JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel's military intelligence chief on Tuesday warned that global jihadists have moved into Syrian territory bordering the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights and could soon use the area to stage attacks on the Jewish state.
Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi told a parliamentary committee that the Islamic militants have taken advantage of the chaos created by the Syrian civil war to approach the Golan area.
He said Syrian President Bashar Assad has pulled troops out of the Golan to fight rebels in other parts of the country, after concluding that the likelihood of war with Israel at this time is low.
The intelligence chief told lawmakers that a power vacuum has created a possible arena for anti-Israel operations, like Egypt's Sinai desert.
"The Golan area is liable to become an arena of operations against Israel in much the same way the Sinai is today, and that's a result of the increasing entrenchment of Global Jihad in Syria," he said. "Global Jihad" is the term that Israel uses for al-Qaida and other violent groups affiliated or influenced by the global terror network.
His comments were relayed by a participant in the meeting, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the meeting was closed.
An increase in suicide bombings and other signature attacks in Syria has led experts to conclude that al-Qaida is taking a role in the uprising against the regime of President Bashar Assad. Though al-Qaida's main targets have been the West and secular Arab regimes, jihadis have also tried to attack Israel.
Since the overthrow of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak early last year, militants in Egypt's Sinai have carried out two deadly cross-border raids into Israel and fired several rockets at Israeli territory.
The Israel-Syria border has been mostly quiet since 1974.
Israel, which captured the Golan Heights in the 1967 Mideast war, has closely monitored the civil war in Syria. While Israel has been careful not to get involved, Israel fears that Assad's formidable arsenal of missiles and chemical weapons could slip into the hands of Hezbollah or other militant groups.
Kochavi, repeating the assessment of other Israeli officials, judged Assad's days to be numbered, but he did not estimate how long he would be able to cling to power.
Kochavi showed the panel satellite photographs that he said showed Syrian troops "brutally" firing artillery indiscriminately into an unidentified populated urban area, the meeting participant said. He did not say when or where the attack took place.
The intelligence chief interpreted this aggressive use of weapons as a sign of Syria's frustration with its inability to quell the uprising that broke out last March.
During the civil war in neighboring Syria, Lebanon's Hezbollah has been supporting the Assad regime, which Israel says has boosted Hezbollah over the years by allowing shipment of Iranian arms through Syrian territory to the Lebanese guerrillas.
Kochavi warned that Hezbollah is preparing for the aftermath of Assad's fall by amassing Iranian weapons.
He estimated Hezbollah now possesses 70,000 to 80,000 missiles and rockets capable of striking Israel — up to six times the number the militant group possessed during a monthlong war that ended in stalemate in 2006.