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Al Qaeda Releases New Video Slamming Iran and Hezbollah: Highlights a Shift Back to the 'Near Enemy'

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To commemorate the 9/11 attacks on the United States, al-Qaeda has released a 90-minute video featuring their No. 2 man, Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri.  The tape, released to al Jazeera in Qatar, references the crisis in South Ossetia as well as other current events, dating the recording of the statement to some point in mid august.

In the past, these video and audio recordings would raise alarm bells to those in the west, both politicians and civilians.   In recent years however, a litany of statements denouncing America, Europe, and Israel have been followed with little or no terrorist activity.   As more and more tapes are released, they receive less and less attention.  This will undoubtedly be the case this time around, as al-Zawahiri's tirade is aimed not at the US, UK, or Israel, but at various power-players within the Muslim world, including Iran and Hezbollah.

The crux of the tape is Al-Zawahiri's argument that the Muslim community is facing a new threat from the Iranian "Coalition'. He claims Tehran is "cooperating with the Americans in occupying Iraq and Afghanistan,' and blasts their recognition of the two new regimes.  Zawahiri then shifts his focus to Lebanon.  He calls the Lebanese government an "agent' of Washington, then scorns Hezbollah for "losing' its war with Israeli forces.  “The most bizarre and astounding thing is that Hassan Nasrallah [Hezbollah's leader] celebrates a victory every year. What victory? Retreating 30 miles backwards?"  Zawahiri proceeds to indict the broader Shi'ite community, accusing them of shying from jihad in Iraq and elsewhere.  This is part of al Qaeda's growing critique of Shi'ah Muslims, and highlights a successful counter-terrorist strategy of "identity division' across the region.

After the American invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, al Qaeda enjoyed a period of unprecedented popularity and support across much of the Muslim world: from Morocco to Pakistan.  This broad coalition was aimed at all Muslims, arguing that the "far enemy', the West, must be attacked and defeated to bring about a true, transnational Muslim state.   This transnational identity brought foreign fighters in to Iraq and stirred up rebellion throughout the region.

Now, American policy is increasingly focused on breaking apart this fundamentalist coalition.  Awakening Councils have divided the Sunni insurgency in Iraq, Iranian cooperation has eased some tensions throughout the region, and a newly elected Pakistani civilian authority is healing the wounds inflicted by Musharraf.  Al Qaeda must now re-shift its focus back to the "near enemy' in the Middle East, and place the west on the back burner.  Indeed, the same successes seen in Anbar province and throughout Iraq can be used as the model for the region at-large .   One counter-terror analyst, writing in the Financial Times, says "I believe this is connected to the situation in Iraq where al-Qaeda is on the defensive. The Iranian influence in Iraq is very noticeable. Iran backs the Shia parties and now the Sunni groups in the country have also been moving against al-Qaeda.'  As more and more factions within the region turn away from the al Qaeda-inspired global Muslim identity, fundamentalist recruitment and travel becomes more and more difficult, as do further attacks.

The splintering of these groups should not be seen as detrimental to the Muslim community in any way.  I am not arguing that Lebanon and Iran should feel animosity towards their Arab neighbors, or that Sunni and Shi'ah violence takes the heat off of coalition forces.  What's beneficial to counter-terrorism officials is that there appears to be an erosion of the transnational, global, jihadi ideology of bin Laden, and this erosion is taking its toll on al Qaeda.

 

Author

Josh Hammer

Josh Hammer is an International Relations theorist, with expertise in terrorist ideology, American foreign policy, and war / conflict resolution. He currently holds a Master's of Science degree in International Politics from the University of Edinburgh, and a Bachelor of Arts degree in International Relations from the George Washington University. Josh's most recent work, his M.Sc. thesis, is a comparative analysis between Marxist / Leninist ideology and Osama bin Laden's global jihadi movement. He currently resides in New York.

Areas of Focus:
Terrorist Idealogy; American Foreign Policy; Conflict Resolution;

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