"Syria is drawing thousands of global jihad activists and radical Muslims from the region and the world who are basing themselves in the country, not only to overthrow (President Bashar) Assad, but also to promote the vision of an Islamic state," IDF Military Intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi said Tuesday.
"Right before our eyes a center of global jihad is developing on a scale that may affect not only Syria and the borders of the State of Israel, but also Jordan and Sinai," he said at an intelligence officers' graduation ceremony, shortly after returning from a work trip to Washington.
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Kochavi relayed similar warning to senior American security officials.
In April, Syrian rebel group Jabhat al-Nusra, announced that it had merged with al-Qaeda's branch in Iraq to form a new entity called "The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant," and that it was taking orders from Ayman al-Zawahiri, who took over Osama bin Laden as the leader of al-Qaeda.
Kochavi during Tuesday's ceremony (Photo: IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
The Levant is the traditional name referring to the region from southern Turkey to Egypt on the eastern Mediterranean.
Recent battles in Syrian-controlled Golan Heights
Two weeks ago, the BBC reported that representatives of the Pakistani Taliban had visited Syria to set up a base and to assess "the needs of the jihad."
According to Maj.-Gen. Kochavi, the growing Islamist presence may affect not only Syria and the borders of the State of Israel, but Lebanon, Jordan and the Sinai peninsula as well. "It is possible that in the long run, the winds of change will carry with them an opportunity, but in the short term, the risks are increasing and in some of the sectors, the seeds of additional threats have been sown."
The Israeli security establishment estimates that despite some recent victories by Assad's army, the civil war is far from being over. The rebels control many parts of Syria, including key cities such as Homs and Aleppo.
Hundreds of jihadists have based themselves in the southern part of the Syrian-controlled Golan Heights. Israel fears these jihadists may attempt to infiltrate Israel in order to carry out a terror attack. Renovation work on the barrier that runs along most of the Israeli-Syrian border is expected to be completed next month.
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