The path of jihad begins in a cave on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. From there, it takes a dizzying spin through Iran, wends its way through the Middle East and then settles, inevitably, in Israel.
From Osama bin Laden's hideout to the cafes of Haifa and Jerusalem, that path undergoes many transformations and relies on shifting alliances.
Start with Al Qaeda. In the early 1990s, Bin Laden met with Hezbollah's security chief, Imad Mughniyeh, and forged a relationship between the two organizations that included joint training in Lebanon and Iran.
Today, said Dr. Rohan Gunaratna, author of "Inside Al-Qaeda," "Iran hosts a number of highly capable Al Qaeda leaders -- Saif Al Adel, the head of security and intelligence; Abu Mohomed al Masri, head of training; Abdul Aziz al Masri, head of weapons of mass destruction, and Suleiman Abu Gaith, head of media. The quality of the Al Qaeda leaders in Iran is much higher than those operating on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border."
Bin Laden has returned the favor, too.
"Despite justifying the attacks on the Shia population [of Iraq] for collaborating with the coalition in Iraq, Al Qaeda has commented positively on the rise of Hezbollah in Lebanon and the growing Iranian influence," Gunaratna pointed out.
It's interesting that the Al Qaeda leader would team up with Shiite Iran, noted Peter Bergen, a terrorism analyst for CNN who was the first to interview Bin Laden for television in 1997, because the Sunni Bin Laden "privately thinks the Shias are heretics."
What brings the two together, then? More than anything, a burning hatred of Israel.
"There is a degree of integration at a strategic level between the Shia and the Sunni with regard to the destruction of Israel and the expulsion of the Saudi royal family," explained Gunaratna.
In the run-up to the first Gulf War, Bin Laden denounced the royal family for allowing American troops to set up bases on holy Saudi soil, and was expelled to Sudan for doing so.
"Western leaders have often said that Al Qaeda has no political aim," continued Gunaratna, but this is not true. "The strategic goal of Al Qaeda is twofold: first, to destroy Israel; and second, to wrest control of Saudi Arabia."
On this, at least, Iran and Al Qaeda agree. But their interests converge in Iraq, as well, which is "on the front doorstep of both Israel and Saudi Arabia, the two countries hosting the three holiest Islamic sites," said Gunaratna.
In 1998, Bin Laden's second in command, Ayman al-Zawahiri, joined other jihadist leaders in signing the fatwa for jihad against Zionists and crusaders, pledging death to Americans for supporting Israel.
Meanwhile, as Al Qaeda and Iranian agents stir up trouble for the United States in Iraq, they are content to have Hezbollah attack Israel from the north. But if Bin Laden hates Israel so much, why not attack the Zionists directly?
"I have always puzzled over this," Bergen admitted, "because Osama bin Laden is without a doubt a pathological anti-Semite.
"What I have come to realize," he explained, "is that these guys really believe their own propaganda: That the Pentagon is staffed by Jews, that New York is an entirely Jewish city, etc. So in a sense, attacking America is attacking Israel.
"Besides," he added, "Al Qaeda has attacked Jewish targets abroad -- the bombing of an Israeli-owned hotel in Mombasa [Kenya] in 2002, the bombings on Jewish targets in Casablanca in 2003, the bombings of Istanbul synagogues a few months later, the targeting of Israeli tourists in the 2004 Sinai attacks.... "
The latest war with Hezbollah, Gunaratna stated, has also served as a recruitment tool for Al Qaeda in a way that the Sept. 11 attacks couldn't.
"Al Qaeda believed that 9/11 would galvanize the jihadist groups and Muslim communities alike. The spectacular attacks, though, galvanized the jihadist groups but not the Muslim communities," he said.
"The impetus for mobilizing the Muslim world was Iraq and, certainly, the Israeli attacks in Lebanon. Although they were initiated by the killing and kidnapping of Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah, the international media reporting was able to sway international public opinion against Israel.
"It is too early to conclude the degree of impact of emotive images of death and destruction in Lebanon in the Muslim world," he concluded, "but Al Qaeda is playing on it."
So Al Qaeda has a symbiotic terror partnership with Iran, and both have a similar relationship with Hezbollah. In turn, that organization has developed close ties to Hamas.
Dr. Magnus Ranstorp, former director of the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at the University of St Andrews in Scotland, is an internationally recognized expert on all three terror groups. Each one, he noted, is capable of inspiring the other.
"I will always remember the victory speech that Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah made in Bint Jbail after the Israel withdrawal in 2000," Ranstorp recalled. "'Look what we achieved,' he said, 'not through negotiations, and not through the Oslo process. Ours is the only road to victory.'
"Since that day," Ranstorp added, "cooperation between Hezbollah and Hamas has only grown stronger. I remember when I was in Gaza, I saw organizations cropping up, completely emulating Hezbollah, even to the point of adopting its logo."
In its rocket barrages on Haifa this summer, Hezbollah no doubt was eager to score a direct hit on one of the fuel or chemical facilities in the city. Such a strike would have been a successful version of Hamas' failed attempt in 2002 to blow up the Pi Glilot gas and fuel storage facility near Tel Aviv.
"They may indeed try for that again," Ranstorp said.
Hamas, though, is the weak link in the jihad chain around Israel's neck.
"In all the trips I ever made to Israel, whenever I lectured to the IDF," Ranstorp said, "it seemed that no one was that concerned about Hamas, because they had them in a box. They knew exactly where every Hamas leader was and every senior operative, too, because Hamas operates in a hermetically sealed environment."
The arrest or targeted killings of Hamas members -- including the assassinations of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and his successor, Abdel Aziz Rantissi, in the spring of 2004 -- have decimated the organization's leadership, Ranstorp noted. Alongside Western and Egyptian intervention, he continued, they have combined to encourage Hamas to focus its energies on political struggles within the Palestinian Authority.
"I was watching in amusement when Sheikh Yassin and Rantissi were assassinated," Ranstorp said, "because there was obviously no security reason for their elimination. They were merely opportune times to force Hamas into the political structure. And it has worked."
Over the past five years, Israel has managed to carry out against Hamas the "four-D" approach that President Bush has struggled to execute against Al Qaeda: defeat, deny, diminish and defend. Ranstorp wondered whether Israel could achieve a similar level of success against Hezbollah.
"To be brutally frank, although the situation would get worse in the short term, I think the peace process would be strengthened if Nasrallah were to disappear. To take out him and the organization's top 30 leaders would create a vacuum, sowing disarray," he said. "Of course, there would be someone to immediately fill the ranks, but.... Stopping short of endorsing a major assassination campaign against the Party of God, Ranstorp allowed himself an academic's conjecture that "it would be interesting to see the Hamas model applied to Hezbollah."
Even more interesting would be to see the Hamas model applied to Al Qaeda. Since October 2001, the organization has lost more than 3,000 members. In Iraq, commander Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed in June and, recently, the reigning No. 2 man there was captured. In Afghanistan, NATO forces recently killed well over 200 fighters of the Taliban regime that was in league with Bin Laden.
Decimating Al Qaeda, obviously, is not so simple. But after all, the path to jihad that ends in Israel is linked like a series of dominoes, being pushed by zealots bent on toppling the Zionist entity. And who's to say that Israel can't push back?
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