ISIS and Israel

[Jihadica is pleased to welcome Dana Hadra. You can find her on Twitter @dhadra20. -ed.]


On October 23, 2015, ISIS released its first video in Hebrew addressing “the Jews occupying Muslim lands.” “Not one Jew will remain in Jerusalem,” a masked ISIS member warns. “Do what you want in the meantime, but then we will make you pay ten times over.” This video is the latest in a string of statements made by ISIS threatening to invade Israel and slaughter its citizens.

Does ISIS’s rhetoric match its strategic reality? Does it really have its sights set on Israel?

To be sure, Israel has seen an uptick in ISIS activity along its southern border in recent months. In July 2015 ISIS’s Egyptian affiliate “Wilayat Sinai” claimed responsibility for three rockets that exploded in southern Israel. The Gaza-based jihadist organization Sheikh Omar Hadid Brigade, which might have ties to ISIS, launched a rocket attack on the Israeli port city of Ashdod in May 2015.

ISIS itself makes the occasional threat. In February 2008, for example, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, then leader of the al-Qaeda affiliated Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), announced his intention to oversee “the liberation of Al-Aqsa,” stating, “…we ask God and hope that the [Islamic State of Iraq] will be the cornerstone for the return of Jerusalem.” In widely circulated videos released in June 2014, an ISIS member states that Anbar is “only a stone’s throw away from Al-Aqsa Mosque.” In another video message released in July 2015, ISIS members threaten to “uproot the state of Jews,” which will be “run over by our [ISIS] creeping crowds.”  More recently, ISIS released a series of videos encouraging Palestinians to engage in lone wolf attacks against Jews. “Bring back horror to the Jews with explosions, burnings, and stabbings,” says one ISIS militant in a propaganda video, circulated with the hashtag “#The_slaughter_of_ Jews.”

Despite its threats, ISIS tanks won’t be rolling into the Holy Land anytime soon. Overthrowing the Israeli government is not a pressing priority for the ISIS high command. It’s more interested in taking over Sunni lands where state authority has broken down. Dabiq, ISIS’s English-language magazine, summarizes its strategy: weaken Muslim governments through terrorism, thereby creating security vacuums (literally, “chaos” or tawahhush). ISIS fighters will move in and  establish new state-like structures (idarat). So far, ISIS has stuck to this plan; its fighters are most active and successful in areas where there is a security void. Israel, which has one of the mightiest militaries in the Middle East, is the opposite of a security void.

Theologically, the defeat of Israel is also a low priority. Unusual for a Sunni group, ISIS is motivated by Islamic prophecies of the End Times—or at least pays a lot of lip service to them. Those prophecies envisage the conquest of Jerusalem and a war with the Jews as the final act in the End Times drama. ISIS is still in the first act, the reestablishment of the caliphate. It still has to spread the caliphate throughout the world and defeat the Christian infidels.

So despite its combative messaging, ISIS’s threats to storm Israel are empty, meant to recruit Muslims angry about the occupation rather than signal an invasion. ISIS is focused on consolidating its state and expanding it into Sunni Muslim lands; its gaze will remained fixed on Jerusalem but it won’t try to plant its flag there anytime soon.

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4 Responses

  1. Hello, Dana:

    Thanks for reporting on an important issue.

    I have just one relatively minor quibble. You write: “Unusual for a Sunni group, ISIS is motivated by Islamic prophecies of the End Times”

    Is it really so unusual? Maybe it’s more a matter of emphasis..

    My own tracking of Sunni apocalypticism has moved between 1998 and now from a focus on Hamas, and the Gharquad Tree hadith via AQ and recruitment uses of the “black banners from Khorasan” ahadith, to Zawahiri’s quote on Dabiq and the current apocalyptic focus of IS as described in Wm. McCants’ book.

    Thus the Hamas Charter, Art 7, quotes the explicitly eschatological Gharqad Tree hadith –

    The Day of Judgement will not come about until Moslems fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Moslems, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him. Only the Gharkad tree, (evidently a certain kind of tree) would not do that because it is one of the trees of the Jews.

    — while Art 15 says of Al-Aqsa:

    It is necessary to instill in the minds of the Moslem generations that the Palestinian problem is a religious problem, and should be dealt with on this basis. Palestine contains Islamic holy sites. In it there is al-Aqsa Mosque which is bound to the great Mosque in Mecca in an inseparable bond as long as heaven and earth speak of Isra` (Mohammed’s midnight journey to the seven heavens) and Mi’raj (Mohammed’s ascension to the seven heavens from Jerusalem)”

    Similarly, Husain Haqqani quotes the Mahdist hadith (Tirmidhi?) linking Khorasan and al-Aqsa —

    Armies carrying black flags will come from Khurasan, no power will be able to stop them and they will finally reach Eela (the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem) where they will erect their flags.

    — in his article, Prophecy & the Jihad in the Indian Subcontinent:


    — while both Ali Soufan (The Black Banners) and Syed Saleem Shahzad (Inside Al-Qaeda and the Taliban) speak of the importance of the Black Banners / Khorasan traditions.

    Wm. McCants is far better positioned than I to say whether IS is more intensely focused on its eschatology than AQ central ever was, and his comments on the evolution of that interest from an immediate Mahdist to a more extended Caliphal focus are much appreciated – but surely contemporary interest in Sunni eschatology should really be dated back to the time of Juhayman’s 1979 Mahdist takeover of the Grand Mosque in Mecca..

  2. Dear Dana thank you for a great article, although there are few things i would like to comment and expand on for the sake of the reader.
    1-“statements made by ISIS threatening to invade Israel and slaughter its citizens”

    This is a widely known misused cause in radical militias recruitment or dictators rising to power, it used to justify alot of doings in the islamic world and i believe this slogan only works in basic environments where education is limited paired with a strict controlled social media such as in post wars environment or primitive states i,e ( Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, Iran Lebanon and parts or arabia etc etc) and that’s why ISIS leaders focused on the book ” management of chaos” as their founding doctrine.
    furthermore None of the above militias or governments ever had a conflict with Israel and if ISIS could reach the depth of Europe and America but yet fails to infiltrate their next door neighbor then that opens a huge door on the true intentions of the groups and the true supporters. which is another whole game and prop lays outside the scope of this article.

    2- the black banners hadeethS.
    there are few of them not just one 2 are used to prophecies the awaited Al-Mahdi the khalifah the majority of the Sunni muslims who makes 87%90% of muslims thinks the hadeeth is weak and the dont follow it, while Shia uses it to strengthen their hold on the people
    the third hadeeth about the black banners from the west actually says those of the black banners are not on the right path and they will fight among them selves in the end and muslims scholars says its weak and shoudnt be used, all that shows that there is a weak education in the islamic world but the west demonizing Islam in general makes it hard for Muslims to fight these radical groups or even educate them for most of the radical groups targets people under oppression by the west directly or in directly those whom seek revenge and with low education it is easy to them that true islam is based on few weak or wrong hadeeths and its asking them to commit things to fulfill final victory.

    3- “The Day of Judgement will not come about until Moslems fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Moslems, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him. Only the Gharkad tree, (evidently a certain kind of tree) would not do that because it is one of the trees of the Jews.”
    that hadeeth icame in different narrative and the battle that will take place is at the end of time when Jesus peace be upon him descends to earth and fight the anti christ the muslims hadeeth and narratives says Jesus will lead the army of muslims against the anti Christ and his army and it says most of his followers are jews and Jesus pbuh claims victory thats when the tree or the stone says behind me a jew kill him and that is a combatant jew because any one knows that jews have lived with and under muslim ruling for centuries and there wasnt any conflict or genocide or oppression except in the early stage of islam when 3 Jewish tribes betrayed muslims in a war after the pledged to help.

    4- prophecies , sigh i think all religions and have them and ill sick people uses them as they wish to misguide and mislead
    Thank you dear Dana for a lovely article

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