Dwindling governmental control and a sharp influx of al-Qaeda operatives in Sinai and Syria have led to a spike in terror activity in the Sinai Peninsula and the possibility of a new front for Israel in the Golan Heights, according to the commander of the IDF Intelligence Corps, Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi.
“Sinai is a no-man’s land,” Kochavi told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Tuesday. “The terror groups in Sinai could attempt to create a diplomatic crisis by way of terror attack. Recently the infrastructure for 10 terror attacks was dismantled and the paths to attack are continually monitored.”
In Syria, he said, there is “a daily flow of al-Qaeda operatives into the country.”
The Sunni fighters were streaming in from Iraq and Yemen and other states in the region.
“The consolidation of global jihad elements in Syria could turn the Golan region into a front against Israel, much like that which exists in the Sinai,” he said.
He was no more optimistic about Israel’s prospects with its neighbor to the south, saying that although the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood did not have a wide mandate, its installation into power did not augur well.
“The forecast is for a deep change in the nature of its ties with Israel,” he said, adding that “economic restraints” and others were currently preventing any radical shift.
In Egypt the urban population centers, those in Cairo and along the Red Sea coast, were largely in favor of former air marshal Ahmed Shafiq while the poorer villages and towns preferred Mohammed Morsi, the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood. The close vote, along with the fact that Morsi is only the deputy head of the Muslim Brotherhood, “has had an influence on his confidence and makes it hard for him to make decisions,” Kochavi said.
Kochavi added that the Arab Spring, which the Israeli army prefers to call “a shake-up,” has changed the nature of regional conflicts, from territorial to religious. “This makes it much more complicated and much more uncompromising,” he said.
Iran, he said, has been making overtures to Egypt but thus far “has received a cold shoulder.”
Among the divided Palestinian public, the elections in Egypt have been a windfall for Hamas. Waxing poetic, Kochavi told committee members that “for Hamas, a gate has been born and for the PA a wall has been built.”
The head of military intelligence described Syria as an increasingly desperate, ever more brutal regime, which is beginning to come apart at its ethnic seams. Kochavi gave Bashar Assad between “two months and two years” but then hurried to say he did not want to put a time frame on the eventual, unalterable fall of the regime.
He estimated that between 500 and 700 people were being killed by the army per weekand that the rebels had managed to assassinate 60-70 Syrian officers. All told, he estimated, 13,000 officers and soldiers have defected from the armed forces. Kochavi said he saw “cracks in the vicinity of Assad,” yet cautioned that the opposition was disorganized and divided by ideology and a lack of shared goals.
Syria, he said, “is undergoing an accelerated process of Iraqization” — fragmentation along ethnic lines.
“The brutal nature in which they act” – he showed satellite photos of Syrian artillery batteries firing on urban centers—”is indicative of desperation,” he asserted.
Kochavi characterized the surveillance applied to Syria’s chemical weapons as “daily and uninterrupted” but said there is “an increasing danger” of those weapons falling into the hands of other organizations.
He did not mention Jordan, at least in the comments made available to the press, but did note, depressingly, that “the moderate axis is virtually nonexistent in the Middle East today.”