Are We Heading for an Escalation Following the Killing of a Jihad Militant by Israel?

October 14, 2012

by Avi Melamed

According to reports in the Arab media, Hisham Ali Saidani AKA Abu al-Walid al-Maqdasi, the leader of the Jihadist Terror group called “Majlis Syurah Al Mujahidin Aknaf Baitul Maqdis” was killed tonight (October 13, 2012) during an Israeli Air Force interceptive operation in the Gaza Strip.

“Majlis Syurah Al Mujahidin Aknaf Baitul Maqdis” is apparently an umbrella name of two Jihadist organizations “Al-Tawhid Wal-Jihad”* and “Ansar al-Sunnah.”  These groups are inspired by Al-Qaida yet the nature and character of their connection with Al-Qaida is not clear.

In recent years these groups have launched terror attacks against Israeli cities in southern Israel as well as against Israeli Defense Forces deployed along the Israel–Egypt and Israel-Gaza borders.

Saidani was in his 50’s and of Palestinian origin, but he was born and grew up in Cairo.  He graduated Al- Azhar Theological University in Cairo and then moved to Jordan, where he associated himself with, Abu Muhammad Isam al Maqdisi, a senior theological scholar who inspires Jihadi groups and is also the mentor of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Al-Qaida leader in Iraq who was killed by the USA in 2006.  For a while Saidani joined the Jihadist groups in Iraq, then he went back to Jordan, moved to Egypt and made his way to The Gaza Strip, where he established a Jihadist groups named Al-Tawhid Wal-Jihad.  His activities got him in trouble and he was arrested by Hamas in March 2011.

In an attempt to force Hamas to release him, Saidani’s group abducted and later executed an Italian peace activist named Vitorio Arigoni in the Gaza Strip (you can read about this case in my article “Making Friends with a Scorpion” published in May 2011).

In August 2012 Saidani was released from a Hamas jail following a mediation of some Bedouin tribal leaders from Jordan.

The killing of Saidani will probably result in retaliation from his group.  It is reasonable to expect other terror groups in The Gaza Strip like the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Popular Resistance Committees, etc. will participate in the reaction.  It is also possible that Jihad groups operating in the Sinai Peninsula will join in as well.

Such a development presents a serious challenge to Hamas, Egypt and Israel.  None of the sides are interested in an escalation.  Preventing such a scenario from being realized, depends upon their ability to keep the expected upcoming round of violence within the framework of the mutually acknowledged “rules of the game and guidelines” which are informally agreed upon between the sides following former rounds of attacks and retaliations.

Hamas (with Egypt’s support) will have to impose its authority on these groups – including the use of force if needed.  Israel will have to restrain its military move, even if the attacks will result in Israeli civilian casualties.

If not restrained in time, the expected round of violence could lead to a serious escalation. 

*You can read more about these groups in my article entitled The Sinai Peninsula: A Growing Strategic Threat (August 2011).

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