Will al-Qaeda Groups in Syria Attack Israel Next?

On Tuesday evening, seven days after Israel reportedly struck a biological weapons development center in Damascus, Islamist fighters in Syria released another of their videos.

Pictured: Members of the Jabhat al-Nusra organization, which is an affiliate of al-Qaeda and one of the stronger opposition groups in Syria (Photo credit: wikicommons)
No longer standing on the horizontal tips of newly acquired Scud missiles, as they were seen doing last month, a group of four Jabhat al-Nusra fighters, their faces cloaked by kaffiyas, read from a statement. "We will put our hands on those weapons," the man in the middle shouted regarding Assad's biological and chemical arsenal. "We will attack and take over those sites and then use them against the Zionists, from Syrian territory, until we reach Jerusalem."  

The State Department in December called Jabhat al-Nusra, literally the assistance front, "an alias for AQI" - al-Qaeda in Iraq - and added it to the US list of foreign terror organizations, freezing all of its assets and rendering it a crime to provide the organization with any and all aid. According to State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland, the organization, representing nine percent of the rebel forces in Syria, has carried out 600 strikes since November 2011, including "over 40″ suicide bombings and a string of successful guerrilla assaults.

The leader of the group is a man who goes by the name Abu-Muhammad al-Julani - the moniker itself indicating, at least rhetorically, the importance placed on the Golan Heights - and its goal, according to Nuland, is "to hijack the struggles of the Syrian people for its own malign purposes."

The nature of these malign purposes is clear in the short term and murky thereafter. The Salafist groups in Syria - local and foreign, loosely and directly affiliated with al-Qaeda, experienced in battle and inexperienced - have set as their initial goal the toppling of Bashar Assad's secular, Alawite regime and replacing it with a Sunni Islamist one.

But what after that? Will they follow the path of their poisonous rhetoric and target Israel? Will they stick to the initial focus of al-Qaeda at the time of its founding in the late 80s and focus on toppling the Arab regimes? Will they turn toward Jordan and the long-teetering Hashemite throne? Will they surge into Lebanon and battle the Hezbollah Shiites for supremacy? And in what way will the struggle in Syria, in the heart of the lands holy to Islam, impact al-Qaeda and its ilk in the age of the Arab Spring?

The Times of Israel
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