EU Also Fears 'Islamic Winter'

EU counter-terrorism chief Gilles de Kerchove says he is concerned Islamists may seize control of nations rocked by the 'Arab Spring.'

Gabe Kahn. ,

Gilles de Kerchove
Gilles de Kerchove
Screen Capture

Despite attempts by Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Tuesday to play down IDF Home Front Command chief Maj. Gen. Eyal Eisenberg's warning Israel may face an 'Islamic Winter,' the world is concerned by the ramifications of strong Islamist currents clearly present in the 'Arab Spring.'

The Arab uprisings have provided an opportunity for Al-Qaeda, the EU's counter-terrorism chief said Monday, underlining the need for Europe to help prevent power vacuums in countries like Egypt, Tunisia and Libya.

Gilles de Kerchove said that overall the uprisings were positive, but not without cause for concern.

"You have not seen anyone demonstrating in the street referring to Al-Qaeda or Al-Qaeda rhetoric," he told a news conference. "But of course, we all agree that it has provided a huge opportunity for Al-Qaeda to reenergize."

He also said there was a risk Al-Qaeda had secured arms and ammunition looted in the Libyan conflict, including surface-to-air missiles that could pose a threat to flights in the region.

"They have had the possibility to have had access to weapons, including small arms and machine guns, or certain surface-to-air missiles which are extremely dangerous," he said.

"Another concern I have is the dismantling of the security services in Tunisia and Egypt," de Kerchove added. "You cannot have a security vacuum so ... that's where I see an urgent need for the EU to help," he said.

However, "Democracy does not happen overnight so having an efficient economy, providing jobs, all these will take time. Let's hope it would not lead to some disappointment in which Al-Qaeda ... might be attractive once again," he said

He also said Africans working in Libya, including citizens of Nigeria and Mali and Niger, might be forced to head elsewhere. "That may destabilize poor countries," he said.

Al-Qaeda elements are believed to be behind the attacks that have destabilized the Sinai and led Egypt to attempt a crack-down on the peninsula -- and Egypt security officials have accused Muslim Brotherhood offshoot Hamas in Gaza of harboring many of the Sinai terrorists. Ramzi Mahmoud Al Mowafi, Al-Qaeda mastermind Osama Bin Laden's personal physician and bomb-maker is widely believed to be among them.

And the Muslim Brotherhood, so prevalent in Egypt's protest movement prior to the ascension of Cairo's caretaker junta, has proven to have reach beyond the shores of the Nile.

In Jordan, the Brotherhood has been behind significant protests against Hashemite ruler King Abdullah II – who has been targeted by Islamists in recent months for assassination.

Of more immediate concern, however, may be tensions stemming from the Islamist alignment of Turkish Prime MInister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has added to the tension between Jerusalem and the Hizbullah-backed Mikati government in Beirut over gas field rights in the waters between Israel, Cyprus, and Lebanon – which Hizbullah has threatened to defend by force.

On Tuesday, Erdogan seized on Hizbullah's position as a means of advancing his bellicose war of words and adding to the diplomatic row over the Gaza flotilla incident with Israel, saying he would attack Cyprus' 'Bloc-12' where Houston-based Noble Energy plans to drill in conjunction with Israeli gas firms.

Israel and Cyprus signed an agreement to jointly develop the gas fields between the two nations earlier this year, but Turkey insists it has a claim – roundly rejected by the international community – to parts of Cyprus and its waters.