An extensive global jihad center is developing right on Israel’s doorstep, the IDF’s head of military research Aviv Kochavi said Tuesday evening, warning about throngs of Islamist fighters streaming into Syria.
“In front of our eyes, right in our backyard, a global center for jihad is developing, which can affect not only Syria and Israel but also Lebanon, Jordan, and the Sinai Peninsula, and can radiate to the entire region,” the major general said at a graduation ceremony for intelligence officers.
“Syria is one of our biggest enemies,” Kochavi said, “and it’s becoming a regional center for jihadis — who are also enemies of Israel.”
For example, Jabhat al-Nusra, or the Nusra Front, a radical group fighting Assad in Syria, announced that it had merged with al-Qaeda’s branch in Iraq in April.
Kochavi also warned that some of the groups aligned with the Syrian rebels are not fighting for the same goal as the rest of the opposition. “The extremist Muslims and jihad fighters being drawn there are no longer merely trying to overthrow [Syrian President Bashar] Assad but to set up a religious Islamic state,” he explained.
He acknowledged that, in the long run, the “winds of change” in the region could bring opportunity and growth, but said that, for the time being, Syria was the “most disturbing example” of a growing risk.
Kochavi’s comments came as officials in Washington are debating greater involvement in the Syrian conflict, and specifically whether to arm the Syrian rebels, and as the United Nations Security Council is gearing up for an informal meeting with the Syrian opposition to explore ways to end the war.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, wrote in a letter to two top Senators Monday that establishing a no-fly zone to protect Syrian rebels would require hundreds of US aircraft at a cost of more than $1 billion per month, with no assurance that it would change the momentum in the civil war there.
IDF officials have previously stated that the Syrian conflict doesn’t appear to be ending any time soon, particularly as foreign jihadi fighters are flocking to the country.
Meanwhile, Israel’s new fence along the Syrian border is expected to be completed next month.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.