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Israel may yet make biggest difference — but not by absorbing the refugees

September 09, 2015 17:39

Isaac Herzog is normally a level-headed politician and should have known better than to suggest Israel invite in Syrian refugees.

The Labour leader may have been trying to copy the example of his European colleagues, but any serious reflection would have led to the conclusion that Syrians would most certainly prefer Germany and other European countries to a stay in Israel, which would probably rule out their safe return to Syria in the future.

That does not mean that Israel cannot do other things to help the refugees.

One option is to contribute a naval force to the joint efforts of a number of European countries to rescue refugees and migrants who are being abandoned in the Mediterranean by smugglers. Those migrants come not only from Syria, but from other war-torn countries as well.

The resources for this operation are always stretched and could be greatly enhanced by Israel's equipment and personnel.

Israel could mobilise for such an operation in a matter of days as its navy has already established joint search-and-rescue procedures with many of the Nato members that have deployed ships to the Mediterranean.

At a later stage, once the refugees arriving in Europe have been found places to live and start to plan their future, Israel can assist the host countries with its expertise in adult-learning and technological training.

Some of the refugees may be unhappy working directly with representatives of the Israeli government. This problem could be resolved by allowing local Jewish communities and Jewish organisations such as World ORT - which uses Israeli know-how but is based in London and is recognised as a world leader in technological education - to run the programmes.

Of the four countries surrounding Syria, Israel has the shortest border. It is also the least accessible due to the topography of the Golan Heights and the large minefields on either side. It is hard to envisage a major exodus of refugees taking place on the Golan.

However, there are some Syrians for whom the Golan is close by, particularly members of the Syrian Druze community who have relatives and co-religionists on the Israeli side.

Most of the Druze in Syria have so far kept out of the civil war, but they are increasingly coming under threat from both Assad's army and Daesh. The latter has spread into southern Syria, although it remains over 50 miles away from the Golan. Due largely to the presence of Hizbollah across the border, Israel is wary of opening the crossings. Should the Druze come under fire, however, some military experts believe that Israel could enforce a no-fly zone on the Syrian Golan, thereby creating the first safe haven for civilians within Syria.

September 09, 2015 17:39

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