Thursday, April 06, 2006

Is al-Zarqawi spreading into the Levant again?

In this post I asked in the headline, "Who is running the Jihad?" It wasn't long until the ideas started to flow in, many of which would send intelligence planners running off the roof of the nearest 20 storey building in abject horror. (You should leave these great ideas in comments, rather than email. They were all plausible and indeed, truly horrifying.)

The answer is, al-Zarqawi is running the Jihad.

Dana provided a link in comments which raises the spectre of an expanding war - and it fits with al-Qaeda's plans and those of al-Zarqawi. From the Middle East News Service:

Western intelligence sources said Al Zarqawi has increased activities in such countries as Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and the Palestinian Authority. They said Al Zarqawi has sought to lay the groundwork for an Islamic war against Israel.

"Zarqawi is very busy these days," an intelligence source said. "But his attention is moving from Iraq to the Gaza Strip."

The sources said Al Zarqawi has been forming ties with Palestinian insurgents in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. They said Al Zarqawi has begun to cooperate with the head of the military wing of Hamas, Mohammed Deif. They said that in 2006, about a dozen Al Qaida operatives entered the Gaza Strip to form cells.
The emphasized areas are known as The Levant, name which comes from the former French mandate in Syria.

Al-Zarqawi (real name: Ahmad Fadhil) emerged as the leader of a group known as Jund al-Sham, which some translate to "Soldiers of the Levant", in Afhanistan in 1999. Most of his recruits were militants from Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Palestine, and were training to conduct operations in the Levant region.

Although al-Zarqawi was only loosely affiliated with al-Qaeda he provided them with a presence in the closer countries of the eastern Mediterranian. Al-Qaeda was executing what they described as The Far Plan. That has less to do with duration than it does distance. Their prime target during this period was the United States, the far enemy, and they had little direct interest in the countries surrounding Israel nor Israel itself, the near enemy.

When the US attacked Afghanistan the members of Jund al-Sham, numbering between 150-200 fighters were disbursed and many returned to their homes. It wasn't until 2004 and 2005 that the name re-emerged after attacks in Lebanon, Qatar and Jordan. Whether this was a rendezvous and resurgence of al-Zarqawi's original group or different groups using the name has never been established. In 2005 a statement was released which confirmed the group was bound to a Salifist doctrine, intent on re-establishing the Caliphate, and a return to the true form of Islam. Neither the Shi'a nor secular Muslims fit that "true" form.

Al-Zarqawi was, after the invasion of Afghanistan, quite well neutralized. Unable to operate from his Afghanistan base, he had no place from which to reorganize.

Until the Bushites invaded Iraq.

With an impossibily small occupation force, no government, shattered infrastructure and a confused population, Iraq provided al-Zarqawi a perfect opportunity. Leading an insurgency and pitting Sunni against Shi'a al-Zarqawi commenced operations in an effort to make Iraq the base from which he could expand into the Levant. The letter from senior al-Qaeda leader al-Zawahiri to al-Zarqawi, (if it's authentic), would confirm this. Despite admonishments, it discusses plans which mesh nicely with al-Zarqawi's goal to eliminate governments in the Levant region.

So, is al-Zarqawi now concentrating on the Gaza region? With Hamas in charge of the Palestinian National Authority it would make perfect sense. And he got there through Bush's abominable occupation of Iraq.

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