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by Olivier Guitta


PART 1: Al-Qaeda Sets Its Sights On Israel

Israeli transport minister and potential future prime minister Shaul Mofaz, addressing a Washington crowd on August 1, 2008, left no doubt about Israel's intentions regarding Iran's nuclear program. Israel won't let it go through. Since negotiations with Iran have gone nowhere in the past six years, military confrontation looks almost inevitable. While the international community fears the implications of such an outcome, one player can't wait for the first shots to be fired: Al Qaeda.

Al Qaeda has been expecting and waiting for a US-Iran war over the nuclear issue. It is in fact one of the major tenets of Al Qaeda's master plan. According to the late Abu Musab Al Zarqawi, the very likely collision between the United States and Iran over the nuclear issue is going to help Al Qaeda's advance its plan. Indeed since Iran is going to be less focused on exerting its control on Syria and Lebanon, Al Qaeda will be able to easier penetrate these two countries.

Jordanian journalist Fouad Hussein in his 2005 book Al Zarqawi: Al Qaeda's second Generation delved extensively into that issue. Thanks to his personal connection to Zarqawi — many years ago, they spent time together in prison — Hussein was able to interview him along with other major Al Qaeda leaders, including Seif al Adl, the Egyptian terrorist allegedly behind the attacks against the two American embassies in West Africa in 1998. Unsurprisingly, Hussein explains that Al Qaeda's final goal is to establish an Islamic Caliphate in twenty years through seven phases. The first phase called 'the Awakening' really started on September 11, 2001 when Al Qaeda attacked New York and Washington DC. These attacks supposedly awakened the Muslim nation (the 'Ummah') that was before in hibernation. This phase ended in 2003 when coalition troops entered Iraq.

The second phase called 'Opening eyes' lasted from 2003 to 2006 and was supposed to recruit armies of young men for the cause, especially in Iraq.

The third phase, that we are currently in is called 'Arising and standing up'. It is supposed to have started in 2007 and will last until 2010. Al Qaeda's focus will be on Syria and Turkey but also on Israel. In fact, while Al Qaeda was really shunning the issue of the Palestinians until 2001, it has now become one of the central issues of the terror network. It is a clear tactical decision in order to gather support recently lost in the Muslim world. Also this third phase advocates heavy attacks against Israel because it will then force the world to acknowledge al Qaeda as a major power, and negotiate with it.

The strategy followed to best attack Israel has been to penetrate all the neighboring countries of the Hebrew state. It started with Egypt that was targeted by Al Qaeda as early as October 2004 when a triple attack targeted Israeli tourists in the Sinai. Then the terror attacks of Sharm el Sheikh in April and July of 2005 confirmed Al Qaeda's presence in Egypt. After being aggressively pursued by Egyptian authorities and coinciding with Israel's disengagement from Gaza over the 2005 summer, Al Qaeda operatives settled mostly in Gaza. (more on this in Part 2). Al Qaeda's presence in the region was also felt in Jordan when a series of coordinated terror attacks on three hotels in Amman was carried out by Al Qaeda in November 2005. Al Qaeda is also trying to penetrate and control Al Sham (Syria and Lebanon). For proof of its success in Lebanon, the emergence of the terror group Fatah Al Islam who fought tooth and nail the Lebanese army in 2007 in the Palestinian camp of Nahr El Bared.

Interestingly, Fatah al Islam's birth coincided with Ayman Al Zawahiri, Al Qaeda's number 2, calling for the mujahedeen 'to carry the jihad at the borders of Palestine'. To confirm their focus on Israel, one of Fatah al Islam leaders, Abu Muayed, declared: 'We are here to liberate Jerusalem.' Other Salafist extremists groups are gaining power in Lebanon and especially in the town of Tripoli. They are loosely affiliated with Al Qaeda but plan on a closer relationship in the next few months. Interestingly, Omar Bakri, the extremist preacher and alleged al-Qaeda's mouthpiece who was kicked out of England after the July 7, 2005 bombings, now residing in Tripoli, confirms the emergence of al-Qaeda in Lebanon. (more on this in Part 3)

So, Al Qaeda's strategy to infiltrate the countries surrounding Israel is implemented and in the future Al Qaeda could potentially have different bases to attack the Jewish state.

After September 11, we learned the hardest way that Al Qaeda needed to be taken seriously. That is why this 'third phase' is not at all far-fetched in light of the recent infiltration in Jordan, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories. Also Al Qaeda's plan to attack Israel would only add to the fire. In fact, this could have major geopolitical implications including the destabilization of a whole region. And that is exactly what Al Qaeda's has planned for the fourth phase'

PART 2: Al-Qaeda Sets Its Sites Around Israel

Part of al-Qaida's master plan, (described above), includes a tactic to encircle Israel by penetrating the neighboring territories. And Gaza is a perfect example.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, aka Abu Mazen, recognized al-Qaida's presence in Gaza and the West Bank in 2006. He also warned of the "destruction of the whole region," because of the terrorist entity. This tends to confirm that al-Qaida is expanding in the neighborhood.

Signs of al-Qaida's infiltration in the Palestinian territories have been increasing in past years. In fact, Ely Karmon, the noted senior research scholar at The Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT), confirmed that al-Qaida members who remained in the peninsula after the Sharm el-Sheikh terror attacks of July 2005 started then to move toward Gaza and the West Bank. The timing is telling since it coincides with Israel's withdrawal from Gaza. Also Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Zahar acknowledged al-Qaida's presence in a September 2005 interview to the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.

One of the alleged al-Qaida linked terror groups is the 400-man strong Army of Islam (AI). AI emerged for the first time in June 2006 with the kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, in conjunction with Hamas. AI then claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of BBC journalist Alan Johnston in Gaza. While the organization denies being a part of al-Qaida, it acknowledges that it is influenced by al-Qaida, but does not have direct links to it.

Another of these jihadist groups that have recently surfaced, the Army of Believers, is holding the same speech: "We have no organic links with al-Qaida, but we share its ideology. Our goal is not only to liberate Palestine, but to spread Islam everywhere." It is obviously difficult to know how far the connection goes with al-Qaida, but what is sure is that there is a breeding ground in Gaza for such groups. In fact, according to Samir Zoquout, from the Human rights group al-Mezan: "One cannot say if al-Qaida is really present here, but more and more groups are adopting its radical ideology, sometimes as a cover for criminal activities."

But there is a worrisome trend: these jihadist groups are gaining strength. The jihadists feed on the decision of Hamas to become a party in government, in a territory where the Sharia (Islamic law) is not applied. Also some are very unhappy about the recent truce concluded with Israel.

Therefore, Hamas has lost members of its armed wing to the Brigades of Allah or the Islamic Army of Jerusalem that killed a Palestinian Christian and attacked an American school, which was holding a show featuring a coed crowd of boys and girls aged six to 12. In this attack, one bodyguard was killed and seven people were injured including three children after the terrorists started shooting.

But that is not all: the French daily Le Figaro recently revealed that a few dozen foreigners, including half a dozen Frenchmen, entered from Egypt in January 2008, during the 11 days when the border with Gaza was forced open. They have since joined these jihadist groups and vow to fight Israel. Their presence has been confirmed not only by Hamas but by Western intelligence services including French authorities. In fact, weakened in Iraq, al-Qaeda seeks an exit door, and on jihadist forums is calling to "defend the sacred mosque of al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem" and is clearly sending recruits to Gaza.

Interestingly Hamas is trying to profit politically from this al-Qaida's emergence in Gaza. For example, Khaled Meshaal, the head of the political bureau of Hamas warns: "If you do not talk with us, you will soon have al-Qaeda as a neighbor." Isn't it ironic that the extremist Hamas is now presenting itself as a moderate'

If the cocktail was not explosive enough with Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and Fatah, now these additional al-Qaida-inspired groups are not boding well for the security of Israel and peace in the region.

Olivier Guitta, an adjunct fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and a foreign affairs and counterterrorism consultant, is the founder of the newsletter The Croissant (

This article was originally published in two parts, both in the Middle East Times

Part 1: August 4, 2008 al-qaidas_opportunistic_strategy_part_1/3700/

Part 2: August 11, 2008 al-qaidas_opportunistic_strategy_part_2/8466/


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