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Paul McLoughlin

The Islamic State group's silence on Palestine speaks volumes

The Islamic State group has found few sympathisers in occupied Palestine [AFP]

Date of publication: 19 October, 2015

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Blog: Palestinians are being killed by Israeli soldiers daily, but the Islamic State group clerics in Raqqa rarely mention the violence, preferring to concentrate attacks on Syrian rebels.

After weeks of silence, the Islamic State group has finally commented on the Palestinian uprising that has engulfed much of the West Bank.

On Monday, IS launched an "unprecedented media campaign", according to AP, and encouraged Palestinians to continue their attacks on Israelis using "any means".

In one video, a masked man praised the "lone wolves" who have stabbed Israelis, settlers and soldiers in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Despite the Palestinian uprising being the leading news story across the Arab world, this is the first time IS propagandists have mentioned Palestine in any meaningful way.

Few can expect that the opportunist tactics of the group will find any resonance with Palestinians.

The recent violence in Israel and the occupied territories has a distinctly secular edge, and includes both men and women who find IS extremist ideology abhorrent. 

What makes the Islamic State group different to other Salafi groups is that rarely does its propaganda spell out a vision of liberating Jerusalem, or attempt to co-opt the Palestinian cause to mould itself as a "defender of Islam".

Instead, IS remains rooted in the idea of "existing and expanding", conquering neighbouring territories to further its own borders.

From Hamas to al-Qaeda, the concept of liberating Palestine has been vital motivation in attracting recruits, and often presented in jihadi groups' longer-term plans.

IS clerics in the group's self-declared capital Raqqa have largely been silent about the recent Palestinian uprising against Israeli forces occupying the West Bank, say activists in Raqqa, and appear to have little passion for a cause it sees as nationalist - and thus blasphemous.  

Christian threat

Syrians in IS-held territories are well informed of developments in the Palestinian territories and many are passionate about the cause, said Hamoud al-Mousa from Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Slowly.

"People in Raqqa know well what is happening in our beloved Palestine and blessed Jerusalem. IS only cares about what is going on in the borders of their alleged 'caliphate' and attacking the revolutionaries of Syria," he said.

     People in Raqqa know well what is happening in our beloved Palestine and blessed Jerusalem
- Hamoud al-Mousa


Mousa explained that the primary concern of IS was to eradicate the main threats to its expansion into Syria - which at the moment is the Syrian opposition and Kurdish militias.

"IS has nothing to do with the Palestinian cause, and fighting [Israel] or defending al-Aqsa mosque is not in its priorities, [its] only concern is spreading fear among people."

IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi appears to avoid mentions of Palestine in his speeches, although the group has mentioned Israel as being part of a wider conspiracy against Muslims, said Hassan Hassan, co-author of ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror.

"Generally IS mentions Palestine as part of the grievances of the Muslim world, and this is part of its collective narrative, but it is not a focus of the group in a military or operational sense."

Hassan said that the group's main focuses have been split between "near" and "far" enemies. 

The near includes practically every non-IS aligned group, particularly the Syrian rebels, Arab regimes such as the al-Saud in Saudi Arabia, and the Iraqi and Syrian militaries.

The "far enemy" refers to threats from further afield, but Hassan said that the major target of its rhetoric is "Rome" - meaning the Christian West - not Israel.

"There hasn't been confrontation on that front and even in terms of rhetoric and discourse Palestine ranks very low. They want to talk about Rome, the far enemy, Baghdad, Damascus, Saudi Arabia and so on," he said.

War against the West has been at the centre of IS
ideology as it fits with its millennial beliefs of the group.

IS has propagated the myth that the establishment of the "Islamic State" is a precursor for a final battle between Muslim and Christian forces at Dabiq - a small town in northern Syria - which will bring about the end of the world.

Apocalypse

Dabiq
is also the title of the IS online magazine, and many European recruits are said to have been enchanted by this apocalyptic idea in particular.

"When [IS] talks of the 'future battle', it speaks of the Christians or West going to Dabiq and meeting the Islamic army there," said Hassan.

"They don't mention Israel because they are constrained because of the reality on the ground, as they are nowhere near the Israelis. So when it says something it might be taken against it."

IS forces are still miles away from Israel, but IS does have one allied militia in Daraa, not far from the occupied Golan Heights, which claims allegiance to Baghdadi - although it is not clear if Raqqa has yet welcomed them into the fold.

Liwa Shuhada al-Yarmouk is a small and fairly weak fighting force that has been largely contained by the Nusra Front and rebel forces in Syria's most southern province. But the group has still found time to issue abeit largely impotent threats against Israel.

     In the Palestinian territories there is little chance of the group emerging in any significant way


"In the past few days reconnaissance aircraft affiliated with the state of the Jews has repeatedly come out above the areas that are controlled by [us]," read a statement from the group.

"Any strike directed by Russian or [Syrian regime] aircraft against us, exploiting the state of the Jews, we will consider it a direct attack on us by the Jews... we will not keep silent or hold back." 

For now, this is probably the limit of IS-related threats to Israel, and in the Palestinian territories there is little chance of the group emerging in any significant way, unless the occupied areas are cast into even further pandemonium.

"Obviously they would love a presence in Palestine but that is not realistic for now. Every time there are Salafi mosques or individuals that emerge in Gaza, [Hamas] clamps down on them," Hassan said.

The IS franchise in Egypt's Sinai province is also within striking distance of Israel, but Hassan said that its main priority was fighting the Egyptian army - and that few of its members were Palestinian.

"IS is conscious of its constraints and that when it says something it might backfire against it. If IS says 'we will fight Israel', then they know people will [question it] - as they have no presence near its borders." 

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