Al-Qaeda has managed to recover from the wave of U.S. assassinations of its senior leaders, including Osama bin Laden, and begun to reestablish itself throughout the Middle East, while concentrating most of its power and efforts in the Syrian civil war, according to a Monday report by Israeli newspaper Haaretz
According to the report , Al-Qaeda ‘s current leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, considers the Syria-Israel border in the Golan Heights a staging ground for Jihadist activity against Israeli targets – activity that is expected to increase if Al-Qaeda and groups affiliated with it manage to win their struggle against Syrian President Bashar Assad.
The report was based on the conclusions of two Israeli researchers, Yoram Schweitzer and Aviv Oreg, who published a new comprehensive study on Al-Qaeda activity through the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University.
According to the researchers, Al-Qaeda (and other international Jihadist groups affiliated with it) have made use of the turmoil in the Arab world to advance their agendas, increase their influence and continue their violent efforts aimed at achieving their vision.
The upcoming withdrawal of NATO forces from Afghanistan later this year is expected to take some of the pressure off Al-Qaeda and its affiliates, much like the withdrawal from Iraq did.
Schweitzer and Oreg believe that new opportunities are coming into focus for Al-Qaeda, most of which are based in Syria, where two of its affiliates – Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) – have taken a leading role in the opposition against Assad.
According to the researchers, Zawahri is interested first and foremost in organizational image and structure through leadership. The two write that he is trying to “utilize the Arab Spring, and turn it into an Islamic Spring, showing preference for local, internal Jihad over international Jihad” – meaning focusing on the struggles within Muslim states, as opposed to attacking Western nations and targets.
The researchers believe that Al-Qaeda sees the civil war in Syria as “an historical opportunity of the first degree.”
Schweitzer and Oreg quote Zawahri in a video he released last May, for the 65th anniversary of Israel’s independence that “Jihad against Israel is a commandment that every Muslim must fulfill, Palestinian or not. In order to free Palestine, Zawahri stated, Muslims must go to Syria and use it as a staging ground for Jihad activity against Israel.
Zawahri according to the report believes that as soon as Assad falls, Syria will have the optimal conditions for founding an Islamic state, which will attract lots of Muslims looking to practice Jihad against Israel. Such a state would be supported logistically, financially and militarily by the Al-Qaeda affiliates in Iraq.
The researchers expect an increased Jihadist combatants activity on the Israel-Syria border, especially if Zawahri declares Israel as the next target for Jihad, in the event that the Syrian regime falls.
Al-Qaeda according to the report sees Syria as a greenhouse for creating new cadres of Jihadists with battle experience. to use them to set up terrorist cells throughout the world with the aim of resuming attacks against the Western states .
The researchers call on Western powers to assassinate Zawahri himself. They also call on the United States to maintain its efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan – even after the planned withdrawal – by forging agreements with the two states to train their security forces, and improve their abilities to deal with Al-Qaeda.
The leader of Al Nusra front Abu Mohammed al-Golani, was born in the Golan Heights, according to a report by the NY daily news last December.
Golani advanced through Al Qaeda’s ranks and eventually became a close associate of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian-born leader of the militant group Al Qaeda in Iraq.
Under Golani’s leadership, the al Qaeda linked Al Nusra has dominated rebel-held parts of southern Syria, and it is a powerful fighting force in the Damascus countryside and northern Syria, with an estimated force of 6,000 to 7,000 fighters, the report added.