When Israel withdrew unilaterally from Gaza, Scott and others expressed concern that al Qaeda and other terrorist groups (in addition to Hamas, of course) would move into the resulting power vacuum. It appears that those concerns were well founded. Today’s Jerusalem Post reports:
Has al-Qaida started operating in the Gaza Strip? A leaflet distributed in Khan Yunis over the weekend by al-Qaida’s “Palestine branch” announced that the terrorist group has begun working towards uniting the Muslims under one Islamic state.
“The Muslim nation has been subjected, through various periods, to conspiracies by the infidels,” the leaflet said. “[The infidels] have brought down the Islamic Caliphate, dividing the nation into small and weak states. They also managed to dilute the Islamic and character of the nation.”
The leaflet said unity was the only way for Muslims to achieve victory over their enemies, adding that the terrorist group’s chief goal was to enforce Islamic law in the entire world.
The leaflet, signed by al-Qaida of Jihad in Palestine, is the latest indication of al-Qaida’s effort to establish itself in the Gaza Strip after the Israeli withdrawal from the area.
More tangible signs of al Qaeda’s presence are also starting to appear:
According to [Gaza resident] Nizar, some areas in the southern Gaza Strip are already beginning to resemble Afghanistan when it was ruled by the Taliban. “This is very disturbing,” he remarked. “You see more and more women covering their faces and in the mosques you hear extremely radical sermons. The people there are behaving as if they were members of a tribe in Afghanistan.”
The Post reports that Palestinians have responded with “mixed feelings” to reports that al Qaeda is now active among them. They might want to talk to some Iraqis before becoming too enthusiastic.
It is certainly not good news that al Qaeda is extending its influence into Gaza. On the other hand, this development may expose and finally bring to a head a fundamental contradiction in American foreign policy. It is a basic strategic goal of American policy, as emphasized just a few days ago in President Bush’s speech to the National Endowment for Democracy, to prevent al Qaeda and similar terrorist groups from taking over a failed nation-state, as they did in Afghanistan. Consistent with this policy, it is hard to imagine that the Bush administration can permit al Qaeda to use Gaza or the West Bank as a base for international terrorism.
At the same time, American policy toward Israel and its Palestinian neighbors has been more or less even-handed, with the administration now having endorsed Palestinian statehood. Successive American administrations have pressured Israel to disengage from the Palestinian territories, while viewing the terrorism that would inevitably result as Israel’s problem.
But with al Qaeda present, it isn’t just Israel’s problem anymore. And it will no longer be possible to sustain the logical inconsistency of considering terrorism against Israel to be somehow different from terrorism directed against everyone else.
When pressed for an alternative to President Bush’s policy of vigorous military action against Islamic terrorism, the suggestion most often given by those on the left is to sell out Israel. They blame the terrorists’ antipathy toward the U.S. on our friendship with Israel, and argue that if America pursued a more pro-Palestinian policy, the terrorists would leave us alone. We have always thought this was folly, for a number of reasons.
But the time may be fast approaching when this debate becomes moot. When it becomes clear that al Qaeda intends to use Gaza as a base for international terrorism, the administration will have no choice but to face up to the dangers posed by the Palestinians’ failure to develop a normal civil society, and to think seriously about what can be done to mitigate those dangers.