Israel Rescues Syrian White Helmets: Zero Thanks [VIDEO]
Israel Rescues Syrian White Helmets: Zero Thanks [VIDEO]
Thanks to Israel, there was an amazing rescue this weekend – a feat weeks in the making, and teetering on the edge of disaster time and again, before culminating in an incredible success. The vaunted “White Helmets” of Syria, long targeted by the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and his Russian allies as rebel sympathizers and worse, were rapidly being surrounded by regime and ISIL forces on the march. If any were to survive the conflict, the only option was an escape.
But how to effect one?
This month, Dara’a finally fell to Assad’s guns. Armed rebels agreed to terms of surrender that allowed them either to reconcile with the government or evacuate to the northern province of Idlib, on the border with Turkey. The Russians reportedly balked, however, at allowing civilian members of the White Helmets—who have been funded by Western governments—to find safety. Syria and Russia have falsely accused them of being terrorists and jihadi supporters, because they work in opposition areas where there are little or no government services. On its Web site, the group claims to “save people on all sides of the conflict.” In previous surrender deals, White Helmets were reportedly detained by government forces and sent to Syria’s notorious prisons.
Can anyone keep a secret?
This threat was particularly acute, he said, because during previous evacuations from fallen opposition areas elsewhere, nearly a dozen White Helmets volunteers were specifically targeted, pulled from buses, tortured and filmed making false confessions about being paid agents. They were even filmed with weapons to support the government’s narrative they work closely with the armed groups.
“It was a pattern of behavior,” he said.
The discussions about the White Helmets’ safety started between Britain, Germany and Canada before the NATO summit on July 9. At the summit, there were leader-to-leader meetings over the issue.
Evacuating them through Jordan quickly became impossible as government forces advanced, seizing a vital border crossing from the rebels and then deploying along the border. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he agreed to let them cross through Israel, after an appeal from U.S. President Donald Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Finding where the volunteers were in the fast-changing battlefield was a challenge. Conscious not to raise expectations, the planners only asked the volunteers whether they would accept an opportunity to evacuate through Israel.
Some declined, the source said, fearing they had no guarantees where they would end up. The leadership of the White Helmets was unanimous in accepting, despite the likelihood the government would point to the Israel route in propaganda against them.
Turns out, they can.
The call came on Saturday night. In the raging war zone that is southwestern Syria, with enemy forces on the march, the 98 White Helmets volunteers brought their spouses, children and a personal bag each. A total of 421 people massed at two collection points where they were to make their crossing to safety.
By the time they crossed, they were 422. One woman went into labor, requiring an emergency C-section. Her son, Nairouz, came into the world in an open field under the darkness of night just short of the frontier with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
It was just one moment of drama in a complicated international rescue operation to extract the Syrian volunteer rescuers who work in opposition areas through their country’s bitter enemy Israel by bus to a temporary haven in Jordan.
It was a nail-biting trip to a crossing over one of the most tightly sealed frontiers in the world. Up until the last minute, those on the ground were uncertain the operation would go through.
But go through it DID.
With the help of searchlights from the Israeli side, about half of the White Helmets, exhausted and fearful, eventually made it across the Israeli border by foot. Israeli security forces picked up about a hundred White Helmets and some three hundred of their family members.
Once everyone who could make the rendezvous was safely across into the Golan, then loaded on Israeli buses headed into Jordan, the relieved accolades started pouring forth.
According to Lieutenant Colonel. “A”, commander of Operation Good Neighbor in which Israel provides aid to Syrians fleeing the war: “There is no doubt that [the situation] was meaningful as we stood on the border fence yesterday absorbing families, especially women and children – families who initially cower in fear but when reaching the border have a sparkle in their eyes knowing that they have received their lives back. I am happy to be an officer in the army and in a country that carries out such an operation and expresses values of humanity and compassion. This is the essence of our work and this is a moment of great significance.”
US Ambassador David Friedman tweeted: “Acting at the direction of President Trump, I had the privilege to work with the Israeli Government & my incredible colleagues at State & NSC in coordinating Israel’s daring rescue of #WhiteHelmets and their families from Syria. Thank you Israel for the great humanitarian effort!”
Heather Nauert, the US Department of State spokesperson commented that “We deeply appreciate Israel’s role in facilitating the transit of the White Helmets and their family members. We commend Jordan’s generosity in supporting their processing by UNHCR and the commitment of the United Kingdom, Canada, and Germany to provide the White Helmets and their families with permanent homes.”
…Neither the AP report nor the Jordanian government statement mentioned Israel. This points to the fact that Israel’s role was considered controversial, and that the method of the evacuation had to be kept under wraps until it was complete.
“Following the request of the United States and other European countries, and in according with the directives of the political leadership, the IDF completed a humanitarian effort to rescue members of a Syrian civilian organizations and their families from the fighting zone in southern Syria,” the IDF said on Sunday morning. The transfer was carried out as a humanitarian gesture and the Syrians were transported to a neighboring country, the statement said. “Israel does not intervene in internal fighting in Syria.”
In reading story after thrilling story and watching video after video, there is a recurring, heartwarming theme. Maybe you can catch my drift as well with a quick headline check:
Seems the common denominator, the heroes of the day, are…the Israelis. Even the Syrian government took a shot at the Israelis when they found the White Helmets had slipped through their murderous fingers.
“The criminal operation that Israel and its tools conducted in the area reveals the true nature of the so-called White Helmets,” said a source at the foreign ministry, cited by state news agency SANA.
Given some time to recover, one would expect a statement out of the Syria Civil Defense/”White Helmets” and we got one Monday afternoon…
…and nowhere to be found in the thank yous is the word “ISRAEL.”
Jordan makes the first paragraph: “YAY! We’re here SAFE!” Transported by magic carpet through the “occupied Syrian Golan Heights” were you?
Hey? The guys WITH THE BUSES you all RODE ON? They're called "ISRAELIS"https://t.co/UccHvGZxqO
— tree hugging sister (@treehuggingsis) July 24, 2018
Not mentioning Israel because “controversial” went out the window as an excuse the second everyone was home free, and the press releases started flying. Trust me, folks – who are you gonna piss off? You’re out of the country safely. Shame the other folks couldn’t get out, but YOU were lucky enough to have made it, and you didn’t do it by yourselves. A statement thanking everyone on the face of the earth except, you know, for the mortal enemies who turned the searchlights on in the desert so you could find your way to shelter? Who had transportation and food ready and waiting for you? Incomprehensible. Despicable. And ingratitude of a magnitude that one has to fight hard not to ascribe to an innate hatred of the Israelis.
It truly blackens whatever luster your rescue operations gave your organization. If you can’t overcome your prejudices, tap into your humanity for one galling moment, to speak a simple word of thanks for your own lives?
Well, then, one needs to ask – were you worth the risk?
What a tragedy if you were not.