n a farewell interview with the Sunday Times, Gadi Eisenkot, who is retiring as Israeli Defence Forces’ Chief of Staff this week, revealed that Israel had been directly involved in the Syrian conflict, has acknowledged for the first time that Tel Aviv had supplied rebel groups in the border area with light weapons for “self-defense”.
Media outlets and Damascus have been speculating for years that Israel has been providing weaponry to opposition groups in Syria during the country’s seven-year civil war, but the Jewish state never commented on the reports, only saying that it had given humanitarian aid.
In September 2018, Foreign Policy magazine reported that Israel had secretly supplied arms and provided funds to at least 12 Syrian rebel groups in order to keep Iranian-backed forces and Daesh* terrorists away from Israel’s border.
According to sources, the Israeli assistance programme included machine guns, mortar launchers, transport vehicles, assault rifles, in addition to a $75 salary to rebel fighters and additional funds to purchase weapons on the Syrian black market.
Two months ago, Maj. Gen. Gershon Hacohen revealed that former Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon had personally met with Syrian rebels at the height of the Syrian conflict.
In previous interviews and media appearances, Eisenkot admitted that the IDF had conducted hundreds of raids in Syria against purported Iranian infrastructure: in 2018 alone, the IDF dropped 2,000 bombs on alleged Iranian targets.
“We carried out thousands of attacks [in recent years] without taking responsibility and without asking for credit”, he said.
Eisenkot’s departing interview appeared to be part of a broader movement within Israel to be more transparent about the country’s military activities: for instance, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that the IDF had bombed Iranian weapons caches in Damascus International Airport just two days ago.
Netanyahu further elaborated that “the accumulation of recent attacks proves that we are determined more than ever to take action against Iran in Syria, and we will strike harder in Syria if needed”.
Damascus has on multiple occasions condemned the attacks, dismissing them as a violation of the country’s sovereignty. Both Syria and Iran have consistently maintained that Tehran’s presence is limited to military advisers assisting in the fight against terrorists.