Something eerily familiar is taking place in Syria. A secular dictatorship is fighting an atrociously brutal civil war with rebels, and as the country disintegrates, local jihadi- Islamist fighters are joined by volunteers from abroad.

As the jihadis grow in prominence, they become more confident in their plans to hoist the flag of radical Islam in place of the regime they hope to topple.

Syria’s deteriorating situation – with its daily violence and crumbling of state sovereignty – allows for the ideal breeding ground for radical forces, just as similar circumstances did in the late 1980s in Afghanistan, where al- Qaida was formed.

Today, the ideology espoused by the founders of al-Qaida is alive and well in Syria, and its influence is felt around the region.

On Wednesday, Israeli security forces announced the arrest of a 29-year-old, Israeli Arab man who had gone to Syria to train with Islamic extremists, and who was asked by them to volunteer information on sensitive locations as well as carry out an attack in Israel.

This case is not the only one of its kind. Although they are small in number, there are additional investigations into Israeli Arabs – some of whom have been arrested – who spent time with jihadis in Syria. These cases have not yet been formally publicized, but they have set off a red light in the intelligence community.

The concern is that al- Qaida’s worldview will spread to Israeli Arab volunteers, who can then try to return to Israel and carry out attacks.

The phenomenon is by no means limited to one country.

Last year, counter-terrorism police in London arrested a British Muslim couple suspected of kidnapping and attempting to kill a Sunday Times photographer in Syria.

Last week, the UK-based International Center for the Study of Radicalization said hundreds of EU residents are fighting with the rebels in Syria, most of them British, adding that there are more than 5,000 foreign volunteers in Syria.

All this comes as the head of Jabhat al-Nusra, the largest jihadi fighting force in Syria today, pledged his loyalty to Ayman al-Zawahiri, who replaced Osama bin Laden as leader of al-Qaida.

Abu Muhammad al- Jawlani’s announcement came one day after al-Qaida in Iraq, confirming long-held suspicions, said that Jabhat al-Nusra is a part of its regional operations.

Meanwhile, jihadists continue to launch suicide bombings and hit-and-run attacks on regime targets, employing the same tactics they have used in Iraq, Afghanistan and other battle zones.

Security forces will have to continue monitoring the “jihadistan” growing just across the northern border.

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