JERUSALEM, March 25 (Reuters) - An Israeli general has raised the possibility of creating a buffer zone in Syria, in cooperation with local forces wary of jihadist fighters, should President Bashar al-Assad be toppled.
Major-General Yair Golan said "many hundreds" of radical Islamists were fighting in Syria's two-year-old civil war and could "take root" in Israel's northern neighbour should Assad fall.
He said the Israeli military was working on the assumption that these fighters would ultimately launch attacks against Israel, which captured the Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war.
"One measure we certainly cannot rule out is to create a security zone on the other side of the border," Golan, head of the military's northern command, said in an interview published on Monday in the Yisrael Hayom daily.
Golan, who oversees Israeli forces on the Syrian and Lebanese frontiers, did not say whether he envisages the deployment of Israeli troops in such a buffer area.
Syrians "with a common interest in cooperating with us" against radical Islamist fighters would be Israel's natural allies in any such security zone, Golan said.
"If an opportunity presents itself - and it hasn't as yet - we should not hesitate," he said. "Everything should be done wisely and secretly, with a true examination of where the interests of the other side lie."
Golan pointed to the example of the "security zone" Israeli forces maintained for 15 years in southern Lebanon with the stated aim of keeping Hezbollah guerrillas and rockets away from Israel's border.
"The bottom line: (the buffer zone in Lebanon) was one of the most worthy security investments ever made by the State of Israel," he said about an area where Israeli troops were frequently under attack and which they left in 2000.
In recent months, a number of rockets fired during fighting between Syrian forces and rebels have fallen inside the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. The strategic plateau is monitored by U.N. observers and had been quiet for decades.
Israel fired into Syria on Sunday, saying it destroyed a machinegun post that had shot at Israeli soldiers in the Golan Heights. (Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Pravin Char)