The Islamic State (ISIS) is inching its way towards Israel and operating sleeper cells within southern Syria near its border with Israel; they are seeking to recruit members of the desperate, impoverished population with offers of food and financial assistance in exchange for loyalty to the ISIS cause at a later date, according to a spokesman for the Free Syrian Army.
The spokesman, who spoke to the Times of Israel on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to communicate with Israeli media, said “There are [Islamic State] sleeper cells in the south, which are hidden. They don’t do anything [military] at all. Many people [in the moderate Syrian opposition] are following them and will strike at them before they organize.”
Stifling financial constraints and poverty in the southern Syria region have Islamic State militants seeking to capitalize on their recruitment efforts by offering basic food staples and financial aid to villagers who are in need. The Times notes that such scenarios have already taken place in neighborhoods such as Hayt and Sahem Al-Jawlan which are situated near the Syrian-Jordanian border.
“They say, ‘stay at home, no one will know about you. The moment we need you, we’ll call [you],'” the spokesman told the Times. He noted that while many of the locals initially may refuse the Islamic State militants’ offers, the grave poverty in that region could later force them to accept their aid and give in to the recruitment process.
It was previously believed that all of the 6,000 Islamic Jihadist fighters who in July fled southward from the North of Syria, and are now situated on the border with Israel, were from the less extreme al-Nusra militant front. However, the opposition spokesman revealed to the Times that a vast number of them are, in fact, affiliated with the Islamic State.
“The Islamic State is trying to establish itself all across Syria,” said Eyal Zisser who works as an expert on Syria at Tel Aviv University. “The organization is going through a process of transformation. Other groups [in Syria] are trying to associate themselves with it and pledge allegiance to it. Some do so out of fear of IS, while others hope to benefit from it in the future,” he said.
Both the Islamic State and the al-Nusra front recently fought over the oil-rich region of northeaster Syria, in which ISIS persevered. Al-Nusra last week released 45 Fijian UN peacekeepers which were being held hostage by them in Syria to Israeli military personnel in the Golan Heights. Qatar, who is said to be connected with, and has influence over, the Jihadist al-Nusra group reportedly brokered the prisoners’ release.