In the final installment of the series, we’ll look at a piece of analysis from Ekhlaas member Abu Hamza 2005 titled, “A Modest Reading of al-Qaeda’s Strategy in the Levant [bilad al-sham]”. Abu Hamza begins by referring to Bin Laden’s 2007 statement, “To Our People in Iraq.” The statement, according to Abu Hamza, indicates that the Islamic State of Iraq is the nucleus of a future caliphate, but the caliphate will not be realized until the countries surrounding Iraq are defeated and Israel is destroyed. For this reason, Al-Qaeda “the Mother” (i.e. al-Qaeda Central) is very keen on expanding into the Levant and the other countries surrounding Israel. It also wants to establish branches in important global capitals, which can put pressure on foreign countries and scatter the focus of the enemy.
Abu Hamza says that he is certain that AQ cells are being created in the Palestinian territories, Syria, and Lebanon. Because of al-Qaeda in Iraq’s geographical proximity, ease of communication, and networks in these countries, it is in charge of overseeing the development of these cells. Abu Hamza also says that northern Sinai, in Egypt, is also very attractive for AQ, but he does not mention any links with AQI.
Abu Hamza argues that there have already been AQ ops in the countries surrounding Palestine:
– On 19 August 2005, 3 Katyusha rockets were launched from the Sinai toward Eilat and the Gulf of Aqaba.
– On 28 December 2005, 10 rockets were launched from Lebanon at towns in northern Israel.
– On 20 February 2006, two Palestinians were charged with trying to carry out a suicide attack in the French Hill area of Jerusalem on behalf of the global jihad.
As for Lebanon, Abu Hamza believes that AQ Central would be silly to enter the Lebanese political game at this time. The Sunnis are not ready to support a group like al-Qaeda, as witnessed by the bad end of Fatah al-Islam in Nahir al-Barid. (Abu Hamza relates that some observers believe that Fatah al-Islam was seriously negotiating with AQ about becoming a formal affiliate before it was crushed.) Since the fight in Lebanon is part of a larger strategic conflict between US/Israel and Iran/Syria, an escalation of the conflict will ultimately benefit the local Sunni militants. So AQ will watch from afar until the situation in Lebanon escalates to the point that the local Sunni civilians militarize and incline toward AQ to protect themselves (à la Iraq). Until then, Iraq is AQ’s top priority because it is the key to liberating Palestine. Once the U.S. leaves Iraq, al-Qaeda will transfer its leadership there and shift its focus elsewhere.
I think Abu Hamza’s piece is appropriately titled since his estimation of AQ’s chances in the Levant are much more modest than the previous two items in the series. In this, he seems to be more in sync with Zawahiri, who has tried to play down expectations of an attack on Israel.
As for the bit about AQ branches being established in important global capitals, it supports the argument that AQ attacks in Europe and the U.S. are meant support the mother organization’s goals in the Middle East.
Document (Arabic): 5-18-08-ekhlaas-modest-reading-of-aq-strategy-in-levant