A fighter from the Al Qaeda-aligned Nusra Fro
A fighter from the Al Qaeda-aligned Nusra FroReuters

Lod District Court sentenced an Israeli-Arab resident of the town of Taibe, Abdel Qader Altlitha, to 15 months in prison on Monday for attempting to join Syrian rebel forces linked to Al Qaeda, according to Maariv.  

Altlitha went to Syria to join the fighting in the ongoing Syrian Civil War, and was in contact with an agent working for a rebel brigade aligned with Al Qaeda, according to the daily. He was stopped before making it to the war-town country through a joint operation of Israel's Security Agency (ISA or the Shin Bet) and the police.

He became associated with the organization during his time studying Pharmacy in Jordan, an investigation revealed. While there, he met other students from Iraq and from the Palestinian Authority (PA) who identified with Al Qaeda and ascribed to extremist Salafi ideologies. 

In July, Altlitha infiltrated Syria by foot, via Turkey. There, he soon joined the Nusra Front - Al Qaeda's satellite group in Syria - and began training as a terrorist.

But Israeli security forces were keeping track of his movements, and promptly arrested him upon his return. 

"Executing 'jihad' against 'infidels' in Syria could be a crucial step before 'liberating' Jerusalem and Palestine [sic]," the District Court Judge noted during sentencing. 

"This phenomenon of Israeli citizens making their way to Syria to participate in rebel fighting is fraught with the possibility that ideological or military training there will be used to exploit Israeli targets, or spread the word advocating attacking [Israeli targets]. Therein lies the danger of gathering information and creating connections for the sake of common terrorist goals," the Court added. 

The Defense argued that Altlitha was unaware of the full extent to which the Nusra Front was anti-Israel, and noted that he left within three days of realizing that fact and returned to Israel. "The horrific pictures of refugee conditions and death in Syria give a wide picture of the conflict and drove the defendant to see it for himself," they argued. "The fact that he was holding a weapon is only a technicality - he really was touring Syria out of a childish curiosity." 

The Court dismissed the argument on the ground of Israel's security. "While the defendant's moral compass tears at the heartstrings [. . .] we face the dilemma of the question of Israel's existence. It is impossible to examine the incident without acknowledging that the moral and ideological training in Syria, which is based on extremist Salafi ideology, threatens Israel's basic security." 

Monday's news provides yet another kernel of disturbing evidence regarding the scope of the foreign national problem in Syria, where a localized conflict has mushroomed into an all-out Islamic holy war between Shia and Sunni Muslims. 

Foreign nationals have been pouring into the embattled country to aid in both sides of the fighting, which has seen over 130,000 killed since 2011. Exact statistics vary wildly as to how many foreign citizens are currently fighting - with estimates as low as 7,500 and as high as 75,000  - but the mass exodus is enough for considerable concern about the potential for spillover. 

While media focus has largely been on the West - specifically Britain - Israel faces problems close to home, as well. Among Israel's neighbors, 9,000 Lebanese, 2,600 Egyptians, and 2,400 Jordanians have joined the war; as have at least 5,000 Palestinian Arabs. 

Eyewitness accounts confirmed last month what analysts have long suspected: that Al Qaeda is training Western nationals in the war-torn country to bring fundamentalist Islam - and terrorism - back home with them.