Salafi-Jihadi Groups in the Palestinian Arena

(Washington Institute for Near East Policy) Yoram Cohen and Matthew Levitt - The Palestinian conflict's prominence in al-Qaeda propaganda contrasts strongly with its lack of a role in actual al-Qaeda operations: al-Qaeda has neither established a local affiliate in the Levant nor accepted within its fold any of the locally radicalized, globally inclined jihadists in the region. While several Palestinian groups, mostly in Gaza, claim to be affiliated with al-Qaeda, none has more than tangential links to bin Laden's global jihadist movement. It is indisputable, however, that the Salafi-Jihadi and global jihadist narrative propagated by al-Qaeda is increasingly accepted by Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. In the words of a European observer living among Palestinians, Palestinian society has experienced "an accelerated process of broad society Islamization and radicalization." A variety of Palestinian groups in the West Bank and Gaza support al-Qaeda's ideology and claim some affiliation with it. Each of these Salafi-Jihadi groups can boast no more than a few dozen militants, sometimes reinforced by foreign fighters, most notably Egyptians, who significantly enhance the groups' capabilities. Some of the foreigners are believed to be experienced fighters who have come to provide training. Membership in Gaza's Salafi-Jihadi groups is estimated to be in the low hundreds. Nevertheless, the threat to Israel of Salafi-Jihadi attacks from Gaza remains serious. Al-Qaeda-inspired groups in Gaza are regularly plotting large-scale attacks, such as infiltrating Israel with booby-trapped trucks. Hamas finds it difficult to exert control over these groups, which often draw former Hamas members to their ranks. In the words of a senior Jaljalat member, "So far al-Qaeda has not sponsored our work. We are waiting to carry out a big jihadist operation dedicated to Sheikh Osama bin Laden. However, our course and doctrine are similar to those of al-Qaeda. If al-Qaeda asks us to pledge allegiance to it, we are completely ready for it." Yoram Cohen served until recently as deputy director of the Israel Security Agency. Matthew Levitt, former deputy assistant treasury secretary for intelligence and analysis (2005-2007), is a senior fellow and director of the Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence at The Washington Institute.

2010-01-13 10:31:52

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