Analysis: Al-Qaida sends Bush, Israel a stark reminder

Tuesday's rockets are a reminder that the next war might just be around the corner.

Bin Laden 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Bin Laden 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Last week it was Osama Bin Laden who in an audiotape message declared that he would never recognize Israel and warned of a "blood for blood and destruction for destruction" Jihad. On Sunday, it was US-born Adam Gadahan's turn, and in a videotape posted on the internet, the self-proclaimed al-Qaida spokesman urged Palestinians to greet US President George W. Bush - due to land in Israel on Wednesday - with bombs and booby-trapped cars. On Tuesday, Israel got another stark reminder of al-Qaida's growing presence in the region, when two Katyusha rockets were fired from Lebanon into Shlomi, a community in the western Galilee. While the IDF could not say for certain who was behind the firing of the rockets, defense officials and intelligence analysts said that the prime suspect was a Palestinian terror group affiliated with or inspired by al-Qaida. Al-Qaida's presence in the region is not new. For years, the defense establishment has warned of the looming threat, claiming that Global Jihad cells were bolstering their presence in Jordan, Egypt and in Lebanon. An al-Qaida group is believed to have been behind the firing of a Katyusha rocket from Jordan into Eilat in 2005, and Global Jihad cells were blamed for the 2004 and 2005 bombings in Taba and Sharm e-Sheikh. In Lebanon, the presence of al-Qaida-inspired terrorists has grown tremendously in recent years, particularly due to the large Palestinian population in refugee camps throughout the country, but also to an influx of Iraqi refugees that have settled there after fleeing their war-torn country. The al-Qaida strongholds in Lebanon can be found in two Palestinian refugee camps - Nahr el-Bared and Ein al-Hilweh - and among two radical groups - Fatah al-Islam and Usbat al-Ansar. Fatah al-Islam is believed to have been responsible for firing three Katyusha rockets into Kiryat Shmona in June 2007 and is also the prime suspect in the roadside bombing that killed six Spanish UNIFIL peacekeepers last year. The group also killed close to 160 Lebanese soldiers during the three months of clashes in the Nahr el-Bared refugee camp that ended in September. The type of rocket used in Tuesday's attack also points to these groups. 107mm Katyushas are compact rockets with a range of just seven kilometers. As a result, they are not Hizbullah's weapon of choice and were rarely fired into Israel during the Second Lebanon War. Palestinian terror groups are believed to be fonder of the 107mm rocket, since it's easier to hide from both UNIFIL and from Hizbullah, which as a Shi'ite group is at odds with the al-Qaida-inspired Sunnis. While the attack could be connected to attempts by Fatah al-Islam and Usbat al-Ansar to undermine Hizbullah as well as the Lebanese government, the rocket might also have been fired into Israel as a message for Bush ahead of his talks with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. "There is no doubt that this is connected to Bush's arrival," explained Yoram Schweitzer, an expert on al-Qaida with the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv. "The groups are signaling to Bush not to forget them in a future Palestinian-Israeli resolution." Either way, the rockets are a reminder that while the war with Hizbullah ended over 18 months ago, the next one might just be around the corner.