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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

Assad Tries to Stir Up Trouble among the Druze on the Golan Heights

Filed under: Israel, Lebanon, Syria

Assad Tries to Stir Up Trouble among the Druze on the Golan Heights
Druze on the Israeli Golan Heights (IDF Spokesperson)

During the first week of September 2019, a large group of Druze sheikhs from the Golan Heights sought to visit Syria. However, Israel did not allow them to cross into Jordan on their way to Damascus.

The incident begs the question: what is going on between the Druze on the Golan Heights and their brethren in Syria and Lebanon?

Since the Assad regime returned to the Syrian side of the Golan Heights in July 2018, pro-Syrian activities have increased among the Druze in the area. These activities ceased during the time that Assad lost control over the border area in the Syrian civil war (2012-2018). The pendulum even swung in the opposite direction, with activities showing solidarity with the rebels and a distancing from Assad.

Today, the offices of the Mukhabarat – Syria’s Military Intelligence Directorate – have reopened in Quneitra and are already intervening in villages on the Israeli side of the Golan Heights. The city of Quneitra is also being rebuilt. While Assad is maintaining quiet on the border, he is also interfering on the Israeli side to stir up riots and unrest.

Before the delegation of sheikhs, there was a demonstration against the Trump plan. What do the Druze have to do with the Trump plan? The anti-American Mukhabarat in Quneitra provided the answers.

The Druze Are Not Necessarily Pro-Assad

The return of Syrian operatives to the Golan does not mean that Assad will succeed. The Druze in the Golan Heights are aware of what happened on the Syrian side and al-Qaida’s attacks on Druze regions in Syria. The attacks ended in the massacres of many Druze in 2015 and again in 2018; others were taken captive, including women.

The Druze understood that this was Assad’s way of harming them and threatening them because they refused to send their youth to Assad’s army to fight in Idlib, preferring that the young Druze would protect their homes in Jabal al-Druze. “They want to sacrifice the youths of Jebel al-Arab in Idlib,” a Druse leader charged in July 2018.

Rally in support of Syrian President Bashar Assad
Rally in support of Syrian President Bashar Assad, October 2018, in the Israeli-controlled town of Massade. (Al Masdar News, identified as a pro-Assad publication)

This incident alienated the Druze from Assad, and there are reports that they are following Hizbullah’s entrenchment around them with suspicion.

Therefore, it is hard to believe that Assad’s intervention in the Golan Heights will be successful because the Druze value the security and prosperity they gain in Israel.

Druze in Lebanon

Regarding Lebanon, there is a dispute in the country between the supporters of the pro-Syrian President Michel Aoun and those of Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, who tries to be as independent as possible.

Lebanon is suffering from a severe economic crisis. It is trying to recruit investors wherever it can, and the gas reserves off the coast of the Mediterranean are very attractive. For this purpose, it needs to define its borders with Israel permanently so that it can also lay out its naval boundaries. This will enable international companies to invest on dry land and drill in the sea. Lebanese President Michel Aoun met with the commander of UNIFIL (UN Interim Force in Lebanon) on September 13 and encouraged the continued presence of the force’s maritime units. “”It is important to keep the UNIFIL’s maritime forces until we are able to increase our capacities despite our financial difficulties,” Aoun said.

Hassan Nasrallah with Walid Jumblatt
Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah meeting with Lebanese Druse leader Walid Jumblatt. (Arab press)

Jumblatt’s independent stance is especially helpful to economic groups thirsty for investment, and during the first week in September the Druze leader met with senior Hizbullah figures. Jumblatt stated that during talks with the Shiite militants, “the boundaries of the dispute were set.” In other words, Hizbullah will continue to stick with its slogans, but it will not sabotage the efforts to extricate Lebanon from the economic crisis.