An IDF operation, code name “Good Neighbors,” has transferred more than 360 tons of food, 112,500 gallons of fuel and 50 tons of clothing to Syria over the past year, as part of the humanitarian aid to civilians in the war that has gone on for more than six years, according to a recent IDF report, the first since the effort has begun. An officer with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel heads the operation, with a team of senior officers who are responsible for the provision of medical care for Syrian civilians, the transfer of equipment and goods into Syria, and maintaining contacts with local Syrian officials.
According to the IDF, more than 3,000 wounded from the civil war received medical treatment in Israel, and another 1,000 children arrived in Israel for medical examinations. Every week, a Syrian bus full of children and their mothers arrives for medical treatment in Israel.
The cost of the Israeli aid to Syria in 2017 is estimated at more than $32 million, according to an IDF report acquired by Ha’aretz under Israel’s Freedom of Information Act. $5.5 million of this amount comes out of the IDF’s annual budget; $26.5 million come from donations.
These sums do not include the cost of the medical treatment of Syrian civilians who are being taken to Israel, estimated at tens of millions of dollars and paid for by the Ministries of Defense, Finance and Health.
The equipment transferred to Syria in the past year – from August 2016 to June 2017 – touches on almost every aspect of life: medicines, incubators, respirators, ECGs, two ambulances, 600 yards of water pipes, seven generators, 100 tons of warm clothing, 363 tons of food, and 1,800 packages of diapers.
In the beginning, the IDF tried to blur the Hebrew inscriptions on the products it was transferring across the border, but after a few weeks they gave up. The volume of goods being transferred was just too large and the Hebrew tags did not appear to reduce the use of the goods.
The process itself, according to the IDF, is conducted without the involvement of soldiers. The Syrians are instructed to collect every last stitch of equipment waiting on the Israeli border, even if it is an empty box. The reason is that the IDF is concerned about terrorists taking advantage of this show of neighborly good will to place explosive charges inside remnant objects on the ground.
The IDF does not see its role as ending at the point of delivery. Intelligence officers are assigned to examine the influence of the goods on local markets. For instance, after meeting a shortage of flour by sending hundreds of tons of flour to Syrian bakeries, an Intelligence team checked to make sure it didn’t end up on the black market.
What remains to be seen is whether a generation of Syrians who have become aware of Israel’s humanitarian involvement in their lives would end up influencing their country’s policy towards Israel after the war.