The situation in southern Syria has taken a turn for the worst in recent weeks, and at the heart of the south is Jabal Al-‘Arab (Jabal al-Druze), home to the largest concentration of Druze in the world.
Following Jabhat al-Nusra’s (al Qaeda in Syria) capture of Brigade 52 Base in the Dara’a Governorate, the terrorist group shifted their attention to the Tha’aleh Military Airbase in Sweida’s western countryside, where local villagers – alongside the National Defence Forces and the Syrian Arab Army – have mobilized to combat the Al-Qaeda group.
Al-Qaeda’s Attack on Sweida
If the Al-Qaeda terrorists overrun the Tha’aleh Military Airbase, they will have effectively exposed Sweida entirely from its western flank.
Nearby the provincial capital, at least two people were killed this week when mortar shells struck a number of residential neighborhoods; these civilians were the first such casualties in Sweida.
The attack was an attempt by sleeper cells inside the province to create a diversion for the Syrian security forces. Local media outlets later reported that the culprits were apprehended after locals discovered their launching point for this attack in the Maqwas area.
Sweida Fights Back
With a potential siege looming, Jabal Al-‘Arab is facing its gravest threat since January 2013.
According to local sources and social media activists from the province, a meeting has taken place between the General Secretary of Hezbollah, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, and the Lebanese MP of the ‘Aley District, Prince Talal Arslan; this meeting would reveal the Syrian Government’s decision to proliferate weapons and provide reinforcements through Lebanon’s eastern countryside in order to preserve Sweida’s fortifications.
Although no mainstream media outlets have reported on this meeting; if true, Hezbollah will play an imperative role in the defence of Sweida through its logistical supply of arms to the civil defense units.
Potential Israeli Interference
According to a report from Reuters, the Israeli President Reuven Rivlin has expressed his concern to the U.S. President Barrack Obama over the fate of Syria’s Durzi population, in the face of the Islamist threat creeping into the Druze homeland.
What Rivlin was setting the mood for was a pretext for Israeli intervention in southern Syria in order to supposedly “protect” the Druze population from the same Jabhat al-Nusra militants that his government has succored for over a year.
President Rivlin’s gesture was firmly rejected by Sweida’s leaders, who later accused Israel of playing deceptive politics to serve its own interests in the region. Sheikh Hussein Jarboue of Sweida recently stated in an interview with the Lebanese news outlet ‘Al-Mayadeen’ that if Israel cared about the Druze, then they should stop using the occupied Syrian Golan Heights to provide medical treatment to the Takfiri groups, who are not only a threat to the Druze, but to all Syrian people.
Rivlin’s statement was merely an attempt to depict a lack of confidence in the Syrian Arab Army and to falsely present Syria’s Druze as an ally of the Zionist state. Sheikh Jarboue reiterated that Sweida’s safety lies with the Syrian government, and as a province of the united Syrian Arab Republic.
Israel’s Hidden Agenda
Israel has tried to subdue the Druze in the occupied Golan Heights with repeated attempts to enforce Israeli citizenship upon them. Earlier this year, the Israeli Defense Forces arrested the 48 year old, Sedki al-Maket of the Golan Heights, for filming a meeting between Israeli officials and the Al-Qaeda militants near the Syrian border.
Israel has repeatedly played the sectarian card to fulfill their endeavor of partitioning Syria into multiple states based on religious sect; this would likely give the Zionist state the legitimacy that it so desperately needs.
The Zionist’s endeavor models the same issue that was plaguing the Yazidis in Iraq before they disappeared from the international headlines. The Yazidi plight was used as the pretext for the launch of the US-led Coalition’s ineffective bombing campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham. Israel would like to paint the Druze as helpless victims in need of saving.
However, the situation on the ground tells otherwise – the Druze are organising. Close coordination between the Syrian Arab Army and local defence groups indicate that the Syrian Government still possesses a strong support base in the Druze heartland. The prospect of Sweida falling into the hands of Al-Qaeda, like Palmyra and Idlib before, seems very unlikely.
Sweida Stands Strong
Firstly, the Druze militias are not just comprised of the Sweida National Defence Forces and Jeish al-Muwahideen: a new battalion containing 33 different factions was launched last month. ‘Dere’a al-Watan’ or ‘The Homeland’s Shield’, under the leadership of the retired army officer, General Nayef al-Aaqel, is believed to have mobilised and armed at least 100,000 civilians of Sweida’s men and women.
Secondly, there is absolutely no support base for the terrorists in Sweida. The Druze are considered religious heretics by radical Islamists; this was confirmed after the recent Jabhat al-Nusra massacre of Druze villagers at Qalb Lawzeh (Idlib province), further proving the impossibility of them surviving under extremist Sunni rule.
While terrorist groups in other parts of Syria may have found support from a small minority of Al-Qaeda sympathisers, they can be sure that no Jihadists will be welcomed in Jabal al-Druze.
Thirdly, no towns or villages were evacuated in Sweida. Leaders have stated that the locals themselves – alongside the Syrian Army – will form the frontline of defence against Jabhat al Nusra from the west and ISIS from the northeast.
Sheikh Hussein Jarboue confirmed that there will be no concessions or negotiations made with the militants attacking the Druze homeland. This is contrary to the stance of Lebanese Druze politician Walid Joumblatt, who called for the Syrians to desert their army and agree to a settlement with Jabhat al-Nusra.
Anyone following the conflict must understand that the events currently unfolding in Sweida are not a threat to the Druze only, but a threat to the whole of Syria. While the threat against the Druze is serious and real, all of Syria’s communities are facing extinction from the Western-sponsored Takfiri groups.
Just like the attacks on Maaloula, Kassab, and Kobani before, an attack on Sweida threatens Syria’s unity and distinct pluralist fabric. While there is a constant effort to report the Syrian war in sectarian terms, the truth is that the extremist Takfiri groups are not just a threat to Syria, but to the whole region.