some were chosen reluctantly out of need despite their undesirable proclivities.

Our sources name them as: The Syrian Free Army, the Sayf al-Sham Brigade; the Jesus Christ Brigade (Muslims respect Jesus as one of their prophets); the Nusra Front (Al Qaeda's Syrian affiliate); Ahrar al-Sham (an extremist group linked to Nusra and ISIS); and Ajnad al-Sham (whose fighters took part in the battle to conquer Idlib). The Jordan-based command running the rebel effort provides them with arms, supplies, wages and their military plans of action. Its leverage to prevent them stepping out of line consists of threats to deprive them of arms or cut their wages.

In the past week, a group of these militias captured parts of Al-Thala near the Jabal Druze capital of Suweida. The threat facing the half a million Druze inhabitants suddenly topped Israel's agenda as pressure built up from its Druze citizens to intercede. It was then that the Jordan-based command warned the rebel militias that they would lose half their monthly wage if they did not back off. The penalty worked. And the wild rumors of a Druze massacre at the village of Khader were dispelled.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon and Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gady Eisenkott have taken personal charge of the Syrian Druze situation and are keeping a close watch on events on the other side of the border. They are holding their breath for the Jordan command to stay in control of the rebel militias, so that no Druze comes to harm in the course of the fighting in areas around their villages and close to the Israeli border. Keeping them safe is vital if Israel is to avoid a mass Druze stampeded on its border.

However, there is no guarantee that unprofessional militias like the Hermon Army, each governed by its own ideals and methods, will be disciplined enough to stick to any rules. Israel's leaders are therefore braced for nasty shocks. They will no doubt breathe a sigh of relief when – and if – the rebel coalition scoops up the territory between Quneitra and Mt. Hermon and heads up the main road to Damascus, away from its borders and the Druze mountain, without causing harm. But if the rebel offensive is stalled, their Jaish Hermon breaks up and out-of-control militias go it alone, Israel may have to contend with a very tough problem.

Israeli Druze leaders have intensified calls lately for Israeli security forces to aid Syrian Druze following attacks by Sunni militias on Druze communities there. Ha'aretz learned over the weekend that Israel could possibly provide humanitarian aid to the village of Khadr, but is not considering military aid, as Israel is wary of getting directly involved in the civil war in Syria.

To 'Hurt' Israeli Economy, PA May Boycott Al-Aqsa Mosque


Top Palestinian Authority officials are calling for PA Arabs to boycott the Al-Aqsa Mosque - to avoid helping the Israeli economy. Despite historic Israeli "gestures" designed to make travel to the Temple Mount much easier for Arabs from Judea and Samaria during Ramadan, top officials in the Palestinian Authority have been calling for PA Arabs to boycott the Al-Aqsa (Dome of the Rock) Mosque – for fear that Arabs will spend money while they are there, enhancing the Israeli economy.

Mahmoud Abbas' cabinet plans to meet to make a final decision on whether or not to go through with the boycott, according to Yediot Aharonot. In recent years, Israel has gone out of its way to make concessions to PA Arabs, enabling as many as possible to visit the Mosque, located on the Temple Mount, the historic site of the Jewish Temple, which predated the Mosque by over 1,000 years. Concessions were suspended last year for Ramadan, when PA Arabs throng to the Mosque, because of the IDF's search for three missing Israeli teens who were murdered by PA Arabs near Hebron – but the concessions are back in full force this year.

Among the concessions: Enabling Arab men aged over 40 and all Arab women in Judea-Samaria to have access to the Mount; 800 Arab residents of Gaza will also be allowed in for Friday prayers. Another 500 Arabs in Judea-Samaria will be let into Gaza, 300 Palestinian Arabs living abroad will be allowed into Gaza to visit family, and 500 Arab residents of Judea-Samaria will be permitted to fly from Ben-Gurion International Airport.

To qualify for these concessions, PA Arabs need to register with the Civil Authority – but thousands who tried to do so at the joint Israel-PA security offices near Arab cities were turned away by PA officials. According to a PA official who spoke to Israeli media, the decision is not necessarily only anti-Israel. As Arabs throng to Jerusalem, they shop at the Arab shuk and even at stores in Jewish areas of the city; the Mamilla Mall, for example, which is right next to the Old City, is very popular with Arabs. As a result, Arab shopkeepers in PA-controlled cities complain that business falls sharply during Ramadan.

In addition, the official said, "we cannot accept that the Israeli economy will benefit from the Palestinians, when the whole world is calling for a boycott of Israel."

BDS is Only a Small Part of the Demonization of Israel

By Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld (Commentary)

University campuses are venues where hatred of Israel is promoted by largely identifiable groups of inciters. The hatred can manifest itself in a variety of ways. Biased teaching about the Middle East, often accompanied by prejudiced required reading material, is but one of them.

Various sources indicate that many of the inciters have either a Muslim or left-wing background. Much less is known about who finances them. Yet it is known that large sums are spent by Arab countries on grants supporting a variety of Middle East Departments and studies.

In the United States, the anti-Israeli movement on campus started around 2002 with attempts to promote divestment of Israeli securities -- and/or of shares of American companies who supply certain equipment to Israel -- by university foundations. These efforts, supported by both teachers and students, were unsuccessful on all targeted campuses.

Over the past few years, the main focus of the inciters against Israel on campus has been on attempts to boycott Israeli universities. A few boycotts were even announced by various academic associations. Most members of these academic bodies did not take the trouble to vote, which gave the inciters the opportunity to obtain a majority among those who did.

One example is the American Studies Association. Its former president, Curtis Marez, did not dispute that many other countries, including other Middle-Eastern ones, have a human rights record that is comparable or worse than that of Israel. In explaining the ASA's decision to boycott Israeli universities, Marez was reported to have said, "One has to start somewhere." Such comments indicate the discriminatory character of the Association's decision.

The concept of a systematic boycott of Israel was initially promoted at a major NGO conference in Durban, South Africa, in 2001, held in parallel to the UN World Conference Against Racism. The idea gradually developed into an international campaign which is known as Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, or BDS.

The initial NGO promoters of the boycott wished to include a variety of Israeli activities, such as trade, cultural events, sports, academia and so on. They were aware that the chances of actually boycotting Israel were minimal. Yet at the same time they understood that even if all boycotts were to fail, the public relations effect would become far more important.

If the slander about Israel were true, the last Palestinian would have been killed long ago. Various organizations, both on and off campus, have been fighting the BDS. Prominent American businessmen Sheldon Adelson and Haim Saban recently organized a conference for those involved in the fight against BDS to discuss how to effectively counterattack the movement.

The BDS movement, however, is only a small part of a much wider phenomenon: the systematic delegitimization of Israel, which is often accompanied by anti-Semitism. Arab and other Muslim states, such as Iran, play a major role. Their anti-Israeli propaganda uses genocidal motifs which are identical to those of Nazism.

In Europe, these hate promoters are helped by a variety of agitators, who, mainly, but far from exclusively, come from parts of the immigrant Muslim communities and from the left. One finds these inciters in the political world, trade unions, NGOs, liberal churches, academia, and so on.

The hate mongering has led to a fairly widespread demonization of Israel. Six separate studies, most of them conducted in Germany and covering eight additional European countries, show that more than 40% of citizens of the European Union agree with the statement that Israel is conducting a war of extermination against the Palestinians, or, alternatively, agree with the claim that Israel behaves like the Nazis.

Such findings mean that more than 150 million of the approximately 400 million EU citizens who are 16 years of age or older have demonic views of Israel. The leadership of the European Union and of its member countries have methodically ignored this issue. Yet the first data on such demonization of Israel were already available more than 10 years ago. If the slander about Israel were true, the last Palestinian would have been killed long ago. In reality, and in stark contrast, the Palestinian population has greatly increased.

The demonization of Israel within Europe is not only due to the hate propaganda. The EU and many of its members have frequently condemned Israel in a prejudiced manner. Those who are quick to condemn Israel for any particular action have looked away from similar actions taken by other countries. According to the US State Department's definition of anti-Semitism, double standards – such as those held by the top of Europe's leadership -- are anti-Semitic.

My recent book, The War of A Million Cuts: The Struggle against the Delegitimization of Israel and the Jews, and the Growth of New Anti-Semitism (RVP Press and The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs) describes, in detail, the various motifs used by the hate inciters, their origins, how they bring their messages into society, and how the phenomenon can be fought.

Although the delegitimization of Israel is much less advanced in the US, one must conclude that in Europe an atmosphere is slowly developing which reminds one of the 1930s. It derives from a simple truth - that anti-Semitism is not only integral to Europe's history, but is part of its culture.

Israel Preps Health System in Case of MERS Outbreak

By Ha'aretz & Reuters

Israel's Health Ministry is to publish guidelines to the healthcare system on how to identify and treat Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). The guidelines are similar to those in place with regard to SARS, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, which is related to MERS, but will include particular references to South Korea, where there has been a MERS outbreak.

According to the guidelines, a person who has a fever of over 38 degrees Celsius (100.4 degrees Fahrenheit), has respiratory difficulties and has been in a South Korean hospital or has come into contact with a proven MERS patient, should be placed immediately in isolation. Both MERS and SARS manifest themselves as fever and a cough for a number of days that develops into pneumonia.

The Health Ministry does not intend at the moment to station representatives at airports, as was done in the case of the Ebola outbreak. However, the ministry might ask the Israel Airports Authority to place signs at the airports regarding MERS. No special drills are planned at this point for hospitals.

According Prof. Itamar Grotto, head of the ministry's public health department, over the past two years a number of people in Israel were suspected of possible infection with MERS, but they were found not to have it, and so the system is ready to handle such cases.

"We are following the spread of the virus and have recently received questions from hospitals on how to respond, and we thought it right to issue orderly guidelines. The virus is common mainly in the Arabian Peninsula and if it reaches Israel we expect it to come mainly from there and less from South Korea. In any case, Israelis who are going to South Korea at this time are briefed on this matter as well, among other things with regard to hygiene and avoiding contact with people who have the virus," Grotto said.

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