AT the time I just dismissed it as another Middle East conspiracy theory. Goodness knows the region has no shortage of those. It was a couple of years ago now while in the West Bank town of Ramallah, that a Palestinian official told me about how the Israeli army occupying the Golan Heights,used its field hospitals to treat anti-government fighters involved in the war in Syria.

For those unfamiliar with the region, suffice to say the Golan Heights was part of southern Syria that Israel occupied in 1967 and annexed in 1981 in violation of international law. Today Israel maintains a powerful military presence there as the war in Syria rages next door.

That day in Ramallah, the Palestinian official went on to say that some of those wounded anti-government fighters turning up in the Israelis’ Golan field hospitals were jihadists, affiliates of al-Qaeda’s franchise in Syria. At the time most belonged to the group known as Jabhat al-Nusra, which more recently now goes by the name Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS).

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The Palestinian explained how those same al-Qaeda affiliated fighters, once healed and ready for battle, were allowed by the Israelis to return to Syria’s frontlines. Frankly, it was a story that I struggled to take seriously. The very idea that the Israeli military would simply let al-Qaeda terrorist fighters amble off back into the fray in Syria seemed to me at the time preposterous. Since then however, though still largely unreported, it has become increasingly well documented.

The answer as to why the Israelis would allow such a thing is, as ever, part of the Middle East’s murky and shifting alliances. Or to put it another way, best summed up by the region’s familiar old saying: “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”.

In this instance this translates as Israel allowing al-Qaeda-linked fighters to go back to Syria’s conflict to help undermine its own sworn enemy the powerful Lebanese militant group Hezbollah. A persistent threat to Israel, Hezbollah fights in Syria on behalf of President Bashar al-Assad and of course was responsible for giving the much-vaunted Israeli army something of a bloody nose when it rolled into Lebanon in 2006.

Forgive such a contorted explanation, but today’s Middle East’s conflicts are nothing short of labyrinthine and all this matters very much in relation to events here at home over the past few days.

I’m talking of course about Priti Patel’s resignation as International Development Secretary following her recent secret and “unofficial” trip to Israel. It’s bad enough that Ms Patel acted so surreptitiously in failing to declare meetings with Israeli politicians and officials in advance, but on so many other levels too her behaviour raises other serious political questions.

As the Israeli newspaper Haaretz rightly pointed out, like the rest of the international community, the British Government does not recognise Israel’s control of the Golan Heights captured from Syria in the Six-Day War in 1967. The simple diplomatic rule is that British ministers and senior officials do not travel in the Golan, as well as the West Bank and East Jerusalem. It is truly inconceivable that Ms Patel would have been unaware of this.

Given that she made a point of visiting the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) field hospital in the Golan raises arguably sinister issues too as to just precisely what she doing there in the first place? Are we seriously being asked to believe that on returning to the UK and requesting aid and financial support for those IDF field hospitals, she herself was blissfully unaware that al-Qaeda linked fighters are treated and housed there?

These are terrorists who when once again fit and strong enough, are given free rein to return to Syria where they continue their killing of civilians and embrace fleeing Islamic State (IS) fighters into their ranks.

Anyone doubting the extent of Israel’s collusion in the return of rehabilitated al-Qaeda linked fighters to Syria’s battlefields from the hospitals Ms Patel visited need look no further than some mainstream media accounts. As far back as March 2015 The Wall Street Journal reported that Israel was treating wounded al-Nusra fighters and then sending them back to battle Hezbollah and the Syrian army. Meanwhile in May the same year, The Washington Post mentioned, albeit briefly, that Israel had developed secret contacts with members of the Jabhat al-Nusra group along their borders.

In an interview too with Al-Jazeera last year, the former head of the country’s Mossad spy agency, Efraim Halevy, summed up Israel’s strategy. “The rules of the game in Syria mean that you can do anything that is not able, is not possible to be done anywhere else,” said Mr Halevy. “Al-Qaeda to the best of my recollection has up till now not attacked Israel.”

Israel choosing to do adopt such a strategy out of regional military expediency is one thing, even if questionable. For Ms Patel to have been aware of this and push to garner financial support for Israeli military hospital facilities and de- facto Israel’s strategic collusion with al-Qaeda-linked fighters is something else entirely.

What is one to make of the questionable legality of sending members of one of the world’s most notorious and active jihadist terror groups back into battle? Why would a British International Deleopment Secretary go within a country mile of such activity, let alone try to harness UK aid funds on its behalf?

Some Westminster politicians have suggested Ms Patel’s motives were all about self-interest. That , of course, is nothing new in the current Tory Government ranks. Influence, cash and the securing of wealthy pro-Israeli Conservative donors who could fund a potential future leadership campaign may indeed have had a lot to do with it. But Ms Patel’s Israel visit tells us much too about the shadowy duplicity in the war against terror.

Increasingly right now it appears that British foreign policy is being shaped and run by lobbying groups like the Conservative Friends of Israel rather than by an independent civil service and the elected UK government. The time has come for that to change.