Syria Is Becoming a 'Center of Global Jihad,' MI Chief Warns

Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi says war-torn country is attracting thousands of Muslim extremists, posing a regional threat.

Syria is attracting thousands of global jihadists and Muslim extremists from the region and around the world, posing a threat to Israel, Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, director of Military Intelligence, warned Tuesday.

Speaking at a graduation ceremony for Military Intelligence commanding officers, Kochavi described as a "center of global jihad."

According to Kochavi, the extremists' goal is not only to topple Bashar Assad, the embattled Syrian president, but also to realize the vision of a state based on Islamic religious law.

"A center of global jihad of vast proportions is developing on our very doorstep," Kochavi said. "It is liable to affect not only Syria or Israeli borders, but also the borders of Lebanon, Jordan and the Sinai Peninsula, and have implications for the region as a whole," he added.

In December 2012, senior Jordanian officials warned that Syria is liable to "become a black hole that will lure jihadists from all over the world." The Jordanians reported that advanced weapons were being funneled to jihadist and Salafist organizations operating in Syria, and that those groups were gradually taking control of the rebel forces.

A similar sentiment was expressed by Ribal Assad, the Syrian president's cousin, who warned the United States last month not to supply arms to the rebels, saying they are led by jihadists who are "worse than Nazis."

The presence of jihadist fighters in Syria has been growing, in part because the jihadist struggle and the inter-ethnic tensions along Syria's border with Iraq have overlapped. Al-Qaida has also linked the uprising in Iraq to the revolution in Syria, claiming that both were examples of the Sunni-Shi'ite conflict.

Tomer Appelbaum