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Zawahiri on Obama & Gaza

1:15 PM, Jan 7, 2009 • By THOMAS JOSCELYN
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Ayman al Zawahiri, al Qaeda's number two, has released a new video discussing, among other items, the conflict in Gaza. Laura Mansfield has posted two excerpts from the video here. In the first excerpt, Zawahiri says:

Be strong and persist in the way of Jihad. The whole Muslim ummah is united with you. We will never stop until we avenge the death of all who are killed, injured, widowed and orphaned in Palestine and throughout the Islamic world. We are at work to carry out the promise of our fighting sheikh Osama Bin Laden (may Allah protect him) who promised that America will not live in peace in their dreams before before we live in peace in Palestine, and until all the forces of the infidels leave the lands of Muhammed.

Zawahiri is, once again, trying to throw al Qaeda's rhetorical support behind the Palestinian cause. This has not always been a dominant theme in al Qaeda's messaging. In fact, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is frequently the third or fourth most important issue discussed in al Qaeda's communications.
It is not clear to me, yet, whether Zawahiri specifically addresses Hamas in the video. In the past, Zawahiri has criticized Hamas for taking part in the Palestinian elections and not waging the form of jihad he thinks the group should. Some analysts have read Zawahiri's rhetoric to imply that there are serious tensions between the two groups, but I doubt that is the case. We should be careful reading too much into al Qaeda's propaganda, which is exactly what this latest message is.

Note, for example, that many of the same donors in the Gulf who fund al Qaeda have also funded Hamas. The two groups share many common ideological traits, including roots in the Muslim Brotherhood. And there are some instances of reported collaboration between the two groups. Top al Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah also got his start in Hamas. So, it's a safe bet that the two groups have much more in common than they do differences.

In addition to discussing Gaza, Zawahiri has sharp words pointed at President-elect Obama and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak:

What you are facing today is just occupation and settlement that is limited to one area or one country, but is part of a series in the Crusaders war against Islam. These air strikes are a gift from Obama before he takes office, and from Hosni Mubarak, the traitor who is the primary partner in your siege and murder.

Two things to note here:

(1) Obama, of course, has nothing to do with the Israeli strikes on Gaza. This is nonsense on Zawahiri's part, but is typical of the types of messages that al Qaeda puts out. The message is propaganda, not truth. For some reason, I've seen analysts treat these messages as if they provide deep insights into all aspects of al Qaeda's mindset. There are lessons to be learned, for sure, but there is also a lot of foolishness in al Qaeda's messaging.

(2) The verbal attack on Mubarak is not his first. Zawahiri and his Egyptian jihadists have been targeting Mubarak for years. They have been powerless to unseat the Egyptian warlord, but that does not stop Zawahiri from continuing to verbally attack him.