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Why isn’t the Islamic State fighting Israel?

Why has IS maintained its distance from the events in Palestine? Are the people of Gaza not Muslims after all?
Why isn’t the Islamic State fighting Israel?

The relentless Israeli assault on Gaza has yet to stop. But even as the death toll has now surpassed 1,600, the Islamic State (IS) and its newly established “caliphate” has not moved a muscle, nor is it expected to do so anytime soon. So why is IS – formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) – not fighting Israel? Would anything change if its fighters were to gain access to the borders with occupied Palestine?


While the Israeli military machine was massacring people in Gaza – and amid the euphoria among some jihadis over the news of the announcement of an “Islamic caliphate” – video footage of masked individuals firing rockets into Israel was posted online, and attributed to IS. Many cheered for what they saw as the “Muslim caliph’s” response to calls for succor from the people of Gaza, even believing the “caliphate” was very close to liberating Jerusalem. But the euphoria did not last very long.


The video turned out to be from an old footage dating back to 2012, recorded by the militant group known as the Mujahideen Shura Council, and was repurposed to be attributed to IS. IS-affiliated social media activists such as Turujman al-Asawirti were also quick to question the authenticity of the video attributed to their group.


Al-Akhbar had a number of questions for IS supporters from Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq, including the following: Why has IS maintained its distance from the events in Palestine? Are the people of Gaza not Muslims after all? Does this posture not reinforce the premise that there is a hidden link between Zionism and Salafi-Jihadism that appeases Israel, or is geography alone to blame for their inaction?


In a speech by IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, after he installed himself as caliph of the Muslims, he spoke about the terror inflicted on Palestine, but he did so only in passing, in the wider context of the terror Muslims face around the world.


In substance, they believe that liberating Palestine is irrelevant without the establishment of the caliphate in the countries surrounding Palestine first.Before him, in the time of the late leader of al-Qaeda Osama bin Laden, the jihadi attitude on Palestine was also controversial. Why have the jihadis never declared Palestine an arena for their jihad?

In effect, the leader of global jihadism Sheikh Ayman al-Zawahiri had an interesting position, approaching the issue from the angle of priorities on the basis of “Dar al-Kufr and Dar al-Islam,” or the abode of disbelief and the abode of belief in jihadi lore. Zawahiri argues that fighting in Palestine should be on the basis that it is an abode of Islam, and that therefore, liberating it is a duty for every Muslim, as stated in his speech “truths about the conflict between Islam and infidelity” in 2007. But despite this, Palestine remains at the bottom of the list of priorities for most jihadis.


In form, most adherents of Salafi-Jihadism believe that “Shias are more dangerous than Jews.” In substance, they believe that liberating Palestine is irrelevant without the establishment of the caliphate in the countries surrounding Palestine first.


Sources linked to IS told Al-Akhbar, “The final war that will liberate Palestine will be led by the caliphate, preceded by the establishment of this state in the Levant and Iraq,” on the basis of sayings they attribute to Prophet Mohammad. The sources add, “Allah alone knows just how much the soldiers of the caliphate yearn for skipping the necessary stages and battle the Jews in Palestine, but he who rushes something before its time comes shall be punished by being denied it.”


The sources, who are based in the Raqqa province of Syria, enumerate these necessary stages, saying, “The priority is to liberate Baghdad, then head to Damascus and liberate all of the Levant, before liberating Palestine.”


This is the principle that IS soldiers follow: “Fighting nearby apostates is more important than fighting faraway infidels.” To justify this, they rely on the Wars of Apostasy initiated by the Caliph Abu Bakr (against Muslims who renounced their religion following the death of the Prophet), who made it a priority over fighting infidels and Muslim conquests.


According to IS fighters, the adherents of all Islamic sects who do not submit to their “caliph” are either “apostates or misguided folk, who should be fought and killed, forced to repent and let themselves be guided, or be liberated from apostate rule.” A jihadi adds here, “We the followers of this path follow sharia not the whims of men,” adding that the Prophet had fought Quraysh first before moving on to fight the Jews of Banu Qurayza.


These sharia-based arguments are “reinforced” by the reality on the ground. A jihadi argues, “No one can initiate a battle against Israel except through the [direct] borders.” The jihadi then adds sarcastically, “Certainly, the mujahideen will not be able to bomb Israel by air,” before he said, “IS is still far from Israel. If it reaches Jordan and southern Syria (the Golan and Quneitra), then things would be different.”


The jihadis base their vision on their perception that “Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, and Jordan all collaborate with Israel,” and argue that any attack they initiate would be stopped by what they call the “idolatry” regimes in the name of security. A jihadi opines, “Since the countries adjacent to Israel do not fire a single bullet at it, this means they do not want a confrontation with Israel. Any attempt to use their territories to target Israel means automatically a confrontation with these regimes. Therefore, we must first purge these countries to get to Israel.”


The IS-affiliated jihadis conclude that “the enmity the Arab countries and Arab groups have with Israel are in words not deeds, that is, only in politics and slogans. As long as this is the case, any group that wants to operate will confront these regimes.” As proof of their point, the jihadis give the example of the Abdullah Azzam Brigades’ operations out of South Lebanon, and the subsequent crackdown on the group’s members after they fired rockets into Israel. For this reason, these jihadis believe that the priority is for their “state” to expand gradually, and that everything else is meaningless and illogical.


With regards to suicide operations, the jihadis said, “This is on the table, but the time for it has not yet come."


This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.


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