That the Netanyahu government took a wrong turn in its policy of non-intervention in the Syrian conflict was manifested by the warning coming from the IDF’s military intelligence (AMAN) chief Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi Tuesday night, July 23, when he said that Syria had become a global battleground for al Qaeda.
Addressing a passing-out ceremony at the IDF’s Officers’ School, Kochavi warned that the thousands of al Qaeda pouring into Syria from around the world are fighting to create an Islamic state there, just as they are in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen. This peril, he said, is closing in on Israel, Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.
At the UN Security Council in New York, his words were echoed by Robert Serry, UN Coordinator of the Middle East peace process, who said Syria “is increasingly turning into a big global battleground.”
It is important to note that Gen. Kochavi issued his warning shortly after returning home from meetings in
Washington with senior US military and intelligence officers. He flew to the US on July 17, on the day that hostilities flared between the Israeli and Syrian armies in the southern Golan on a scale which was never released to the public.
That clash marked the bankruptcy of the government and army command’s efforts to stop the tide of violence from reaching Israel’s northern borders by means of a tactic of virtual non-involvement, aside from limited aid to certain Syrian rebel groups, medical care for some of their wounded and certain unreported small-scale operations.
Threats from five separate sources now threaten to swamp those efforts entirely. They are posed by the Syrian army; Hizballah; global jiahdists; armed Syrian rebel militias funded by Saudi Arabia; and Al Qaeda groups bolstered for the first time by the arrival in recent weeks Pakistani Taliban groups of fighters.
Islamist forces are thrusting forward strongly in eastern, northern and western Syria. They murder any non-Islamist rebel chiefs, especial Free Syrian Army commanders, standing in their way and are moving on towards Lebanon and Jordan as well.
What strikes most concern in Jerusalem, are the first signs of a tie-in between al Qaeda in Syria and al Qaeda in Sinai. The intelligence chief’ went to Washington with a report that coordinated terrorist operations against Israel were shaping up for the first time from Syria, Sinai and possibly Lebanon too.
It was suddenly borne in on Israel that its two strikes against Syria’s chemical weapons and the transfer of advanced hardware to Hizballah were wide of the mark. The greatest danger has turned out to be Al Qaeda’s spreading potency. Anyway, chemical warfare has since spread across the Syrian battlefield and Hizballah forces fighting in Syria simply take direct delivery of advanced weapons from the Syrian army, without even trying to transfer them to Lebanon.
The IDF has failed to come to grips with Al Qaeda on the Syrian front no less than the Egyptian army, for different reasons, has succeeded in curbing the jihadist marauders in Sinai.
As the mainstream Syrian rebel movement crumbles, al Qaeda is bolstered by an influx of fighters, weapons and funds from across the Muslim world, including the Persian Gulf. Over the past year, the IDF has had to reconfigure its deployment against Syria – first to contend with the potential of chemical weapons, then Iranian military involvement, followed by Hizballah’s advance towards the Israeli border and now al Qaeda’s inroads.
Gen. Kochavi was not led to expect a sympathetic hearing in Washington for Israel’s concerns.
The Obama administration is up to its neck in its efforts to speed the US military drawdown in Afghanistan and break off contact with the Taliban, whose Pakistani branch has meanwhile turned up in Syria.
The Israeli intelligence chief found Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the US Chiefs of Staff, fully engaged in phrasing an open letter to senators to rebuff their criticism of President Barack Obama’s decision to stay out of the Syrian conflict:
In his letter, he outlined the five options for involvement with price tags:
1. Training, advising and assisting the opposition;
2. Conducting limited strikes;
3. Establishing a no-fly zone;
4. Creating buffer zones inside Syria;
5. Controlling Damascus’s chemical arms.
Gen Dempsey estimated that the first option would cost about $500m a year, while each of the other four actions would require roughly $1bn a month, i.e., $12bn a year.
The US army chief did not elaborate on the long-term cost to the US treasury of non-involvement in operations to keep al Qaeda at bay as it fights to get a stranglehold on Syria, like in Yemen and North African Sahara.
Israel’s Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and its chief of staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz are struggling with imperatives to cut down on military outlay at the very moment when they need extra funding too keep the Al Qaeda menace away from Israel’s door. Gen. Dempsey has helped them by calculating costs. But that’s as far as it goes. For the fight, Israel is on its own.