Is My Enemy’s Enemy My Friend? Reactions on Social Media to the Israeli Attack on Syria

Adam Hoffman examines the reactions on social media to Israel's February 2018 attack on positions in Syrian territory. Surprisingly, the attack was welcomed by users from Syria and other Arab countries.
Author: 
Download pdf (722.94 KB)

Results of a survey conducted by Faisal al-Qassem, who asked followers if they would support Israel or Iran, in the event of a war between them, from Twitter
description: 

Results of a survey conducted by Faisal al-Qassem, who asked followers if they would support Israel or Iran, in the event of a war between them. From Twitter



On February 10, 2018,  there was a significant escalation on the Israeli-Syrian border, after a remotely-controlled Iranian aircraft penetrated Israeli territory and was intercepted. Following the incident, Israeli Air Force planes attacked the Syria’s T-4 airbase, in the Tadmor area, from which the drone was operated. The foray destroyed anti-aircraft batteries belonging to the Syrian regime in what a senior Israeli officer described as the most extensive attack against Syrian air defenses since 1982.[1] According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, six soldiers were killed in the attack. The fatalities included not only Syrians from Assad’s troops but also non-Syrians,[2] apparently Iranians from the forces that operate the batteries.[3]Alongside the predictable reactions praising the subsequent downing of an Israeli warplane, some Syrian users of social media called on Israel to continue acting against the Assad regime. These responses illustrate how the accepted definition of “who is an enemy” has changed in the Middle East since the beginning of the Syrian Civil War. Today, an Israeli military attack against Syrian and Iranian positions has the support of various parties both inside and outside Syria.

Among the predictable reactions to the downing of the Israeli plane was the response of a Syrian user who circulated pictures showing supporters of the Assad regime in Damascus and Beirut, who seem to be distributing sweets to passersby on the street as an expression of joy. Another Syrian user shared pictures showing parts of the downed plane, and stressed that the Golan Heights are Syrian and not Israeli. Images of wreckage from the Israeli plane appeared in the tweets of other Syrian users, who wanted to portray the attacks against Syria as a failure, and thus to damage Israel’s image.[4]

However, Israel’s action against the Assad regime also received surprising support from many Syrian users, in part because it forced a temporary interruption in the bombing of the towns Ghouta and Idlib by Russian and Syrian planes. These attacks have increased considerably recently, with 500 civilians killed last week in eastern Ghouta alone. Israeli journalist Anshel Pfeffer described the situation well: “Syrian civilians there are being allowed a few, rare hours of peace.”[5] Similar responses were received from other users, such as one from Aleppo who tweeted after the attack: “Good news from Ghouta. There are no air strikes over our heads today.” Regarding the question of Syrian citizens’ support of attacks against the Assad regime, he wrote, “We are unconcerned with other countries’ reasons. We want our children to live in peace.” [6] In another tweet, he declared, “We are with any attack against the murderers that might brought [sic] some justice for oppressed people who are dying every day in Idlib and Ghouta”.[7] Another Syrian user, who presents himself as a political and media activist and a supporter of the Syrian revolution, tweeted in response to pictures shared by the regime’s supporters who were happy about the downed Israeli plane: “As Syrians, we welcome any Israeli air or naval attack against the [Syrian] regime or Iran in Syria.”[8] These expressions of joy are very reminiscent of the responses to the American attack on Syria in April last year, when US President Trump ordered the launch of cruise missiles at a Syrian army base in response to the chemical attack carried out by the Assad regime in the town of Khan Sheikhun. Many Syrian users thanked President Trump for his military action, using the hashtag, “We love you.”[9]

The Israeli attack also engendered expressions of support from Arab users outside Syria. The answers to a question posed by the one of the most influential and popular journalists in the Arab world, Faisal al-Qassem, who presents “Another Opinion” on Al-Jazeera television, are but one example. On the day of the Israeli attack, he asked his five million followers on Twitter, “If war broke out... between Israel on one side, and Iran and its militias in Syria on the other, who would you support?” Of the more than 23,000 users who responded, 56% of them said they would support Israel, while 44% said they would support Iran and its militias.[10] Although such support for Israel is purely hypothetical, it reflects the strong opposition among large parts of the Arab public to Iranian involvement in the Middle East generally, and Syria especially.

The Israeli attacks in Syria received further support when Saleh al-Hamawi, one of the founders of Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, tweeted that, “We welcome any Israeli air or naval attack against the [Syrian] regime and Iran in Syria and implore them [Israel] to do more.”[11] Al-Hamawi’s account has more than 64,000 followers, and his tweet supporting Israeli attacks was “liked” by more than 200 followers, many of whom are, it would appear, other jihadists.

Although Israel attacked Syria purely for military reasons, the Israeli attack gave Syrian civilians in Ghouta, Idlib and elsewhere in Syria a temporary respite from the frequent bombardments mounted by the Assad regime and its Russian supporters. Moreover, the attack met a need for taking revenge on the murderous regime that is perpetrating what was recently dubbed “another Srebrenica,” referring to the well-known massacre of Bosnian Muslims in 1995. All this is happening at a time when the international community, despite its ostensible condemnation of the Assad regime, refrains from taking any real action to stop or punish it. It is not surprising, then, that bombed-out civilians long for any external military response against the regime of Assad and Iran, even if it comes from Israel. Although these expressions of joy over the attack are utilitarian, the very fact that Syrian users’ publicly support the Israeli action is evidence of a change in mood, and subverts the conventional perception in the Arab world that Israel is an enemy.

 



[1] Yossi Melman  and Tal Lev-Ram, “The attack against Syrian air defenses – ‘The most extensive since 1982,’” Ma’ariv, February 10, 2018. 

[2] @syriahr, Twitter, February 10, 2018. Last accessed March 8, 2018. 

[3] Yaniv Kubovich, Jack Khoury, Noa Landau and Noa Shpigel, "Israel: In New 'Large-scale Strike,' Military Bombs 12 Syrian, Iranian Targets", Ha’aretz, February 10, 2018. 

[4] @Partisangirl, Twitter, February 10, 2018. Last accessed March 8, 2018.

[5] @AnshelPfeffer, Twitter, February 10, 2018. Last accessed March 8, 2018. 

[6] @Mr_Alhamdo, Twitter, February 10, 2018. Last accessed March 8, 2018. 

[7] @Mr_Alhamdo, Twitter, February 10, 2018. Last accessed March 8, 2018. 

[8] @halap_mansora, Twitter, February 10, 2018. Last accessed March 8, 2018. 

[9] Adam Hoffman, “We Love You Trump: Syrian Users on the American Attack,” Beehive, vol. 5, no. 4 (April 2017).

[10] @kasimf, Twitter, February 10, 2018. Last accessed March 8, 2018. 

[11] @asseraaalsham, Twitter, February 10, 2018. Last accessed March 8, 2018.