Jake Wallis Simons on the Israeli/Syrian border — Daily Mail Dec 8, 2015
Under cover of darkness, an Israeli armoured car advances down the potholed road that leads to Syria. As it crests a small hill, the driver picks up the radio handset and tells his commanding officer that the border is in sight.
He kills the engine. Ten heavily-armed commandos jump out and take cover, watching for signs of ambush. Then five of them move up to the 12ft chainlink fence that marks the limit of Israeli-held territory.
On the other side, on the very edge of Syria, lies an unconscious man wrapped like a doll in a blood-drenched duvet. The commandos unlock the fence, open a section of it and drag him onto Israeli soil.
But this wounded man is not an Israeli soldier, or even an Israeli citizen. He is an Islamic militant. And his rescue forms part of an extraordinary humanitarian mission that is fraught with danger and has provoked deep controversy on all sides.
MailOnline has gained unprecedented access to this secretive and hazardous operation, embedding with the commandos to obtain exclusive footage, and interviewing the medics who are obliged to treat Syrian militants, some of whom openly admit that they intend to kill Israelis.
The casualty – who doesn’t look older than 20 – is losing blood fast. He has been shot in the intestines and the liver, and has a deep laceration in his left ankle.
After putting him on an emergency drip, the commandos stretcher him back to the armoured car and head back to Israel.
Almost every night, Israeli troops run secret missions to save the lives of Syrian fighters, all of whom are sworn enemies of the Jewish state.
Israel insists that these treacherous nightly rescues are purely humanitarian, and that it can only hope to ‘win hearts and minds’ in Syria. But analysts suggest the Jewish state has in fact struck a deadly ‘deal with the devil’ – offering support to the Sunni militants who fight the Syrian ruler Assad in the hope of containing its arch enemies Hezbollah and Iran.
‘My dream is that one day, the Red Cross will say, thanks guys, we’ll take it from here, you go back to your unit and take care of injured Israelis,’ said Lieutenant Colonel Itzik Malka, commander of the medical branch of the Golan Brigade.
‘I am proud of what we are doing here, but it is a great burden. For every Syrian in hospital, there is one less bed for an Israeli. One day we will have to make a choice between an Israeli life and a Syrian one. When that happens it will be hard, but I have to say my first duty will be to Israelis.’
There is no doubt about the danger involved. Many of the casualties rescued by Israel belong to Salafist groups who harbour a deep-seated hatred of the Jewish State. It has also been reported that some may be members of Jabhat al-Nusra, a Syrian group affiliated to Al Qaeda that has kidnapped scores of UN peacekeeping troops in this area, and has massacred Christians deeper in Syria.
t is unclear how the two enemies arrange the rescue. All that has been disclosed is that word reaches Israeli forces that casualties have been dumped at the border, intelligence establishes that it is not a trap, and the commandos are sent in.
In the three years that Israel has been running these operations, it has saved the lives of more than 2,000 Syrians – at least 80 per cent of whom are male and of fighting age – at a cost of 50 million shekels (£8.7 million).
Almost nothing is known about the Syrian as he is wheeled into emergency surgery 40 minutes after the rescue. He may be a member of a relatively moderate Islamist group, or he may be a jihadi. For its part, Israel says it either does not gather, or does not disclose, this information.
Officially, Israel says that this operation is part of its programme of humanitarianism, which has provided aid to a long list of countries from Haiti to Nepal. Palestinian civilians are also regular patients at Israeli hospitals such as the Rambam Medical Centre in Haifa.