The nature of the war being waged against Israel changed, perhaps irreversibly, this week. Processes that have been developing for more than four years came together this week and brought us to a very different military-political reality than that which we have known until now.
The face of the enemy has changed. If in the past it was possible to say that the war being waged against Israel was unique and distinct from the global jihad, after the events of the past week, it is no longer possible to credibly make such a claim. Four events that occurred this week – the attacks in the Sinai; the release of Osama bin Laden's audiotape; the release of Abu Musab Zarqawi's videotape; and the arrest of Hamas terrorists by Jordan – all proved clearly that today it is impossible to separate the wars. The new situation has critical consequences for the character of the campaign that the IDF must fight to defend Israel and for the nature of the policies that the incoming government of Israel must adopt and advance.
The two attacks in the Sinai were noteworthy for several reasons. First, they were very different from one another. The first, which targeted tourists in Dahab, was the familiar attack against a soft target that we have become used to seeing in the Sinai over the past year and a half. The attack against the Multinational Force Observers was more unique since it only has one past precedent.
In an article published last October in the journal MERIA, Reuven Paz explained that the al-Qaida strategist Abu Musab al-Suri supported the first type of attack. His follower, Abu Muhammad Hilali, wrote last September that in waging the jihad against the Egyptian regime there is no point in attacking foreign forces or Egyptian forces because such attacks will lead nowhere. He encouraged terrorists to attack soft targets like tourists and foreign non-governmental organizations on the one hand, and strategic targets like the Egyptian gas pipeline to Israel on the other. In both cases, such attacks would achieve political objectives. Opposing Hilali's view is Zarqawi's strategy. As one would expect from al-Qaida's commander in Iraq, Zarqawi upholds attacks on foreign forces.
The foregoing analysis is not proof that two separate branches of al-Qaida conducted the attacks. But the combination of approaches this week does lend credence to the assessment that al-Qaida is now paying a great deal of attention to Israel's neighborhood. And this is a highly significant development.
Until recently, Israel, like Jordan and Egypt, did not particularly interest al-Qaida. When bin Laden's deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri and his military commander Saif al-Adel merged their terror organization, the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, with al-Qaida, they adopted bin Laden's approach which dictated suspending their previous war to overthrow the Egyptian regime and concentrating on attacking America and its allies. In the same manner, when the Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab Zarqawi joined al-Qaida, he was compelled to put his wish to overthrow the Hashemite regime to the side. Israel was not on the agenda.
But today everything has changed. Israel, like Egypt and Jordan, is under the gun. Bin Laden himself made this clear in his tape this week. By placing Hamas under his protection, bin Laden made three moves at once. First, he announced that the Palestinians are no longer independent actors. Second, he defined the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority as a part of the liberated Islamic lands where al-Qaida can feel at home. Third, he hitched a ride on the Palestinian issue, which is more popular in the Islamic world than the Iraq war, where al-Qaida is apparently on the road to defeat.
For his part, Zarqawi already announced his plan to go back to his old war and work to topple the Hashemites (and destroy Israel) last November, after he commanded the Amman hotel suicide bombings. Back then Zarqawi announced that Jordan was but a stop on the road to the conquest of Jerusalem.
In his video this week, Zarqawi emphasized that the destruction of Israel through the conquest of Jerusalem is one of his major goals. Both he and bin Laden made clear that from their perspectives, the war against the US and the war against Israel are the same war.
On the level of strategic theory, bin Laden and Zarqawi both expressed al-Qaida's long-term strategy that Zawahiri laid out last year to Jordanian journalist Fuad Hussein. Zawahiri explained then that there are seven stages to the jihad before the establishment of the global caliphate. According to Zawahiri, the global jihad began in 2000 and will end in 2020. Today we are in the third stage, which includes the toppling of the regimes in Jordan, Syria and Egypt and the targeting of Israel for destruction.
While al-Qaida today is setting its sights on Israel and its neighbors, the arrests of Hamas terrorists this week in Jordan show that for their part, the Palestinians are working to advance the global jihad. The Hamas attempt to carry out attacks in Jordan points to a change in Hamas's self-perception. They have gone from being local terrorists to being members of the Islamist axis, which is led by Iran and includes Syria, al-Qaida and Hizbullah.
A week after Zarqawi carried out the attacks in Amman last November, Iranian Foreign Minister Manochehr Mottaki met with the heads of Hizbullah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, PFLP, DFLP and DFLP-GC in Beirut. At the end of the summit, Ahmed Jibril declared, "We all confirmed that what is going on in occupied Palestine is organically connected to what is going on in Iraq, Syria, Iran, and Lebanon."
A week later, Hizbullah launched its largest Katyusha rocket attack on northern Israel since the IDF withdrew from south Lebanon in May 2000. Two weeks later, Islamic Jihad carried out the suicide bombing outside the shopping mall in Netanya. Shortly thereafter, Zarqawi's al-Qaida operatives launched another barrage of Katyushas on northern Israel from Lebanon.
Similarly, on January 19, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad hosted a terror summit in Damascus attended by the same cast of characters. The same day, Islamic Jihad carried out a suicide bombing in the old bus station in Tel Aviv. And on April 18, the day before last week's suicide bombing in the old bus station in Tel Aviv, Ahmadinejad presided over yet another terror summit in Teheran with the same participants. And, again, shortly after the summit, al-Qaida struck in the Sinai.
Zawahiri's seven stages of jihad go hand in hand with a 60-page text written by Saif al-Adel sometime after the US invasion of Iraq. Adel deposited his manuscript with the same Jordanian journalist last year. Adel, who has been operating from Iran since the battle of Tora Bora in November 2001, is reportedly Zarqawi's commander in Iraq and al-Qaida's senior liaison with the Iranian regime.
In his manuscript he laid out al-Qaida's intentions for the third stage of the jihad. He explained that the organization needed new bases and was looking for a failed state or states to settle in. Darfur, Somalia, Lebanon and Gaza were all identified as possible options.
As the American author and al-Qaida investigator Richard Miniter puts it, "US forces together with the Kenyans and the Ethiopians have pretty much prevented al-Qaida from basing in Somalia or Darfur. That left only Lebanon with all its problems with its various political factions, overlords and the UN. But then suddenly, like manna from Heaven, Israel simply gave them the greatest gift al-Qaida ever received when Ariel Sharon decided to give them Gaza."
Israel, he explains, provided al-Qaida with the best base it has ever had. Not only is Gaza located in a strategically vital area – between the sea, Egypt and Israel. It is also fairly immune from attack since the Kadima government will be unwilling to reconquer the area.
Moreover, as w
as the case with Egyptian Islamic Jihad and Gamaa Islamiyya terrorists who merged with al-Qaida in the 1990s, the Palestinians today constitute an ideal population for al-Qaida. They already support jihad. They have vast experience in fighting. And if it only took Hamas two weeks in office to get all the other terror groups – from Fatah to the Popular Resistance Committees to the Popular Front – to pledge allegiance to it last week, Hamas's co-optation by al-Qaida shouldn't be very difficult.
Al-Qaida today is building its presence in Gaza, Judea and Samaria gradually. It drafts Palestinian terrorists to its ranks and provides them with ideological indoctrination and military training. In November, for instance, a terror recruiter in Jordan who had drafted two terrorists from the Nablus area to al-Qaida's ranks and instructed them to recruit others, informed them that he intended to send a military trainer from Gaza to train them. The two, who were arrested in December, had planned to carry out a double suicide bombing in Jerusalem.
Last May, the first terror cell in Gaza announced its association with al-Qaida. When Ra'anan Gissin, then prime minister Ariel Sharon's spokesman, was asked to comment on the development by a foreign reporter, he presented the government's position on the issue as follows: "There is some evidence of links between militants in Gaza and al-Qaida… but for us, local terrorist groups are just as dangerous."
On the face of it, Gissin's arrogance seems appropriate. After all, what do we care who sends the bombers into our cafes and buses? But things don't work that way.
As the attacks in Egypt, the arrests in Jordan and the bin Laden and Zarqawi messages this week all indicated, we find ourselves today in a world war. The Palestinians are no longer the ones waging the war against us. The Islamist axis now wages the war against us through the Palestinians. The center of gravity, like the campaign rationale of the enemy, has moved away.
Today, the decision-makers who determine the character and timing of the terror offensives are not sitting in Gaza and or Judea and Samaria. They are sitting in Teheran, Waziristan, Damascus, Beirut, Amman and Fallujah. The considerations that guide those that order the trigger pulled are not local considerations, but regional considerations at best and considerations wholly cut off from local events at worst.
This new state of affairs demands a change in the way all of Israel's security arms understand and fight this war. The entire process of intelligence gathering for the purpose of uncovering and preventing planned terror attacks needs to be reconsidered.
A reconfiguration of political and diplomatic strategies is also required. Talk of a separation barrier and final borders, not to mention the abandonment of Judea and Samaria to Hamas sound hallucinatory when standing against us are Zarqawi who specializes in chemical and biological warfare; bin Laden who specializes in blowing up airplanes; and Iran that threatens a nuclear Holocaust.
Who can cause Ehud Olmert, Amir Peretz, Tzipi Livni and Yuli Tamir to take the steps required to protect Israel from the reality exposed by the events of this past week?
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.