A 23-year-old Israeli-Arab utilized his paraglider from a high-point in Israel to make his way across the border into Syria, where officials suspect he has joined a terrorist organization that is engaged in holy war in the country, Israeli media censors cleared for publication over the weekend.
Shortly after landing in sovereign Syrian territory, the man was scooped up by an accomplice, Israel Defense Force (IDF) officials said. Israel is currently conducting operations in the area to try and find the man’s whereabouts, IDF spokesman Moti Almoz said, according to Israel National News.
It still remains unclear which one of the Syrian rebel or terror groups the man joined. However, the Islamic State, the al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra Front, and the Free Syrian Army all have a significant presence in the area where the Arab-Israeli man most likely landed.
“We don’t know if someone was waiting for him on the other side, and we are working under the assumption that anyone who glides against the prevailing wind has planned to do so,” the IDF spokesperson continued. “We didn’t see where he took off from, but paragliders usually take off from Mevo Hama… but on the military front, the incident is almost at an end.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu commented on the situation over the weekend, saying that he had a zero-tolerance policy for citizens of Israel who join terrorist groups.
“Whoever joins the enemy’s ranks to fight Israel will not be an Israeli citizen,” Netanyahu said in a statement on Sunday.
When the incident first happened, social media was set ablaze with rumors that an Israeli crop-duster pilot was downed by Syrian rebels or had crashed in Syrian territory. The rumors and speculation increased as Israel’s censors did not immediately release information pertaining to the incident, coupled with photos surfacing on social media of IDF planes circling the Syrian area in question.
But on Sunday, the story was confirmed by Israel’s media censors to be nothing more than a paraglider who had jumped the border.
One unnamed relative commented that the man had become a more devout Muslim as of late but said that “Israel must bring him back,” according to the Los Angeles Times.
Officials cautioned against stereotyping other Arab Israelis as potential jihadis, as the vast majority of the Arab population in Israel remains a strong and integrated component of a pluralistic society.
“This doesn’t characterize the entire population of Arab Israelis,” Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon explained. “This is something they’ll regret having done when they’re older.”
The incident occurred one day before the Islamic State terror group released what is believed to be their first video spoken entirely in Hebrew. In the video, a masked jihadi called for the extermination of Jews.