BEIRUT - In the fallout of Israel’s deadly incursion into Gaza, some analysts say jihadists in the Middle East may be the biggest beneficiaries.
There is “one big winner from the latest Gaza war - the global jihad,” Bruce Riedel, a terrorism expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington wrote on the web site Al Monitor.
Riedel wrote that the “televised imagery of war, violence and casualties” will fuel recruitment for al-Qaida and its breakaway, the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL), which has declared a caliphate across a swath of Syria and Iraq.
Analysts at Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies warned in a June study that ISIL’s land grab in Iraq and Syria posed risks of contagion, pointing out that the group’s leaders had already signaled their ambition of infiltrating Jordan, the “last stronghold.”
“Jordan is liable to be engulfed in chaos with the survival of the kingdom threatened,” the study said, adding, “Jordan is confronting a growing number of cells of jihadist organizations infiltrating the state under the guise of refugees.”
From there, they said, it is “an easy hop, skip, and jump away from Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and the Sinai Peninsula.”
Officials from Israel’s Shin Bet intelligence agency said in January that they had seized three Palestinians, two of them east Jerusalem residents, for alleged involvement in an al Qaida plan to carry out terror attacks in Israel, including bombing the U.S. embassy.
But Charles Lister, a Visiting Fellow at Brookings Doha Center, isn’t so convinced that the big jihadist groups are ready to extend their fight to the Palestinian territories.
Still, he worries this latest conflict in Gaza will serve as “a spark for expanded recruitment” generally by jihadists.
“Gaza is already home to a number of small jihadist groups, but so far, they have faced an extremely challenging environment in which to operate, as a result of Hamas’ hostility towards their existence,” he said. “These conditions are unlikely to change any time soon, and it’s likely that Palestinians already within or swaying towards the jihadist scene may increasingly come to see fighting in Iraq and Syria as more attractive avenues of activity.”
But he cautions that ISIL and the al-Qaida affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra “may increase the level to which they emphasize that the liberation of Jerusalem is an objective high on their list.”
Whether jihadist groups strengthen in the Palestinian territories is likely to rest on whether Hamas can convince their followers and others in this round of war with Israel they were victorious, analysts say.
“With the devastation in Gaza, it will be a hard sell,” said Jonathan Schanzer, a Mideast scholar at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a U.S.-based research non-profit.
“There may be a lot of resentment against the movement for starting a war they could not finish,” he said. “Then again, anger against Israel will not be in short supply either. As for the broader jihadist movement across the region, I think it’s safe to say that the Gaza conflict will attract new adherents.”
Schanzer said that the “fact so many Arab governments were relatively mum on the war” is likely to spur recruitment.
Exploiting the gap
Jihadists are already trying to exploit the gap between the solidarity many Arabs feel with the Palestinians and the lukewarm and at times critical reaction to Hamas of several Arabs governments-notably Saudi Arabia and the Emirates, bitter enemies of the Muslim Brotherhood, which Hamas is aligned with.
Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, another foe of the Muslim Brotherhood, was accused by some Arab commentators of seeking to entrap Hamas and delegitimize the movement with the first cease-fire offer he brokered.
The offer was dubbed “a stab in the back to the resistance and the people of Gaza” by Azmi Bishara, the head of the Arab Center for Research and Policy in Doha, Qatar, who argued Cairo was determined to prevent Hamas from securing any political gains from the conflict.
The Arab states are already being ridiculed in jihadist propaganda for their positions on Gaza. Jihadists in Egypt accuse Sissi of being Israel’s policeman and other Arab governments are mocked for “colluding with Israel.”