Clashing Parties and Bad Liars among Jihadists in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
As rocket fire from Hamas to Israel escalates, so do the claims from various jihadi groups in the area. Following the launch of a recent military operation in Gaza, more than half a dozen jihadi groups—either affiliated with al-Qaeda (AQ) or the Islamic State (IS)—have been flooding the internet with threats against Israel and claims of firing rockets at Israel as if they were the ones leading the war, and not Hamas.
And, as conflicts among Islamic groups in the region persist, the fight in Gaza also becomes a complex, baffling battle for attack credit.
The claims of attacks started on July 8, when the Brigades of Abdullah Azzam—an al-Qaeda/al-Nusra Front-backing jihadist group in Palestine—issued claims to have fired seven rockets in a series of tweets. One message claimed that the Yahya Ayyash Brigades, one of the group's battalions, fired into multiple Israeli cities, including Ashkelon, Netivot, and Sderot. The group tweeted:
We say to the Jews and their allies from the border guards [Hezbollah]: Our war with you is continuing as long as your presence in Palestine is continuing, and as long as your oppression of Muslims is a reality.
Also, on top of claiming an additional 11 rocket strikes in another series of Twitter messages on July 9, the group released a video, allegedly documenting the Brigades’ members assembling and shooting rockets through its media arm, al-Awzaey Media Foundation. In the video, audio plays from a speech of the Brigades' former leader, Majid al-Majid, in which he condemns Hezbollah for claiming to resist Israel but instead fighting Sunnis in Syria. In an excerpt of the speech, al-Majid questions Hezbollah’s motives:
How can the Party [Hezbollah] announce that its rockets and weapons are for Haifa and Tel Aviv, when in reality they are pounding Qusayr and the Muslims in Syria?
Though the Brigades make convincing claims regarding their attacks, there is no doubt that they have also been misleading.
On July 12, the Brigades tweeted that they had fired a rocket into a building on July 10, 2014. The tweet was accompanied by a picture of a man standing next to a hole in a roof below a watermark of the Yahya Ayyash Brigades. The bottom of the picture repeats the tweet, but elaborates on the alleged time of attack:
an image | the place where the rocket fell (40km Grad rocket) in the Ofakim Settlement about 35km from the Gaza Strip the eventing of Thursday 10-07-2014M at 8:15pm
Illustrating their false claims is their video posted on Youtube on July 8, showing two rockets being fired at both an unidentified target and an Israeli aircraft.
As the images below show, the exact same video was released two years earlier on November 16, 2012, and was reported by SITE.
Meanwhile, the group that is actually featured in these videos back in 2012, the Mujahideen Shura Council in the Environs of Jerusalem, which also wanted to take part in the claims for attacks, purportedly released a new statement on July 12 wherein they claimed responsibly for attacks at several Israeli locations including Ofakim, Netivot, and Kissufim with dozens of rockets and a 107 mm Grad:
A group of our mujahideen managed to attack several military Zionist settlements and sites with rockets and mortar shells for targeting the army of occupation and settlements, including the bombing of Ofakim and Netivot and Kissufim and Beeri ...with dozens of rockets caliber 107 and 122 mls.
The statement was accompanied with a ‘new’ video featuring the attacks and the production of the missiles.
Surprise! This video also proved to be nothing but false.
The same shots from their video, showing soldiers assemble and firing rockets, are also shown in another video they released in 2012 wherein the group attacks “zionist targets.”
Additional Players in the Mix
Separately, on July 9, the pro-IS “Ansar al-Dawla al-Islamiyya fi Beit al-Maqdis [Supporters of the Islamic State in Jerusalem]” released their own communiqués on the al-Minbar Jihadi Media forum, wherein they claimed to have launched a total of 32 rockets at Israeli military sites and settlements in a three-day period.
This group, which previously claimed credit for the killing of the three high school students kidnapped in the West Bank, stated that these attacks complement those carried out by two slain fighters, Usama al-Hassumi and Muhammad al-Fasih. The rocket attacks, which were carried out between July 7 and July 9, targeted areas including Ashkelon, Beersheba, Magdal, and Sderot.
The Palestinian militant group and AQ-affiliate Ansar Beit al-Maqdis also joined in attacking Israel, releasing a video on July 10 on jihadi forums in which it claimed to fire five rockets at the Bnei Netzarim settlements in the Negev region of southeastern Israel. In the video, the group shows the rockets with the date Ramadan 11 written on them, corresponding to July 9, their alleged date of launch. In the video, the group asserts that the rockets were fired in support of Gaza.
Another group, “al-Dawala al-Islamiya [The Islamic State],” which pledged to the new IS Caliphate on Twitter, followed the trend in a series of threatening tweets toward Israel. In addition to their claims for attacks, the group posted a message in Hebrew on July 12, 2014, warning the Israeli Defense Minister to stop the attacks on Gaza or else they would attack Dimona, a city in the Negev desert housing a nuclear reactor. The tweet reads:
Moshe Ya'alon, [Israeli] Defense Minster – you must choose between the cessation of the aggression in Gaza or hit Dimona. We have no other choice. (This is the last warning).
And the list grows.
The Palestinian jihadi group Jama'at Jaish al-Ummah Beit al-Maqdis (The Army of the Ummah) announced rocket attacks on Israel in a series of posts on its Facebook page. On Saturday, July 12, the group made a post claiming to have “fired four on a village in west of Negev with four Qaqa rockets.” The following day, the group claimed in a post to have fired rockets at the Eshkol Regional Council, which is located in the northwestern Negev in Israel's Southern District:
In response to the crimes of the invasion, and after relying on Allah, the mujahideen of Jaish al-Ummah Beit al-Maqdis launched a 107-type rocket on the "Eshkol Region Council" on the 15th of Ramadan 1435H at 1:10pm.
The group followed up:
And more is coming, and this falls within the framework of responding to the crimes against the Muslims in Beit al-Maqdis.
This and our Jihad against the imams of infidelity and tyrants of the earth until the empowerment of Allah's Sharia...
A Complicated Web of Disputes
You're probably a bit confused by this point. And rightly so.
Why are these groups flooding the internet with claims—let alone false ones—making it look as they are behind the recent bloody conflict? If these groups really want to achieve Islamic support and victory over Israel, wouldn't it better to join together and work as a one powerful group? Or, why wouldn't they join Hamas? Isn’t it, after all, the organization most notably responsible for the current war?
More, if these groups are going to lie, can’t they at least be a little better at it?
To understand this chaotic array of attack claims, one must start by noting what elements are at stake between Israel, Hamas, and the jihadist movement. Jihadi groups operating in Gaza view Hamas as their main enemy.
Despite mutual disdain for Israel, Hamas wishes to be taken as a legitimate political party and has historically showed no tolerance towered jihadi groups supporting the AQ ideology. In fact, all levels of the jihadi community—from current AQ leader Ayman al-Zawahiri to individual fighters―castigate Hamas as an enemy to the Salafi jihadi cause. These messages voice a litany of complaints about Hamas on both ideological and tactical points. Ideologically, jihadis lambast Hamas for engaging in democratic processes and for establishing a government other than Islamic Shariah.
Making the situation even more complicated is the conflict between IS and AQ. While both groups fight for jihadist support, the conflict in Gaza has become a stage for AQ and IS-affiliates to pump their chests to the world. When groups aligned with AQ (Brigades of Abdullah Azzam, Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, etc.) issue claims of attack, groups that follow IS (MSC, the Sons of the Dawla, etc.) must do the same.
Simply put, any credit given to Hamas for attacks on Israel—which is overwhelmingly the case worldwide—is a lost opportunity for public support in the eyes of jihadists. Furthermore, once jihadists claim the attacks, they must trudge through an even deeper layer of conflict amongst themselves.
While the results are confusing, the motive is clear: the ultimate goal of jihadist groups involved in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has been to take away credit from Hamas—all while trampling over themselves in the process.