Event Summary: ‘Forbidden Aid: The Case of Israeli Humanitarian Diplomacy in Syria’


By Sam Freedman

On Wednesday 1st March the Henry Jackson Society welcomed Dr Nir Boms, Research Fellow at the International Centre for Counter Terrorism, and Issam Zeitoun, an Independent Syrian Opposition figure. Dr Nir Boms started by outlining the current state of Syria and the Middle East more broadly, painting a bleak picture of an intractable sectarian conflict and brutal humanitarian suffering. He described Syria as a country, but hardly a nation state, currently containing within its borders three self-proclaimed state entities: the Syrian Opposition, the Federation of Northern Syria and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Spread across these is an eclectic patchwork of ethnicities and religions often with deeply rooted hostilities and prejudices bubbling beneath the surface for decades before they boiled over in 2011. This all had led to refugee crisis with large populations of Syrians fleeing to the surrounding countries and into Europe. Worst affected are Lebanon and Jordan with almost a fifth of Lebanon’s population comprising Syrian refugees.

Dr Boms went on to describe the work of Israeli aid teams in Syria and the refugee camps in surrounding countries. He told the audience that over 4000 wounded Syrians had been treated in Israel since the start of the war and of the novel and pioneering techniques being used to treat the wounded. In a specific case he told of how a Syrian boy’s leg was saved through a series of complex reconstructive surgeries in Israel, requiring the most modern facilities and a variety of specialists. In the vast majority of cases the treatment for this type of injury in a warzone is amputation.

He also talked about the Israeli contribution of aid to Syrians, especially children. Organisations such as Israeli Flying Aid provide life-saving supplies to otherwise inaccessible areas of Syria such as food, drinking water, clothes and blankets. In addition to this initiatives such as Operation Human Warmth provide emergency winter aid to Syrians.

Issam Zeitoun spoke next on the Syrian regime and a discussion of the geo-political forces surrounding the conflict. He described the Assad regime as police state using extensive security and military apparatus to maintain the Alawite status-quo in country with a strongly Sunni majority. The army officership and intelligence agencies had been staffed almost exclusively with Alawites and Assad loyalists having been purged of any subversive elements. Mr Zeitoun went on to discuss the global and regional interests at play with Iranian and Russian support playing a decisive role in the military success of the Assad regime.

Both Dr Boms and Mr Zeitoun went on to briefly comment on the role of the Gulf States in conflict saying that while they do not accept Syrian refugees that they provide both military aid to the Syrian opposition and humanitarian aid to civilians.



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