Conan and the Barbarians: Talk Show Host's Propaganda Tour Stars Israeli Soldiers and Syrian Al Qaeda

News & Politics

Popular TV late-night talk show host and former funny man Conan O’Brien took an extended trip to Israel in August to do what was effectively public relations work for a state that a recent, censored United Nations report characterized as “an apartheid regime” that “renders opposition to racial domination illegal.”

During his trip, O’Brien trained with soldiers from the Israel Defense Forces, which has for 50 years illegally militarily occupied Palestinian land and killed thousands of Palestinian civilians.

The comedian also dined with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The hard-line right-wing Israeli leader even shared a video of O’Brien feeding his dog.

O’Brien did visit a Palestinian refugee camp, but studiously avoided mentioning Israel’s brutal military regime. In his time in the Aida camp in the occupied West Bank, O’Brien also overlooked the camp’s wall inscribed with the names of the hundreds of children the Israeli military killed in Gaza in the summer of 2014.

At perhaps the most bizarre point in his PR tour, O’Brien traveled to Israel’s border with Syria, whose territory the Golan Heights has been militarily occupied by Israel for five decades, in violation of international law.

“Filming on the Syrian border where you can hear gunfire between rebels and regime forces,” O’Brien tweeted.

O’Brien didn't mention that the militants who have been fighting Syrian government forces in illegally Israeli-occupied territory are in fact substantially led by al-Qaeda extremists who have expressed support for Osama bin Laden.

Later in his trip, O’Brien tweeted another photo: “Meeting Syrian victims of the civil war being treated at an Israeli hospital near the border.”

Many of the Syrians treated in Israeli hospitals have been members of extremist rebel groups, including al-Qaeda.

Israel and Al Qaeda: a well-documented tactical alliance

For PR purposes, Israel has constantly boasted of the thousands of Syrians it has treated in its hospitals (although Israel has been criticized for not accepting some of the more than 5 million Syrian refugees). Yet many of those treated were rebels, not civilians.

In 2015, the Wall Street Journal published an article acknowledging that Syrian al-Qaeda fighters “are regularly taken across the frontier fence to receive treatment in Israeli hospitals.”

An Israeli military official admitted that only around one-third of the Syrians treated in Israeli hospitals are women and children, and al-Qaeda and other Salafi extremists are among those who receive medical support.

“We don’t ask who they are, we don’t do any screening,” the Israeli military official said. “Once the treatment is done, we take them back to the border and they go on their way.”

After Syria’s al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra seized a large swath of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights in 2014, it “hasn’t bothered Israel,” noted Wall Street Journal correspondent Yaroslav Trofimov.

Trofimov made it clear that Israel sees Syria’s bin Laden-supporting al-Qaeda extremists as a “lesser evil” than Iran, Hezbollah and the Syrian government, and that they have forged a tactical alliance with the jihadist group to undermine what they see as Iranian regional influence.

Amos Yadlin, the former director of Israel’s military intelligence, insisted Hezbollah and Iran are “much more” of a threat “than the radical Sunni Islamists.” He added that the al-Qaeda-led rebels “aren't attacking Israel. This gives you some basis to think that they understand who is their real enemy—maybe it isn’t Israel.”

Retired Israeli Brigadier General Michael Herzog even downplayed Syrian al-Qaeda’s extremism, claiming “Nusra is a unique version of al Qaeda” that “are totally focused on the war in Syria and aren’t focused on us.”

Jabhat al-Nusra itself might have said otherwise. In a 2014 video, al-Nusra fighters in the illegally Israel-occupied Golan Heights expressed support for Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda’s 9/11 attacks that killed approximately 3,000 civilians.

In recent months, Israel’s support for Salafi extremists in Syria has become even more well documented.

Major General Amir Eshel, who commanded the Israel Air Force, acknowledged in August that, at the least, the Israeli military has launched nearly 100 attacks against Hezbollah and Syrian government-allied forces and arms convoys inside sovereign Syrian territory.

Israel has even provided air cover to Syrian al-Qaeda.

In June, journalist Nour Samaha published a lengthy article interviewing Syrian rebels in the illegally occupied Golan Heights who openly spoke of how Israel has supported them.

Days after Samaha’s article was published, the Wall Street Journal ran a very similar story citing some of the same sources. The Journal reported that Israel’s support for rebels in Syria goes back years. Israel pays the salaries of militant groups and provides them with fuel, medical assistance and food. It even created a military unit that oversees assistance to Syrian rebels.

“Israel stood by our side in a heroic way,” proclaimed a spokesperson for the rebel group Fursan al-Joulan. “We wouldn’t have survived without Israel’s assistance.”

Blithely unaware of Israel’s sinister role in the region, Conan O’Brien walked right into the middle of an unofficial alliance between the apartheid state and al-Qaeda. The surreal image of O’Brien’s comically pale figure in the middle of an Israeli hospital where Salafi-jihadist insurgents are being treated would have been the perfect fodder for a late-night comedy monologue, if only it weren’t so outrageous and sad.

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