Israelis flying aid to Syrian rebels under the cover of humanitarianism
Maidhc Ó Cathail
The Passionate Attachment
September 12, 2013
On September 7, The Economist’s “Pomegranate” blog on the Middle East reported Israeli “consternation” over President Obama’s “seeming lack of resolve” to bomb Syria. After noting the help that Israel’s army has been giving to the Syrian rebels, the piece ended with an account of the seemingly ordinary Israelis providing humanitarian aid to their neighbors:
A couple of dozen Israeli aid workers in Syria have also helped drum up funds and support for the rebels back home. A former flight-attendant has led teams of up to eight Israelis into Syria. She says that she has delivered satellite phones, chemical suits and 300,000 dry meals since arriving in Deraa, the southern city where the uprising began in March 2011, and has succeeded in airlifting some Syrian injured to Tel Aviv. Nir Boms, an academic who used to work at Israel’s embassy in Washington, says that he has helped deliver hundreds of tonnes of aid to Syrian refugees. “Syrians had no idea who Israelis were for 65 years,” says Moti Kahana, a computer entrepreneur who has spent time with the rebels at their office in Washington as well as in Syria. “We’ve built a bridge.” Amongst his successes, he counts arranging the visit to Syria last May of Senator John McCain, who has argued vigorously in favour of an American strike against the Assad regime. “In 1943 the world could have bombed Auschwitz,” says Mr Kahana. “It’s my duty as an Israeli and as a Jew to ensure that it never happens again.”
According to a report in The Jewish Week on the Jewish organizations and individuals who offered relief in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, Moti Kahana is director of North American operations for Israeli Flying Aid, which was described as “a non-governmental agency that does humanitarian work around the world on a nonsectarian basis.” The article went on to describe the resourcefulness of the Israel lobby-linked bridge-builder to the Syrian rebels:
For Moti Kahana, who has joined a few Israeli Flying Aid humanitarian missions overseas in recent years, the work this week did not stop.
Working in coordination with FEMA, the Red Cross and various police departments, he arranged to loan large trailers — essentially portable gas stations with a 500-gallon capacity — that one of his businesses owns to the hospitals and clinics in this state and New Jersey that needed the gas for its ambulances and employees’ cars. He, and a small group of friends and relatives, all Israelis, drove the trailers, filled to the brim with gas, to each location.
“As Israelis, we know how to react to such disasters,” Kahana, who served in the Israeli Air Force, says — in other words, bypassing bureaucracy, not asking “if” something is possible. “Israelis know how to get things done.”
Each trailer is outfitted with a large Israeli flag, he says. “Everyone knows that it’s Jews, Israelis, who are helping.”
Israeli Flying Aid was founded in 2005 by Gal Lusky. A 2008 Haaretz profile of Lusky entitled “Woman on a mission” reports:
The organization’s work is often lost in the media fog, partly because it is at times carried out in countries hostile to Israel. Thus, the media is forbidden from mentioning what goes on there.
That may explain why The Economist piece didn’t name Lusky, who just happens to be a former flight-attendant, or her secretive “Israeli Flying Aid” to the al-Qaeda-led “rebels” destabilizing Tel Aviv’s northern neighbor.
UPDATE: A recent article in the Jewish Journal confirms Israeli Flying Aid’s presence in Syria:
“We go where we’re not invited,” Gal Lusky told me by phone from Tel Aviv, a few days after returning from another clandestine mission in Syria, where she and other Jews have brought in about 300,000 meals, five ambulances, and some 700 tons of aid over the past 18 months to help some of the millions of displaced victims of the Syrian war.
Lusky, who in 2005 founded the group Israeli Flying Aid, a nonprofit, non-governmental organization (NGO) that provides humanitarian relief to communities stricken by natural disasters or territorial conflicts around the world, asked me not to reveal how she got into Syria.
“We got in trouble last time because a previous route was revealed,” she said. “We can’t have this one revealed.”
The intrepid Israeli “humanitarian” also faced other difficulties:
She also got in trouble when a Syrian rebel commander found out that she was an Israeli Jew. Although Lusky had provided critical humanitarian assistance to the commander’s group, the commander could not swallow that she was part of the Zionist enemy.
“Let me finish with them [the Syrian government], and then I’m coming for you,” he told her.
The problem for the commander, though, was that there was no consensus in his “party” to get rid of Lusky’s group. As Lusky explained it to me, many Syrians in the rebel party were sympathetic to her group because they saw how these Jews were risking their lives to help them.
Eventually, she told me, the group actually splintered over this issue. Those who defended Lusky even signed an agreement to continue cooperating with Lusky’s group.
I asked her to bring this agreement to Los Angeles, where she will be speaking at the Temple of the Arts on Yom Kippur. She said she would, but it wouldn’t be for publication, because she couldn’t reveal the name of the rebel group.
Israeli Flying Aid, however, usually avoids this sort of troublesome suspicion by way of deception:
Depending on where they operate, they have different “appearances.” If they are in territory hostile to Jews and Israel, they will even appear as a Muslim or European group. The idea, Lusky says, is to enable the aid to enter and to minimize any safety risks, as there are already plenty of those. Having different “appearances” is obviously a small price to pay for saving human lives.
But the greatest problem facing Israelis such as Lusky are the governments who are suspicious of the kind of aid they bring:
Her biggest enemy is often the regimes that don’t allow humanitarian assistance of any kind. “They even make laws against this kind of help,” she told me. “For them, these laws are more important than life.
“They call us criminals, but the victims call us angels.”
Just imagine the cynicism of Bashar al-Assad seeing a group of Israeli “angels” who deliver satellite phones and chemical suits to foreign-backed jihadists terrorizing his country as criminals!
UPDATE II: Nir Boms, the other Israeli delivering aid to Syria mentioned by The Economist, has quite an intriguing biography for a “humanitarian”:
Dr. Boms is research fellow at Moshe Dayan Center at Tel Aviv University and at the International Center for Counter Terrorism in Hertzliya. He is a member of the board of the Institute for Monitoring peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education and the Co-Founder of CyberDissidents.org, network of bloggers from the Middle East that focuses on freedom of expression and the promotion of dialogue in the region. Prior to his return to Israel, in 2004, he served as the Vice President of the Washington based Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD).
Prior to his tenure at FDD, Dr. Boms held a position at the Embassy of Israel in Washington, DC as the Academic Liaison, serving as an educator, specialist and guest lecturer on Israeli and Middle Eastern affairs.
His articles appeared in Ynet , Ha’aretz, The wall Street Journal, The Washington Times, Iran Times International, Today Zaman (turkey), The Jerusalem Post, The National Review, The Asia Times, The National Interests, and Israeli Journal of Foreign Affairs among others. He also participated in the writing of “Copts in Egypt, A Christian Minority Under Siege” (G2W-Verlag, 2006) and “The Long March to the West” (Valentine Mitchell, 2007).
Dr. Boms has extensive educational and outreach experience working in Israel, the United States and Europe. During the course of his career, he has taught and lectured in Australia, Bulgaria England, Hungary, Poland, Turkey and the United States, the United Nation and Human Rights council on issues relating to the Middle East, Terrorism, Islam and Democracy. He is fluent in Hebrew, English and Arabic.
Dr. Boms received his doctorate from the University of Haifa. His dissertation deals with the Influence of Information Technology on the Creation of Civic Society in Syria and Iran. He holds two Master degrees in the fields of Political Science and Judaic Studies from the University of Maryland, as well as a Bachelor degree in Education and Political Science from the University of Haifa.
Dr. Boms served in the Israeli Defense Forces as a communication officer and holds the rank of Captain (Res) [emphasis added].
Maidhc Ó Cathail is an investigative journalist and Middle East analyst. He is also the creator and editor of The Passionate Attachment blog, which focuses primarily on the U.S.-Israeli relationship. You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter @O_Cathail.