Zawahiri Aims at Israel

Behind Al Qaeda's Pivot to the Levant

People walk in front of the Dome of the Rock.
People walk in front of the Dome of the Rock in the compound known to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount, December 13, 2013. (Ammar Awad / Courtesy Reuters)

On January 22, Israeli officials announced that, several weeks before, they had disrupted what they described as an "advanced" al Qaeda terrorist plot in Israel. Although al Qaeda–inspired jihadists had targeted Israel before (three men who had plotted an attack near Hebron were killed in a shootout with police in November), this marked the first time that senior al Qaeda senior leaders were directly involved in such plans.

That might seem somewhat surprising to casual observers, given Israel’s place of pride in al Qaeda rhetoric over the years. Although the need to target Israel and Jews does feature prominently in the al Qaeda mythos, it has rarely translated into operational missions against Israel. And that is what makes this latest plot, which was traced back to al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri, so significant. Indeed, it speaks to a fear among al Qaeda’s core leaders that the fight in the Levant -- particularly in Syria -- is passing them by.

PLAN ON IT

According to Israeli authorities, the recent plot began when Ariv al-Sham, a Gaza-based al Qaeda operative who worked for Zawahiri, recruited three men to take part in an attack -- two men from East Jerusalem and one from the West Bank. While it is unclear how Israeli security officials first came to know about the recruitments, which took place over Skype and Facebook, they apparently monitored these communications for a few months until they arrested all four in late December.

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