Elliott Abrams wonders where the hard core jihadists currently fighting in Syria — an estimated 5,000 of them — will go when/if the fighting ends there. Israeli officials naturally are asking the same question. According to Abrams, the Israelis identify the following possibilities:
They may go west to Lebanon, to fight the Shiite group Hezbollah.
They may go south to try to cross into the Golan, and fight the Israeli army.
Or they go east into Iraq, to fight as Sunnis against the Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Maliki (considered the most likely option).
But Abrams points to another possibility for the hundreds of jihadists who hail from Europe — they may take the fight home. As Britain’s foreign minister William Hague recently said:
Syria is now the number one destination for jihadists anywhere in the world today. This includes a number of individuals connected with the United Kingdom and other European countries. They may not pose a threat to us when they first go to Syria, but if they survive some may return ideologically hardened and with experience of weapons and explosives.
A Danish newpaper recently made the same point:
According to the Danish Secret Services . . . several members of the most violent gangs of immigrants in Copenhagen are currently in Syria where they have gone in order to participate in jihad. This may turn hardened criminals into hardline fundamentalists. “This is a new trend. These people are already potentially dangerous and when they return home, they have access to arms and explosives. It is very worrisome to see these types of ties forming between Islam and criminals,” says the head of the Danish Secret Services.
Abrams notes that there were very few foreign fighters in Syria when the rebellion began two years ago. The influx of such fighters, and the danger they probably will pose in the future, is another consequence of President Obama’s decision not to intervene at the outset against the Assad regime. At a minimum, it seems clear that if Obama is ever going to intervene, he should have done so long ago.