The writing is on the wall: Al-Qaida is gearing up to attack the Jewish state. Yet no one seems to be paying very much attention.
Like a shark honing in on its prey, Osama bin-Laden's henchmen are progressively encircling the Jewish state, creating bases of operation in areas bordering Israel. They are forging alliances with local radicals, hurling invective against the Zionists, and spreading their ideology of hate throughout the region.
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The latest indication of this worrisome development came in an interview given by Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, who told the London-based Al-Hayat on March 2: "We have signs about the presence of al-Qaida in Gaza and the West Bank."
Essentially, Abbas was confirming what Israeli intelligence has been saying for the past six months. Back on September 28, Major-General Aharon (Zeevi) Farkash, head of IDF Military Intelligence, told a Tel Aviv University audience that al-Qaida had exploited the chaos along the Egyptian-Gaza border after Israel's retreat to move operatives into the area.
"Al-Qaida is in Gaza," he said (Yediot Aharonot, September 29, 2005).
Indeed, as The Jerusalem Post reported last week, several members of al-Qaida have been identified in Gaza. At least one was recently arrested.
And last September, Mahmoud Waridat, a Palestinian from Judea and Samaria, was indicted and charged with having undergone terrorist training at a camp run by al-Qaida in Afghanistan in 2001.
PRESUMABLY, if al-Qaida is going to the trouble of investing funds, manpower and resources in order to set up shop in Gaza, it is not because they are looking for inexpensive beach-front properties along the sea. With Hamas now in control of the area, Gaza will serve as a relatively safe, and convenient, launching pad for attacks against Jews.
Moreover, if Bin-Laden's official representative in Iraq is to be believed, Gaza is not the only place adjoining Israel where the international terrorist group is active. In an audio tape posted on an Islamist Web site two months ago, terror chieftain Abu Musab al-Zarqawi claimed that four Katyusha rockets fired from southern Lebanon into northern Israel on December 27 were the work of al-Qaida and had come at the instructions of none other than Bin Laden himself.
"The rocket firing at the ancestors of monkeys and pigs from the south of Lebanon was only the start of a blessed in-depth strike against the Zionist enemy," al-Zarqawi declared, adding that "All that was on the instructions of the sheikh of the mujahadeen, Osama bin Laden."
The incident came just a month after reports surfaced of an alliance being formed between al-Qaida and Hizbullah terrorists in Lebanon with the aim of coordinating attacks against the Jewish state.
Al-Qaida's presence in Gaza and Lebanon is extremely significant because it means that the terror group has a foothold in all the countries and territories bordering Israel.
Don't forget that al-Qaida has carried out bombings in Amman, Jordan (in November 2005), and in the Egyptian-controlled Sinai (in October 2004 and July 2005) at Western and Israeli targets. And just last week Jordanian officials announced that they had foiled a planned suicide attack by the extremist group in the kingdom.
This means the terror group has managed to penetrate these two countries neighboring Israel and establish enough of an infrastructure with which to scout out, plan, prepare and perpetrate attacks.
HENCE, OMINOUS as it sounds, al-Qaida now has the ability to target Israel from the west, the east and the north. This fits in precisely with what we know to be the group's ultimate objective: to wage war against the Jewish state.
As The Washington Post reported on October 7, US officials last summer succeeded in intercepting a 13-page letter sent by al-Qaida's number-two man, Ayman al-Zawahiri, to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq in which he outlined the group's strategy. The letter talked about a four-stage plan, its final and definitive goal being to confront Israel.
And just this past weekend, Zawahiri reiterated his call for attacks against Israel. In a videotape aired by Al-Jazeera on Saturday he urged Hamas "to fight on," waving his right hand in the air for emphasis.
All this underlines just how much Israel is on the front lines of the global war on terror - and how essential it is that we stand firm and confront it. The jihadists and Islamists may be focusing much of their efforts on the "Great Satan" (the United States), but it is clear that they are training their sights on the "Little Satan," too.
That, at least, is what Israeli security officials believe. In a report leaked last month to the Israeli media, they said they had concluded that 2006 was the "target year" during which al-Qaida would attempt to carry out a "mega-attack" against the Jewish state.
That would certainly explain the group's moves to establish forward bases alongside Israel's borders, as well as its stepped-up rhetoric about the need to confront the Zionists.
But patently less clear is to what extent Israel's decision-makers are taking all this into account, as they ponder future unilateral withdrawals in Judea and Samaria.
AS THE GAZA experience clearly has demonstrated, pulling out of the territories only creates a vacuum that groups such as Hamas and al-Qaida will gladly, and rapidly, fill.
And because of the growing al-Qaida link, it is essential that Israel's government start to view its policies in the context of the global confrontation of terror rather than merely through the narrow lens of internal politics.
Likewise, we need to start making it abundantly clear to friends and allies in the West that they cannot expect Israel to carry out further retreats when the threat posed by Islamist fundamentalism is already within striking distance of our major towns and cities.
Most importantly, though, Israel must start taking the danger of a possible al-Qaida attack much more seriously and adopt an aggressive, preemptive posture to eliminate the organization's infrastructure in places such as Gaza.
It is not too late to stop a Middle Eastern 9/11 from taking place, but if Israel doesn't act soon, and decisively, that is where we may all end up.
The writer served as an aide in the Prime Minister's Office to former premier Binyamin Netanyahu.