IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz
IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz Israel news photo: Flash 90

IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz warned on Monday that rebel terror groups fighting against Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad may target Israel next.

Speaking at the Herzliya Conference 2013, Gantz said, “The situation in Syria has become unstable and incredibly dangerous. Although the likelihood of war with Syria is low, the terrorist organizations fighting against Assad may see us as their next challenge."

He added that there are “huge strategic capabilities in the hands of the Syrian Army that can reach the terrorist organizations.”

The Chief of Staff noted that alongside with the relative stability in recent years, "There is a strategic explosive that may go off at any time. The last seven years (since the Second Lebanon War in 2006 -ed.) have been quiet and safe and we will be happy if this situation remains, but if not, we will know how to operate in a very effective way against Hizbullah. If this thing will explode, I'd rather be a citizen of Israel rather than of Lebanon.”

Gantz noted, "Every week there is an incident that can result in a different way and drag the area into an escalation.”

“Terrorist organizations operate from population centers - the enemy is becoming blurry and has fatal capabilities," said the Chief of Staff, adding, "The threats have not disappeared, they have simply changed ownership and we will encounter them in the future.”

Gantz's remarks came as Syrian rebel fighters have vowed to wage war against Israel once their battle against President Bashar al-Assad is over.

In a video posted on the Internet a couple of weeks ago, a small group of jihadist rebel fighters was filmed against the backdrop of the demilitarized zone in the Golan Heights – the buffer zone that for some 40 years has served to keep the border quiet between Syria and Israel.

“We are in the occupied Golan Heights, which the traitor [former President] Hafez Assad (the present president’s father) sold to Israel 40 years ago,” a rebel spokesman tells the viewer, waving around his assault weapon. These lands are blessed and the despicable Assad family promised to liberate them, but for 40 years the Syrian army did not fire a single bullet.

“We will open a military campaign against Israel,” the bearded rebel spokesman vows, as his fellow fighters fire their weapons, some of them yelling “Allahu Akbar!” (Allah is Great).  We will fire the bullets that Assad did not, and we will liberate the Golan.”

As early as July 2012, IDF military intelligence director Maj.-Gen. Avi Kochavi warned that Al Qaeda operatives had moved into the buffer zone and was transforming it into a staging area for future attacks on Israel. Kochavi likened the situation to that taking place in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, noting that just as the Cairo government was finding it difficult to extend its authority to the lawless Sinai, so too Damascus seems no longer able to control rebel forces in the demilitarized zone of the Golan Heights.

Meanwhile, the United States, Britain and France have reportedly begun training and equipping Syrian rebel fighters in Jordan at special military camps, albeit opposition fighters affiliated with “moderate, mainstream” groups and not those linked to the radical Islamist camps. At least 200 members of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) have already received training so far, with plans for a total of 1,200 FSA members to be trained by the project’s end.