Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz on Monday warned that the civil war in Syria is closer to sparking an explosive regional conflict than it appears to be.
"To the naked eye, chances are slim, but the threat of the situation in Syria spiraling out if control is quite high," Gantz said during his speech at the Herzliya Conference. "Every week there is an incident that has the potential to end differently and ignite a regional conflagration."
Gantz refused to comment on the Iranian issue, but offered an overview of events in neighboring arenas.
"The situation in Syria has become unstable and extraordinarily dangerous," he told the crowd. "Even though the probability of a conventional war with Syria is low, the terrorist organizations fighting against [Syrian President Bashar] Assad could see us as their next challenge. The Syrian army's substantial arsenal of strategic weapons could fall into the hands of terrorist organizations."
Gantz also explained how the situation in Syria was directly affecting events in neighboring Lebanon, and altering the power dynamic there.
"What we have here is a strategic detonator that could blow up at any moment," said the IDF chief. "The last seven years were quiet and we'd be happy for it to stay that way. If it doesn't, we will know how to respond in a very effective manner, both against Hezbollah and against the country that is responsible for what happens in its own territory. If this thing were to blow up, I'd rather be an Israeli citizen than a Lebanese citizen."
In Syria, meanwhile, the fighting continued to rage unabated. Over the past two days more than 90 people across the country were killed, but the attention of the Arab world was focused on Ahmed Badr al-Din Hassoun, the grand mufti of Syria, who ruled that "the defense of the Syrian regime is a holy deed required of all pious Muslims."
In response, prominent Islamic authorities from Saudi Arabia and Egypt completely rejected "Assad's cynical exploitation of Islamic religious law."
A senior Saudi official said: "Assad needs to be ashamed that he ordered the mufti to issue such a religious decree. Even if Israel, the greatest enemy of the Muslims and Arabs, were to conquer Syria, it wouldn't slaughter civilians like Assad is doing."
Also on Monday, al-Qaida's Iraq branch claimed responsibility for the deaths of 51 Syrian soldiers and nine Iraqis killed in a well-planned assault in western Iraq last week, intensifying concerns that the terrorist group is coordinating with Islamist rebels fighting in Syria.
Iraqi authorities say fighters and weapons are moving increasingly more freely across the long and porous desert border between the two countries as Syrian rebels try to consolidate control on their side of the frontier.
The issue also plays into the conflict between Iraq's Shiite-led government and Sunni insurgents, particularly al-Qaida.
Iraq officially has not taken sides in the Syria civil war, though Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki warned in an interview with The Associated Press this month that a victory for rebels would create a new extremist haven and spark sectarian wars in his own country and in Lebanon.
Al-Qaida in Iraq and Syria's Jabhat al-Nusra ultimately aim to create a border sanctuary they can both exploit and that could house command centers and training camps, according to two Iraqi military intelligence officials.
Meanwhile, the U.N.'s chief relief official for Palestinians is urging Jordan to stop discriminating against Palestinian refugees fleeing the Syrian war and open its borders to them.
The commissioner general of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees says "all refugees should be treated equally."
Filippo Grandi told reporters Monday that Jordan has been burdened by some two million Palestinian refugees over decades. But he disagreed with Jordan's decision to close the border last year to Palestinian refugees and called on Amman "to exercise maximum humanitarian efforts."
Last year, the New York-based group Human Rights Watch praised Jordan's admission of some 140,000 Syrian refugees but said officials have arbitrarily detained Palestinians in a holding center without any options except to return to Syria.