“We will not recognize a state for the Jews, not even one inch of the land of Palestine … Blood calls for more blood and demolishing calls for further demolishing” . Osama bin Laden said these words on December 29, 2007, signaling the accomplishment of his longstanding goal of acquiring safe haven for al-Qaeda in territory contiguous to the Levant. They also carried more energy and specificity than any of the organization’s previous threats toward Israel. Since bin Laden spoke, the jihadist media have carried instructions for the Palestinians on how to prepare for al-Qaeda’s arrival, as well as speeches by several Islamist leaders allied with al-Qaeda indicating that their organizations—with al-Qaeda—are preparing to come to the aid of the Palestinians. While there is no imminent threat in any of this material, it shows that al-Qaeda and its allies intend to infiltrate the Levant from Iraq and then attack Israel from Jordan, Lebanon and Gaza over the next few years. One author says that “undoubtedly, Palestine will be the main destination for al-Qaeda [fighters after]…the graduation of the largest class in Iraq’s history of world-class jihad officers” .
Just a month after bin Laden’s statement, an essay written by an al-Qaeda author using the pseudonym “AsadAl-Jiahd2” and entitled “The Timing of the Entrance of al-Qaeda Organization in the Palestinian Territories” appeared on the al-Boraq website . The essay referred to bin Laden’s late-2007 promise of aid for the Palestinians before claiming that al-Qaeda has been preparing to engage Israel for a long time but had not spoken publicly about its planning. He said, however, that he could now announce that al-Qaeda is engaged in a three-year period of preparation for operations against Israel which began in 2007 and will “conclude at the end of 2009,” when al-Qaeda will be in position “for direct confrontation with the Jews in occupied Palestine.” The author adds that in the post-2009 period, “the attacks against the Jews will not be limited to occupied Palestine but will continue to reach all the areas in which Jews have a strong influence.”
Telling Palestinians that they must be patient, he said that “the opening of a branch or a front of al-Qaeda in Palestine cannot happen overnight” and would not be declared “before the end of the American elections.” The essay then says that there is preparatory work that the Palestinians themselves must do to ready al-Qaeda’s passage. The author explains “the most important advice that needs to be taken into consideration and applied by the Palestinians for the next three to four months,” noting that “I will not ask you to perform miracles” at this stage, but only “simple things” in which you must “remain discreet” .
• Train in martial arts, how to assemble bombs and how to manufacture explosives and rockets. In particular, “fighting and scientific skills” should be taught as quickly as possible to “committed Palestinian youth.”
• Establish methods and routes for bringing muhajirun (foreign fighters) into Palestine and “protect them at the beginning and provide them with housing.” The author says this directive is “more particularly [addressed] to the proud people of Gaza,” where if only 350 mujahideen “could train and prepare and learn the skills of war and join al-Qaeda, they will strongly shake the Zionist entity.”
• Acquire as many weapons as possible, store them safely and draw “encrypted maps” of their locations.
• Learn to store essential foods for long periods and identify what foods are most important in wartime.
• Form small, compartmented groups of no more than five individuals and meet only once a week. Each group should have a specific task; for example, to build explosives or to disseminate the messages of al-Qaeda’s leaders, especially the speeches of Ayman al-Zawahiri and the videos and lectures of “the beloved al-Zarqawi.”
• Salafist preachers should teach the people in “a lenient and merciful manner,” and there should be no “fighting with the mujahideen brothers in Hamas.”
Following the issuance of these instructions, two al-Qaeda-allied insurgent leaders reinforced bin Laden’s message that military help and manpower was on the way for the Palestinians. On February 13, a statement by Fatah al-Islam’s leader in Palestine, Abu Abd al-Rahman al-Ghazzawi, was published. It declared that the group “has realized and understood God’s purpose for us and that is the need to offer our support [to the Palestinians]” . As did AsadAl-Jiahd2, al-Ghazzawi endorsed bin Laden’s late 2007 pledge of near-term support for the Palestinians and agreed that the cause of Palestine is central to “the global jihad,” a cause for all Muslims that “borders and languages cannot come between.” Al-Ghazzawi also stressed his intention to “begin our war [against Israel] from Palestine” because the Shiite Lebanese Hezbollah—whom he calls “the protectors of the Jews, the hizb (party) of Satan”—has prevented Fatah al-Islam from moving into southern Lebanon. Faced with this reality, al-Ghawazzi said that he would bring “immigrants”—foreign fighters—into Palestine. Uniting supporters already there, these would fight any members of Fatah (Palestinian National Liberation Movement—not to be confused with Fatah al-Islam), Hamas or the Shiite who would “restrain us from the Jews.”
Then, on February 14, the purported leader of the Islamic State in Iraq, Abu-Umar al-Baghdadi, issued an even stronger indictment of Israel, declaring that it is a religious state, that there is no difference between Judaism and Zionism—both are “the core and origin of corruption”—and that Israel is “a malignant germ that has been planted in the body of the ummah (Islamic community) that must be extracted” . Unlike AsadAl-Jiahd2 and al-Ghazzawi, al-Baghdadi declares that President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah organization and the political leadership of Hamas are as much the enemy of Muslims as is Israel; claiming, for example, that there is “no difference between Olmert and his criminals and between Abbas and his gang—indeed the latter deserve more to be fought.” Like the others, he also berates the Shiite—naming Hezbollah and Iran—and the political leadership of Hamas, but exempts from condemnation “those sincere people in the al-Qassim Brigades” of Hamas.
Al-Baghdadi then offers advice to the Palestinians that is much like that offered by AsadAl-Jiahd2; namely, preach Salafism ever more broadly and teach the young men a love for jihad; encourage the Hamas military wing to join hands with al-Qaeda and its allies; prepare to assist the “immigrant” mujahideen who will arrive from Jordan, Syria and Lebanon; and devote increasing attention and resources to the dissemination of jihadist media products. Finally, al-Baghdadi stresses that “the cause of the al-Aqsa Mosque is an Islamic cause of interest to every Muslim” and emphasizes the role the mujahideen in Iraq will play in efforts to free Palestine. “As for the role of the Islamic state in the Land of the Two Rivers in the liberation of Palestine,” he declared:
“We trust in God and pray to Him and hope that just as the state of Nur al-Din the martyr [1118-1174] was the foundation stone in the return of the al-Aqsa Mosque to the nation—and it was later entered by his student Saladin as a conqueror in the Battle of Hittin, just as the Caliph Umar entered it—the Islamic state of Iraq will be the foundation stone for the return of Jerusalem. The Jews and the Americans realize this, and have sought to prevent us by every means from achieving this aim. The ferocious campaign against al-Anbar and the excessive boasting about the weakening of operations there is due to their knowledge that it is easy to bombard Israel from some of its areas” .
While it is impossible to know for sure whether al-Qaeda arranged for the three messages discussed herein to follow and supplement bin Laden’s December 2007 statement, the likelihood of coincidence seems small. Like bin Laden’s message, the three subsequent communications sharply threaten Israel and Fatah; each draws a clear distinction between the “traitorous” political leaders of Hamas and the praiseworthy fighters of al-Qassim Brigades; each stresses the importance of Iraq and the Levant countries—and the al-Qaeda allies residing therein—as bases from which military assistance can be sent to the Palestinians; each implicitly asserts that the Palestinians cannot defeat Israel by themselves and so need the assistance of muhajirun; each advises patience, noting that time and clandestine operations will be needed to insert immigrant fighters and train local mujahideen; and each focuses on the importance of improving the media capabilities of the Palestinians to inculcate Salafist doctrine and military and scientific training among the young. Overall, three conclusions seem reasonable: (a) al-Qaeda believes it has achieved a durable strategic victory by gaining safe haven in Iraq contiguous to the Levant; (b) Israel has assumed a heretofore unprecedented priority on the target list of al-Qaeda and its allies; and (c) however remote and dangerous the Pakistani-Afghan border region, bin Laden and his lieutenants appear quite capable of arranging a coordinated propaganda campaign over a distance of thousands of miles.
1. Osama bin Laden, “The Way to Foil Plots,” al-Sahab Media Production Organization, December 29, 2007.
2. “The Timing of the Entrance of the al-Qaeda Organization to Palestine,” al-boraq.info, January 28.
4. Ibid. The assigning of so-called “simple things” for the Palestinians to prepare for a more intense war against Israel mirrors exactly the kinds of tasks assigned by bin Laden in 1996 to the Saudi population to help them prepare for a war against the United States and the al-Saud regime. See Osama bin Laden, “Declaration of War on the United States,” al-Islah, September 2, 1996.
5. Abu Abd al-Rahman al-Ghazzawi, “An Announcement and Statement to the Islamic Nation,” Media Division of Fatah al-Islam, February 13.
6. Abu-Umar al-Baghdadi, “Religion is Sincere Advice,” muslim.net, February 14.