Greater emphasis on Israel makes the latest bin Laden message a game changer
Al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden spoke to the American people on the eighth anniversary of 9/11 asserting that the main reason for the al-Qaida attacks on New York and Washington was US support for Israel as well as “some other injustices.”
Interestingly, bin Laden claimed the war between the US and the Islamic “Umma” can stop if the White House eliminated what he called the “Israel lobby”. Note that in this speech he doesn’t mention the battlefields of Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, and Chechnya; he only targets US-Israeli relations.
Bin Laden insists that Americans need to know the real causes for this war “which is costing you dearly in blood and wealth. The [past George W. Bush-led] White House convinced you that this war [the war on terror] is necessary for your security”. The sentence used by bin Laden can also mean what the Obama administration called the “war of necessity”, in the past few weeks. Bin Laden asked Americans to hear “both sides” (a concept taken from American political discourse and rarely referred to in jihadist literature).
While over-emphasising the Israel factor, something unusual for him, actually, bin Laden reminded his audience that for two decades he had claimed that the main cause for his attacks was “America’s support to its allies the Israelis.” He added that there were also other injustices caused by the US, as well, but strangely refrained from citing them.
Such an over-assertion is new in the al-Qaida narrative, for in most of bin Laden’s previous speeches, including his declarations of war of 1996 and 1998, Israel was only one, and not the main, root cause for the terror he has unleashed since. His speeches during the fall of 2001 (all available online and in print) focused on the “evil nature” of American policies rather than only on the country’s specific support for Israel. Hence, one can see a shift in al-Qaida’s strategic communications.
He went on to say that “our two Umma (meaning America and the Muslim world) are both victims” of one aggressor, that is, in his words, those “who control the White House, particularly the Israel lobby and the multinational corporations”. He endorsed two books for Americans to understand how these lobbies control the White House: John Perkins’ “Confessions of an Economic Hit Man”, and “The Israel Lobby”, by professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt. He claimed that these books “will give you the truth”. Mearsheimer and Walt are thus becoming al-Qaida’s main recommended authors.
Bin Laden also praised Obama for having “admitted at last in his speech in Cairo, the existence of our people’s miseries”. He also praised “former President [Jimmy] Carter’s statements about the Palestinians during his last visit in Gaza, and particularly his statements on Israel’s racism”.
“Those who are stating from the White House that the war in Afghanistan is one of necessity, are like Bush; they represent the interests of the corporations,” he said. He declared that the authors of statements are the ones responsible for the war, not the mujahidin. “The White House is occupied by pressure groups,” he said. “You Americans should liberate the White House from these groups instead of liberating Iraq.” Pushing the drama, bin Laden added that any president must accept these pressures otherwise his fate could be like President [John F.] Kennedy’s or his brother [Robert].
He called on Americans “to free themselves from the intellectual terror of the neo-cons and the Israel lobby and review their alliance with Israel. Is your security and well-being worth sacrificing for Israel’s security?”
He added that polls show that Americans are opposed to wars and thus they must act against those “who threaten our security”, meaning Israel.
Then the al-Qaida leader makes an offer: “We are ready to accept talking about ending this war.” However, he believes that Obama won’t be able to meet that challenge. “Obama is a Mustad’aaf.” In some of the media analysis in English, the term was translated automatically as “Obama is weak”. In fact, that translation is not accurate. “Istidaaf” means he has been “rendered weaker”. In other word he has been weakened ”” by forces around him ”” “Mustdaa’f” here means “victimised” or forced to act against his original intentions.
Bin Laden then goes on to explain how the weakening of Obama has been taking place. “He maintained the men of Bush and [Dick] Cheney in power: Secretary [Robert] Gates, Admiral [Mike] Mullen and General [David] Petraeus.” Bin Laden says, “Obama can’t stop the war with these men in charge. He should have appointed generals who were against the war like General [Ricardo] Sanchez and Admiral [William]Fallon.”
He tells Americans that if they can stop the war, “that is fine, if not the jihadists will continue this war of attrition as they did with the USSR for 10 years leading to its collapse”. This war “is already lost”.
Then bin Laden goes on to claim that his war against the United States led to a major economic crisis and debts, which in turn led to a financial meltdown. He thus claims the economic collapse of the US as an act of war by the jihadists.
At first read, the speech aims to create confusion among Americans by announcing that the war can really come to an end by accepting al-Qaida’s conditions. But among the many messages bin Laden is sending, is also an attempt to create a division within the Obama administration by stimulating those he believes are anti-Israel to pressure the President in order to curtail the influence of the so-called “Israel lobby” inside the White House and within the administration.
There is, without a doubt, a shift in al-Qaida’s strategic communications. Bin Laden’s advisers, some of whom appear to be operating from within the US political culture, have convinced him (assuming it is voice on the tape) that it would be strategically preferable to single out one issue, the US-Israel relationship and try to break it. That would put the American public””and perhaps some inside the administration””under pressure. The offer from al-Qaida is that the entire war on terror, as waged from al-Qaida’s side, would end if Washington would just let go of its alliance with Israel.
Dr Walid Phares is director of the Future Terrorism Project at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. He is the author of “The War of Ideas: Jihadism Against Democracies.”