Since Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh announced the arrest of an al-Qaeda cell connected with Israel on October 6, 2008, many Islamist forum members have continued to speculate on al-Qaeda’s possible links to Israel (Al-Arabiya, October 6, 2008; AFP, October 7, 2008). Moderate Islamists questioned al-Qaeda’s ability to perpetrate massive attacks such as 9/11 without the help of a powerful country such as Israel or the United States. Others believe al-Qaeda is being manipulated by these countries, which also explains why al-Qaeda is incapable of attacking Israel (al-yemen.org, January 10). Pro-al-Qaeda jihadi internet forums responded to these speculations by posting instances of al-Qaeda generated attacks on Israeli targets (muslm.net, February 14).
Those speculating on al-Qaeda’s possible links to Israel question the chances of a group of Islamists being able to penetrate US defenses, especially those of the U.S. Department of Defense (as in the Pentagon attack), unless they have inside collaborators. A forum member, nicknamed Sarhan, points to the Islamic terrorist cell arrested in Yemen in 2008 as proof of al-Qaeda’s ties to Israel. Sarhan alleges that Israel, in an attempt to divert attention from its secret links with al-Qaeda on the eve of the arrest of the Yemeni terror cell, sowed confusion in Yemen’s international waters by encouraging simple Somalis to disrupt international maritime traffic in the narrow strait between Somalia and Yemen. As evidence, Sarhan cites the use of high tech weapons and equipment that Somalis do not usually possess nor could operate unless trained by a highly capable country. The other diversion Israel tried to create, Sarhan alleges, involved accusing Yemen of supplying Hamas with Chinese-made rockets. Another forum member agreed with Sarhan’s hypothesis: “You said the right thing. Al-Qaeda is simply a Zionist organization set up to dismantle Islam and invade the Arab world. All the sectarian violence we are witnessing today is the work of the Jewish lobby” (al-yemen.org, January 10).
Some forum members even suggested that Israel paved the way for the 9/11 terrorist attacks through the Zionists in U.S. security and military echelons (alqumaa.net January 8). In the same way, a member of the Lebanese national resistance front forum noted that since the announcement of al-Qaeda’s existence in 1998, the organization has waged jihad against everybody but the Zionists. According to the post, Arab nationals should know by now that al-Qaeda is a terror organization and Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri offered nothing for Palestine except “political pornography” on TV screens. The forum member recalls that, when asked why al-Qaeda has not attacked Israel, al-Zawahiri’s explanation that al-Qaeda was busy fighting in Iraq was yet another example of diverting attention from Israel. The forum member rejects the “too busy” defense, pointing out that for 16 years, long before al-Qaeda’s involvement in Iraq, the group carried out complicated terror operations such as the assassination attempt on Egyptian prime minister Atef Sidqi and Interior Minister Hassan al-Alfi in 1993 (operations that were actually carried out by al-Jihad, rather than al-Qaeda); commenced a terror campaign in Saudi Arabia in 1995; and reached almost all Arab and Western countries except Israel in the following years.
Contesting the accusation against al-Qaeda, a pro-al-Qaeda chatter called on Arabs to rid themselves of conspiracy theories and believe in the ability of al-Qaeda to attack the strongest country in the world, adding, “When are we going to stop glorifying other nations’ heroes and glorify our own?”
Other Salafi-Jihadi forum members were quick to respond by listing al-Qaeda’s attacks against Israeli targets. Jihadi chatters mentioned al-Qaeda’s attack on a Jewish synagogue in Tunisia in 2002 (see Terrorism Focus, February 25), the car-bombing of an Israeli-owned hotel in Mombasa in 2002, a Katyusha rocket attack on Eilat in 2005 (that caused no damage or casualties), and the February 2008 attack on the Israeli embassy in Mauritania (muslm.net, February 14).
Another opinion on al-Qaeda’s links to Israel took a more thoughtful approach. A posting by a Yemeni forum member, nicknamed al-Mahnon, suggested al-Qaeda is being unconsciously exploited by Israel because Israel is aware of most of al-Qaeda’s terror plans. By assisting al-Qaeda in perpetrating successful terror attacks, Israel paved the way for a U.S. war on al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, consequently impeding jihadi expansion, removing the Iraqi threat to Israel and humiliating the world under the pretence of fighting terrorism under an American-Zionist flag. Without al-Qaeda’s awareness, Mossad sought the same objectives because they served the Israeli cause in the long run.
The conspiracy theory claiming an Israeli link to terrorist organizations, in this case al-Qaeda, is not the first one nor will it be the last as long as Israel is targeted by terrorist groups. In the 1970s and early 1980s the radical Palestinian Abu Nidal Organization (ANO) was also accused of links with Israel.  So, was ANO connected with Israel, or is al-Qaeda cooperating with Israel? The answers to these questions lie in the fact that the security apparatus of any country aims to penetrate enemy ranks and collect whatever intelligence is necessary to prevail over the enemy. Furthermore, advanced intelligence services go beyond penetration and manipulate an enemy to their advantage. Intelligence operations involving the manipulation of an enemy’s resolve are always highly confidential, known to very few even in the security service itself. Therefore, the lack of such concrete information leads to the proliferation of conspiracy theories of all kinds. In the end, the spread of such beliefs serves to cause dissension within the ranks of a targeted organization, such as al-Qaeda.
 Patrick Seale, Abu Nidal: A Gun for Hire, Random House, New York, 1992.