Syria — Two Years of Challenge and Some Confusion for Israeli Intelligence, and Now…

The director of Israel’s Agaf ha-Modi’in (Aman) — the intelligence branch of the military — expresses deep concern that radical Islamic extremists are pouring into Syria, filling a vacuum in what is probably becoming a failed state. 

The likely result: disintegration of Syria into several volatile parts, with a significant portion controlled by al-Qaeda affiliates.

Gen. Aviv Kochavi (courtesy IMEMC.org)

The scenario outlined by Major General Aviv Kochavi could be a terrible headache for Israel’s military and security agencies. It also would be a long-term threat for the security of the United States and its allies, as al-Qaeda — decimated in Afghanistan and on-the-run in both Pakistan and Yemen — would have a new base for its regional and global ambitions.

Normally, in any conflict involving Syria, Israel would want the Assad regime in Damascus to lose. President Bashar al-Assad — and his predecessor and father Hafez — have been implacable foes of the Jewish state since 1970. In recent decades the Assads forged a tight and ominous alliance with Iran; and together they arm and bankroll the viciously dangerous Hezbollah in Lebanon.

The initial analysis by Israeli experts (including many in the intelligence agencies), near the start of Syria’s civil war in early 2011, was that it would be terrific if Bashar al-Assad were to fall. Iran would lose a key ally, and the new rulers in Syria would be entirely busy consolidating their rule and trying to govern their country.

As the shocking civil war has continued, however, killing an estimated 100,000 Syrians and creating well over a million refugees, the picture is far from simple for the Israelis.

Several analysts have reverted to a different traditional view: “Better the Devil we know.” They understand Assad and his regime. The Israelis cannot claim to be comfortable with or completely knowledgeable about the warring factions that have sprung up from the strange innards of Syria society — or have crossed the border from war zones (most definitely Iraq) and other factories of extremism (such as Somalia and Sudan).

Israeli intelligence fears that the violence in Syria will destabilize the country until it recognizably becomes a failed state, according to statements made Tuesday by Major General Kochavi.

In a rare public appearance, he told newly graduated intelligence officers of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) that Syria was becoming a hub for jihadist activity, drawing thousands of radicalized Muslim fighters from the region and the world. Their motives range from – primarily – toppling the regime of Syrian ruler Assad, to promoting the creation of an Islamic state modeled on Osama bin Laden’s vision.

Gen. Kochavi said, “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 Lebanon, Jordan, and Sinai. ”

Kochavi has just returned from strategic talks and intelligence sharing with his counterparts in Washington. While in the United States, he relayed the same concerns about Syria. American officials at the Pentagon and the CIA are having a hard time — according to U.S. sources — trying to identify “the good guys” among all the rebel factions in Syria, so that the West may train and arm them.

The Aman chief added: “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.”

July 24, 2013

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