In Iraq and Syria, al Qaeda has rejuvenated. While direct action taken by the US government can erode al Qaeda in the interim, it is the equivalent of whack-a-mole and unsustainable. To undermine al Qaeda, the US should address a fundamental concern to the Arab and Muslim world: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Since Israel’s American endorsed inception in 1948, conflict has ensued. The humiliation from the 1948 Arab–Israeli War, 1967 Six-Day War and 1973 Yom Kippur War caused Muslims to question themselves and their Arab governments. Fueled by Saudi petro dollars, some turned to Islamic fundamentalism creating a parallel Islamic state that transcended geographic borders and ethnicities. Too them, there is no sovereign nation or ethnicity, only Islam (Ummah). Therefore, a perceived attack on one Muslim is akin to an attack on all which is why the prolonged Israeli-Palestinian conflict is so critical to resolve.
The Arab governments’ nominal condemnation of the treatment of Palestinians is only used to placate their subjects. Israel is not a perfect country, but Israel treats the Palestinians far better than the repressive, corrupt Arab governments treat their own people.
The Arab government controlled media routinely makes Israel to be a ubiquitous foe waging a war on Islam epitomized by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They make ridiculous claims Israel is responsible for shark attacks, to using vultures for spying fueling the need for jihad. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a mere distraction from larger more pressing such as corruption in their own governments.
The sovereign boundaries and this ubiquitous Muslim identity would clash as the autocratic Arab governments grudgingly made peace with Israel making few concessions for the Palestinians. To the fundamentalists, this was a massive betrayal and they sought to overthrow these government establishing a true Islamic state (Caliphate). As a result, radical members of the Muslim community turned to unsanctioned terrorism as an alternative to a state sanctioned peace process.
al Qaeda would be inspired by hatred for Israel. In the 1980s, the future leader of al Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, joined a successful plot to kill the President of Egypt for signing a peace deal with Israel. Once Saudi Arabia endorsed the Oslo Peace Accords, Saudi resident, Osama Bin Laden began to plot against the Saudi government and attack the US which culminated to 9/11. The nihilistic founder of al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musaid al-Zarqawi began to plot to overthrow the King of Jordan once he made peace with Israel. al Qaeda in Iraq would evolve into the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
With the fall of the Iraqi government in 2003, Islamic fundamentalists viewed the Iraq war as an extension of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While in Iraq in 2008, I was told US troops were mere agents of Israel sent to destroy Muslims. Many Iraqis identified with the Palestinians living in refugee camps. However, these fundamentalists failed to adhere to tribal customs and were repudiated by Iraqis with the culmination of the Sons of Iraq.
Across the some parts of the Muslim world, al Qaeda in Iraq’s deceased leader al-Zarqawi is seen with a deep admiration. When on the streets of Israel and Palestine last year, I found it noteworthy that some of the rockets fired into Israel were named after al Qaeda in Iraq’s brutal founder, al-Zarqawi.
An evolved version of al Qaeda known as ISIS has reemerged threatening to destabilizing the region. While Israel faces a conflict on several fronts, Bin Laden’s dream is becoming a reality, they have created a functioning Islamic state cutting across sovereign boundaries and the Middle East is again in a crisis.
The US should produce a sustainable alternative to Israeli-Palestinian conflict to undercut al Qaeda. ISIS is creating an Islamic state in response to the perceived western war on Islam and also, the Shia led Iraqi government’s discriminatory policies towards the Sunni. In Iraq, there is still a misplaced perception the US favors Israel over Palestine.
If this persists, aid given to the Iraqi government would fuel the conspiracy theories the Iraqi government is a mere client state of Israel. However, a durable and lasting peace would undercut the appeal of al Qaeda’s tactics reinforcing the notion of nationalism over Islamism.
In the longer term, the Arab governments that use the coattails of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a scapegoat for their own government’s incompetence would be left to answer to their people. If an Israeli-Palestinian just accord can be reached, al Qaeda’s narrative would crumble undermining their hopes for an Islamic state such as currently in Iraq and Syria. We need peace more than ever.
Matt Fecteau is a Democratic candidate for Rhode Island’s 1st Congressional District. He is a former White House national security intern, and captain in the Army Reserves with two tours to Iraq.
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