Osama bin Laden’s March 14, 2009 audio message on the war in Gaza was anticipated and covered by Arab and Islamic news agencies, as well as all kinds of Islamist and jihadist forums and websites. Interestingly, the forums directly or indirectly related to al-Qaeda had very little to say about Bin Laden’s audio message, entitled, “Practical Steps to Liberate Palestine.” Extensive analysis and comments on the audiotape were made mostly by Palestinian websites and forums (paldf.net March 19; alaqsa-online.com March 19).
One forum member, nicknamed Haris al-Mahdi, praised bin Laden and sarcastically slandered Arab and Islamic leaders who spend their time in night-clubs; “Salah al-din is no longer with us. Who are you calling to jihad? Patience Osama. We are lions in peacetime and mice in war.” Other forum members who normally disagree with al-Qaeda’s Salafi-Jihadi approach said they agreed with some of Bin Laden’s main points:
• Muslims shouldn’t hold leaders and religious scholars responsible for what happened in Gaza while absolving themselves of responsibility. It is every Muslim’s responsibility to wage jihad personally or donate money for jihad.
• It’s useless to file complaints against Israel in the Security Council of the UN.
• Palestine will only be liberated through jihad.
Others highlighted Bin Laden’s threat to perpetrate terror attacks in the West in anticipation of the fall and defeat of the United States (nahadah.ws, March 17). Many jihadi forum members were expecting Bin Laden’s audio on the eve of the war in Gaza because Bin Laden doesn’t pass by such events without addressing Muslims and instigating them to wage jihad. According to these forum participants, Salafi-Jihadis and moderate Muslims alike interact and hope for help from al-Qaeda when it comes to fighting Israel or in other cases of aggression against Arab countries. Salafi-Jihadi adherents were also quick to point to the presence of the Salafist principle of al-wala’ wa’l-bara’ (loyalty [towards the believers] and disavowal [of the disbelievers]) in Bin Laden’s audio, in which he accuses some Muslims of collaborating with the infidels, labeling them the “civilian army of the infidels in the Muslim countries” that must be eradicated. Many forum members agreed that Bin Laden conveyed two major themes in his audio:
• The need to wage a war of attrition against the United States until it collapses, which will consequently also lead to the collapse of Israel.
• The need to urge Muslims to revolt against their treacherous leaders (bramjnet.net March 15). According to Bin Laden; “It has become clear that some of the Arab rulers have colluded with the Crusader/Zionist coalition against our people: they are the ones whom America calls ‘rulers of moderate states.’ The fact is, all states of the Islamic world from Indonesia to Mauritania without exception fall into one of two categories; crooked states and even more crooked states…” (NEFA Foundation, March 14, 2009).
A more organized analysis of Bin Laden’s audio was posted by a forum member nicknamed al-Asqalani (al-shouraa.com, March 14). Al-Asqalani dissected Bin Laden’s audio speech as follows:
• It reaffirmed the role of current Arab leaders (such as Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak) in protecting Israel.
• The speech cautioned against the very dangerous role of the so-called Islamic scholars who opposed al-Qaeda and labeled them “evil scholars.”
• It highlighted the doubtful role of the Shi’ite Hezbollah, claiming the organization is protecting Israel under the pretext of protecting Lebanon. Bin Laden criticized Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah for accepting UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which called for the deployment of UN peacekeepers in Lebanon following the 2006 summer war between Israel and Hezbollah. Bin Laden described these peacekeepers as “Crusader forces to protect the Jews.”
• The tape called for support of the mujahideen in Iraq. Jihad’s success in Iraq will pave the way for the mujahideen to enter Jordan, whose long border will provide an entry point to the West Bank and the eventual liberation of all Palestine.
On the other hand, not all forum members hailed Bin Laden’s audiotape. Some believe Bin Laden failed to present anything new with his speech and rendered his plan of action utterly unsuitable; “What good does Bin Laden’s speech do for us? All his talk is very well known among al-Qaeda, therefore, this speech is merely to prove he exists. He ought to have threatened to commit specific attacks in America or Israel to avenge Gaza. That would have frightened the infidels,” said one member. Further negative comments came from Palestinian forum members (paldf.net March 19, 2009). One forum participant, nicknamed al-Rian, said pro-al-Qaeda jihadis should refrain from finding excuses for Bin Laden’s twisted ideology; “First of all, Bin Laden ought to disavow the killing of innocent people around the world and stop verbal attacks on Hamas. It’s time to revise al-Qaeda’s ideology.”
Bin Laden’s audiotape on Gaza did not present any new strategy, plan of action or even threats to perpetrate new attacks. It was disappointing to jihadis to hear the same old well-known rhetoric when they were eager to hear Bin Laden announcing specific operations to avenge the Israeli war in Gaza. The fact that Bin Laden didn’t mention or call upon al-Qaeda to wage jihad against Israelis is a further indication that al-Qaeda has no presence in Israel, a notion corroborated by Palestinian Islamist forum members.