Zarqawi and Israel: Is There a New Jihadi Threat Destabilizing the Eastern Front?

(Institute for Contemporary Affairs/Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs) Dore Gold and Lt. Col. (res.) Jonathan D. Halevi - * For the first time, Israeli defense experts are noting that groups identifying with al-Qaeda - or the global jihad - are determined to acquire operational footholds close to Israel's borders. The most dramatic sign was the November 9, 2005, suicide bombing of three Jordanian hotels in Amman by "al-Qaeda Mesopotamia" - the organization led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Militant Islamic websites immediately announced: "After the attack in the heart of Jordan, it will soon be possible to reach Jewish targets in Israel." * Al-Qaeda operations around Israel are becoming more prominent. In August 2005, an al-Qaeda rocket strike at the Jordanian Red Sea port of Aqaba also reached the Israeli resort town of Eilat. To Israel's south, a growing al-Qaeda presence in Sinai led to attacks on Israeli tourists in Taba and other coastal resorts in October 2004, followed by a major bombing at a hotel in Sharm al-Sheikh in July 2005. Sinai has also served as a rear base for the beginning of an al-Qaeda presence in the Gaza Strip. Zarqawi's terrorist network formally joined al-Qaeda in October 2004. * Ayman al-Zawahiri, the deputy head of al-Qaeda, has encouraged Zarqawi to extend his jihad in Iraq to neighboring states (i.e., Jordan and Syria), where there are already increasing signs of jihadi activity. In the next stage, Zawahiri envisions "the clash with Israel." The head of Israeli military intelligence, Maj.-Gen. Aharon Zeevi (Farkash), concluded recently: "We are not a high priority [for al-Qaeda], but our prioritization for them is increasing." * Many Western sources are convinced that Zarqawi was training his recruits in the use of toxins, including poisons and chemical weapons, at the Herat training camp in Afghanistan. In 2004, a Zarqawi associate named Azmi al-Jailusi confessed to trying to set off a chemical explosion in central Amman, near the headquarters of Jordanian intelligence, which had the potential to kill 80,000 people. In April 2005, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security warned that recurrent U.S. intelligence reports indicated that Zarqawi was seeking to obtain a "radiological explosive." * It would be a cardinal error for Israel to conclude that after the U.S. war in Iraq, the region to Israel's east is moving in the direction of greater stability and, therefore, Israel can take the risk of conceding its strategic assets in the West Bank. Zarqawi now wants to destabilize Jordan, but clearly seeks to target Israel as well. Dismissing the value of Israel's security fence, Zarqawi's organization has declared: "the separation wall...will feel the might of the mujahideen," hinting that Israel could face the same waves of insurgent volunteers that have entered Iraq.

2005-12-15 00:00:00

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