'White Helmets Op in Syria Basically Over, Decision's Been Made' – Professor

© AFP 2023 / ABDULMONAM EASSA Forty-five-year-old Samir Salim (L) who along with his three brothers are members of the White Helmets rescue forces looks out at destroyed buildings in the town of Medeira in Syria's rebel-held Eastern Ghouta area on February 12 2018.
Forty-five-year-old Samir Salim (L) who along with his three brothers are members of the White Helmets rescue forces looks out at destroyed buildings in the town of Medeira in Syria's rebel-held Eastern Ghouta area on February 12 2018. - Sputnik International
Jordan's Foreign Ministry announced that 422 White Helmets volunteers and their families have been evacuated to Jordan by the Israeli military instead of the 800 originally planned. In response Tel-Aviv said that it took action at the request of the US, Canada and the EU because the personnel faced an “immediate threat to their lives.”

Sputnik has discussed this with Professor Gabriel Ben-Dor, Head of National Security Studies Programs at the University of Haifa.

Sputnik: In your view why did Israel decide to intervene and evacuate members of the White Helmets organization?

Gabriel Ben-Dor: I don’t think Israel decided to intervene. Israel has a very firm policy not to intervene in what’s happening in Syria and it has been able to help only on the humanitarian level. It has been willing to render assistance which is medical, humanitarian, logistic to people in need. In this particular case, apparently, it responded to requests by the Europeans, Americans and others to render humanitarian assistance and that is all. The Israeli public is very determined not to be involved in the civil war in Syria in any manner, shape or form.

READ MORE: Damascus Calls White Helmets' Evacuation From Syria 'Criminal Op' by Israel

Sputnik: Professor, how can this decision to evacuate members of the White Helmets impact Israel’s position on the Syrian conflict?

Gabriel Ben-Dor: It doesn’t. As I said it’s purely a humanitarian issue. Israel's position in the conflict in Syria is very simple. Israel has no problem with the present situation which is the restoration of the Assad regime’s control over the entire territory which is okay for us as long as the Agreement on Disengagement of 1974 is observed; as long as Iranian forces are not allowed to advance towards the Israeli border and to take up offensive position and that is all. This is more or less agreed-upon with all the major international forces. Certainly there are very intensive talks going on all the time between Israel and Russia about this. At the recent Helsinki meeting between Putin and Trump this was agreed upon, and these are the parameters with which Israel would like to work. Everything else is minor; everything else is just a minor humanitarian assistance which is given on an occasional basis and nothing beyond that.

Sputnik: Professor, does the withdrawal of the White Helmets and their family members mean that their operation in Syria is over or is there a chance that they may return?

This photo provided on Sunday, Jan. 7, 2018 by the Syrian Civil Defense White Helmets, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, shows Civil Defense workers inspecting a damages building after a bombing that targeted the office of Ajnad al-Koukaz, a militant group consisting of foreign fighters mostly from the Caucuses and Russia, in Idlib, Syria - Sputnik International
Over 400 White Helmets Fail to Leave Syria Amid Evacuation by Israel - Reports
Gabriel Ben-Dor: I don’t know whether or not they will return, but the operation is basically over from the strategic point of view. The decision has already been made and what we're seeing is really that the Syrian government is just mopping up the final pockets of resistance. As far as we can tell from the area that we're interested in, in southeastern Syria the operation is more or less over.

Sputnik: And in your view why have the White Helmets members been evacuated from Syria?

Gabriel Ben-Dor: I really don’t know. I don’t know the details of the operation. They are being kept secret in Israel. Like I said, I think it was a humanitarian issue. I think there has been some series of appeals to Israel from the Europeans, Americans and others to help on the humanitarian basis in order to help this conflict come to an end, because it’s easier to evacuate these people than to encourage them to continue resisting the advance of the Syrian Army, which would merely end up in still more bloodshed and so on and so forth. So the Israeli view on this is that humanitarian assistance we have rendered does not amount to an intervention, and in fact it helps bring the civil war to a quicker end and makes it less bloody than otherwise.

Sputnik: Professor, the Israeli government has expressed willingness to cooperate with the Syrian government, is this still the case?

Gabriel Ben-Dor: Yes, very much so more than ever. The Israeli government has never had any trouble with the Assad regime in Syria as long as the Assad regime respected the 1974  Disengagement Agreement which is once again being called upon is a major parameter governing relations between the two countries, and as long as this is the situation we have no problem with this particular government. I don’t think there are direct negotiations going on with the government, but with the mediation of Russia and various other factors there is an understanding between the two governments. So, this is the Israeli position at the moment.

READ MORE: Top 5 Facts to Know About the White Helmets Amid Controversial Syrian Evacuation

Sputnik: Professor do you think that  Israel is potentially prepared to play a bigger role in resolving the Syrian conflict?

Gabriel Ben-Dor: I don’t think Israel has been called upon to play a bigger role. And Israel, as I said once again, has no interest in intervening. Israel does not take a position on what is happening, who’s right and who's wrong. Israel’s willing to recognize the facts of life which are that the Syrian government, headed by Assad is restoring its sovereignty over the entire territory; which is fine, and I think we do not have a role to play. If we did want to play a role, I think it would not be seen as a positive role by anybody. We haven’t been asked by the Syrian government to intervene. We haven't been asked by the international forces, and we only have two major interests. One, we want to make sure that this Disengagement Agreement is observed, that there's a boundary on the Golan Heights between the two countries. And second, that the Syrian government does not allow Iranian forces to use their offensive  capabilities against Israel in the region. That is all.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect Sputnik’s official position.

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