- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Most Palestinian communities across the world were jubilant on September 11, 2001. This past June, these very same communities expressed outrage at the successful American assassination of terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. For them, the murderous mastermind of al Qaeda in Iraq had been a great hero. Dead, he was now a “martyr.”

But the Palestinian link to al Qaeda has become more than mere sympathy and friendship. Al Qaeda has now set its sights on Israel and on an incremental takeover of the Palestinian cause. This is the next phase of its campaign to dominate the Muslim world and re-establish an Islamic Caliphate.

In the wake of Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza in August 2005, and Hezbollah’s war with Israel in July 2006, al Qaeda perceives a unique opportunity. With chaos gripping both the Palestinian Authority and the Lebanese political scene, al Qaeda has precisely the opening it needs to counter Iran’s radical Shi’ite expansionism and to acquire a necessary foothold in the region. Its direct entry into the Arab-Israeli conflict could produce major instabilities and war.

A common hatred of the United States and Israel facilitates networks of tactical cooperation between Palestinians and al Qaeda. These alignments have functioned for some time in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan and Lebanon. Shadowy connections exist among clandestine cells that now stretch from the Sinai, across the border into Gaza, and on up to the refugee camps in Lebanon. They involve information sharing, weaponry, safe houses and scientific expertise. The overriding purpose of these alignments is future terror attacks against both Israel and the United States. These planned operations could include chemical, biological or even nuclear technologies.

None of this should be a surprise. Immediately after September 11, not only Hamas approached al Qaeda, but so too did Yasser Arafat’s own forces. Fatah, formed as Mr. Arafat’s personal movement to dominate the PLO, had openly embraced “martyrdom operations” against Israeli women and children as the al-Aqsa Intifada first unfolded in 2001. Although Palestinian terrorists hardly needed al Qaeda to prod them to commit further acts of cruelty, the example of September 11 seemed to offer them both comfort and resolve. For its part, al Qaeda has been more than pleased that its Palestinian collaborators now cite frequently to the sacred Hadith: “Oh, Allah, annihilate the Jews and their supporters.”

The glorification of killing for Islam has infiltrated previously secular Palestinian terror groups by way of Iranian-influenced Hezbollah, just as it has affected al Qaeda. In addition to the usual sanctification of “suicide bombing,” both also approve of certain religion-based killings within the Islamic community. Both term Muslims who allegedly collaborate with the United States murtaddun (apostates) and both prescribe the sentence of murtadd harbi; to wit, the “ally with Satan” is condemned with a fatwa that pronounces a death sentence. The pertinent Koranic verse is this: “The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His Prophet and strive to make mischief in the land, is only this — that they should be murdered or crucified, or their hands and feet should be cut off on opposing sides.” There is no difference here between man and woman: “It is permissible to shed the blood of a woman who is a heretic [harbiyya] even if her fighting is limited to singing.”

Despite these factors that first allowed al Qaeda to obtain a foothold within the Palestinian cause — a cause that had been ignored by Osama bin Laden before his 1998 Declaration of War Against Crusaders and Jews — such an alliance is not necessarily “natural.” Nor are Palestinian groups such as Hamas automatically inclined to welcome al Qaeda’s growing presence in the territories. In addition to tensions that exist between Sunni offshoots of the Muslim Brotherhood (such as Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad) and the Iranian Shi’ite proxy group Hezbollah, the international jihad mission of al Qaeda goes far beyond the essentially nationalist, territorial objectives of local groups that have been fighting Israel for decades.

Historically, al Qaeda has sought various security vacuums from which to operate — e.g., Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq and Pakistan’s wild border region. It now seeks the Palestinian Territories. As far back as December 2002, al Qaeda first announced the establishment of the Islamic Al-Maida Organization in Palestine. This announcement declared “a vow of allegiance to the Emir of the Mujahedeen, the leader Osama bin Laden, by means of whom Allah strengthened the Nation of Islam.” Calling for an end to regimes that “serve only the murderous Jews and the Great Satan,” the announcement ended with a plea to “our brothers in Islam in Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia to attack the American interests and the heretical institutions of apostasy… Death to the Jews and Zionism; death to America; strength to Allah, Allah is great, and victory to Islam.”

It was Israel’s 2005 withdrawal from Gaza that provided the first real opportunity for al Qaeda operatives to cross over newly opened border crossings from Sinai. Then, Iran’s unleashing of its Lebanese Hezbollah proxy against Israel in the summer of 2006 alerted al Qaeda that a resurgent radical Shi’ism meant to stake its own claim to the Palestinian campaign against Israel. While Hamas’ January 2006 electoral victory signaled the demise of Fatah, that terror group was not willing to go down without a fight. Hamas is not Fatah’s only enemy, however, as a noose of hatred draws more tightly around Israel. In September, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas lost his top intelligence officer and four bodyguards in a shooting ambush claimed brazenly by al Qaeda.

All sides now openly admit to al Qaeda’s expanding presence. In Sinai, a mixed Bedouin-Palestinian wing of al Qaeda operates under the name “al Qaeda Organization in the Land of the Nile.” In Gaza, a group calling itself “al Qaeda Organization in the Border Districts” has surfaced. In October 2005, Israel’s military intelligence chief, Maj. Gen. Aharon Zeevi-Parkash, called al Qaeda’s growing interest in Israel “a real threat.” Retired Brig. Gen. Danny Arditi, who heads the counterterrorism department of the Israeli National Security Council, confirmed to Army Radio that al Qaeda had infiltrated Gaza from the southern Egyptian border after Israel’s disengagement. In a September 2005 interview, Hamas spokesman Mahmoud al-Zahar confirmed the infiltration of al Qaeda members into Gaza, noting not only a physical infiltration, but claiming the existence of contacts from Gaza with al Qaeda centers in other countries. The wary working relationship between Hamas and al Qaeda notwithstanding, the Muslim Brotherhood has launched a propaganda campaign against al Qaeda throughout the Arab world. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah is frankly antagonistic to al Qaeda’s spreading influence in Lebanon, and has acknowledged al Qaeda’s involvement there by terming it a “dangerous and unacceptable” situation.

Al Qaeda now operates secretly in the West Bank (Judea/Samaria) and openly in Gaza at the express invitation of Hamas. Relations with Fatah have deteriorated since Mr. Arafat first imported Hezbollah fighters to assist with terror attacks against Israel. Hezbollah and Iranian Revolutionary Guards have, in turn, helped to train a variety of Middle Eastern terrorists. Early on, Mr. Arafat had gathered together a diverse collection of Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Hezbollah, Popular Front-General Command and various Iraqi military intelligence units (Palestinian terrorists had always been extremely close to Saddam Hussein, even sending Palestinian Liberation Army units to help torture Kuwaitis in 1991). Also included were the pro-Iraqi Arab Liberation Front, and, since April 2002, al Qaeda.

Significantly, this same crosscut of Islamist terrorist groups presently exists in the United States — although here they function “only” as fund-raising, propaganda, recruitment and sleeper-cell operatives. Al Qaeda’s hatred of the United States has very little to do with American support for Israel. If Israel ceased to exist, its enmity for this country would continue unabated. This is because the United States is seen as the superpower leader of liberal democracy, wielding the ability to check al Qaeda’s dream of a new global Caliphate. The unforgivable “sin” of American ties to “apostates and criminals” who rule in such Muslim countries as Egypt, the Emirates, Jordan, Kuwait, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia elicits the same implacable wrath as American support for Israel because both linkages weave a network of opposition to al Qaeda expansion.

Joint Palestinian-al Qaeda teams are planning coordinated mega-terror strikes against Israel and America. Simultaneously, a fight is taking shape among the major ideological factions of radical Islam. It follows that both Israel and the United States should immediately cease any and all assistance to the Hamas-controlled Palestinian Authority. Above all, it is time for Washington to stop sending American tax dollars to support archenemies of the United States.

Louis Rene Beres, who has counseled various government agencies in Washington and Jerusalem, served as chairman of Project Daniel under former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Clare M. Lopez, who lectures on the Mideast and counterterrorism issues, served 20 years as a CIA operations officer.

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