Weekly Standard, Rove Make the Case for Israel-al Qaeda Linkage

In their zeal to undermine or discredit Obama in any way they can, the neo-conservative Weekly Standard and former top Bush adviser Karl Rove have been indirectly making the case that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the single, most important recruitment tool of Al Qaeda and presumably other violent Islamist groups based in the borderlands of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

It was Eli who first noticed Thomas Joscelyn’s piece on the Weekly Standard website Dec 27 in which he mocked Obama’s claim that Guantanamo was “probably the number one recruitment tool that is used by these jihadist organizations.”

In his post, entitled “Gitmo is Not Al Qaeda’s ‘Number One Recruitment Tool,’ Joscelyn, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), performed a quantitative analysis of key words that appeared in the “translations of 34 messages and interviews dlievered by top al Qaeda leaders operating in Pakistan and Afghanistan, including Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri, since January 2009.” Guantanamo, he found, was “mentioned in only 3 of the 34 messages. The other 31 messages contain no reference to Guantanamo.” Within those three messages, Guantanamo was mentioned a mere seven times, according to Joscelyn’s findings.

To show just how ignorant or misleading Obama was, Joscelyn naturally went on to compare that paltry total with the number of other key words used during the period:

“By way of comparison, all of the following keywords are mentioned far more frequently: Israel/Israeli/Israelis (98 mentions), Jew/Jews (129), Zionist(s) (94), Palestine/Palestinian (200), Gaza (131), and Crusader(s) (322). (Note: Zionist is often paired with Crusader in al Qaeda’s rhetoric.)

“Naturally, al Qaeda’s leaders also focus on the wars in Afghanistan (333 mentions) and Iraq (157). Pakistan (331), which is home to the jihadist hydra, is featured prominently, too. Al Qaeda has designs on each of these three nations and implores willing recruits to fight America and her allies there. Keywords related to other jihadist hotspots also feature more prominently than Gitmo, including Somalia (67 mentions), Yemen (18) and Chechnya (15).”

So compelling were Joscelyn’s little survey and conclusions that Karl Rove gleefully devoted his weekly column in the Wall Street Journal to it — “Gitmo Is Not A Recruiting Tool for Terrorists” on Dec 29. [It was published in the Dec 30 print edition.] Here’s his triumphant conclusion about Joscelyn’s findings:

[T]he president is wrong to assign such importance to Gitmo and, by implication, to suggest it would be a major setback to al Qaeda were he to close it, as he promised but failed to do by the end of his first year in office. Shuttering the facility would not take the wind out of terrorism, in part because it is not, and never has been, its ‘No. 1 recruitment tool.’

So, assuming that Joscelyn’s hypothesis and Rove’s assertion make sense — that there must be some correlation between key words used by al Qaeda leaders (in Afghanistan and Pakistan) in their public pronouncements and what they believe are the issues that are most likely to rally their intended audience behind them (and assuming that Joscelyn’s methodology for data collection and keyword analysis was sound), what can we conclude?

It seems we can safely say that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is seen by al Qaeda leaders as their “number one recruitment tool.” Indeed, taken together, “Israel/Israelis,” “Jew/Jews,” “Zionist(s),” “Palestine/Palestinian,” and “Gaza” account were mentioned an astonishing 652 times in 34 messages: that’s virtually twice as many times as “Afghanistan” or “Pakistan” which, given their geographic proximity to the al Qaeda leaders who are sending these messages, is quite remarkable.

But let’s be more conservative. As Joscelyn noted, “Zionist” was often paired with Crusader in al Qaeda’s rhetoric” and thus may not have anything directly to do with the Israel-Palestinian conflict per se. Similarly, “Jew/Jewish” is not necessarily relevant, either, so let’s delete those two keywords from the data set as well. Nonetheless, even if we confine our count to “Israel/Israelis,” “Palestine/Palestinian,” and “Gaza” — all of which are more likely to refer to the Israel-Palestinian conflict — we come up with 429 mentions, or some 25 percent more than runner-up “Afghanistan”!

Of course, this linkage between Islamist extremism and the Israel-Palestinian conflict is something that real scholars — and the military brass, most famously last March in testimony by Gen. David Petraeus when he was still CENTCOM chief — have long maintained. But it also a linkage that neo-conservatives, in particular, have repeatedly and strenuously denied. Take what Abe Foxman wrote in the Jerusalem Post shortly after Petraeus’ remark last spring as just one of a legion of examples: “The notion that al-Qaida’s hatred of America ….or the ongoing threat of extremist terrorist groups in the region is based on Israel’s announcement of building apartments [in East Jerusalem] is absurd on its face and smacks of scapegoating.”

But let’s go back to the logic behind Rove’s argument that if Gitmo were “the No. 1 recruitment toll” for al Qaeda, “then Al Qaeda leaders would emphasize it in their manifestos, statements and Internet postings, mentioning it early, frequently and at length.” Well, if that doesn’t apply to Gitmo, it seems to apply in spades to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, suggesting — again, using Rove’s logic — that resolving the conflict could “take the wind out of terrorism…”

Of course, Rove doesn’t go down the road, even if his logic points in that direction. Instead, he reverts to a tired neo-conservative mantra: “It is the combination of a fierce, unquenchable hatred for the U.S. and a profound sense of grievance against the modern world that helps Islamists to draw recruits,” he insists. Of course, the notion that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict may contribute importantly to that sense of grievance doesn’t occur to him, despite all of the evidence he recites from Jocelyn’s little study.

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Jim Lobe

Jim Lobe served for some 30 years as the Washington DC bureau chief for Inter Press Service and is best known for his coverage of U.S. foreign policy and the influence of the neoconservative movement.



  1. No, Scott, bending of their words is exactly what’s called for in the situation- bending them towards some actual logical thinking for a change. And just what kind of self-loathing are you so pedantically accusing Mr. Lobe of- you’re not seriously suggesting that he’s one of “them?” A self-hating policy analyst? It’s true: many policy analysts secretly hate their own kind and work to destroy themselves. I hope you’re wrong; that would just be sad.

  2. Israel is not only passively supplying ammunition to Al Qaeda by its treatment of the Palestinians, but far worse. Israel has always actively supported, sometimes clandestinely and sometimes overtly, Moslem movements it viewed as religiously radical.
    The most well known example is the assistance in the eighties for the establishment of Hamas. However, there are numerous extreme Sunni movements around the world, and some in Lebanon who are assisted by Israel.
    This serves two goals which are central to Israeli policy since the fifties:
    1. The attempt to destabilize the Arab countries in the Middle East and bring about their dissolution. There are numerous articles in right wing Israeli literature to document this. (See Jonathan Cook’s book: “Israel, and the Clash of Civilizations”)
    2. The attempt to present Israel as representing the west and its values against a barbaric mass of Arabs and Moslems.
    I had the unfortunate chance of serving in the IDF reserves in the eighties, where in Lebanon in the Christian village of Mie-Mie we made every attempt possible to provoke the surrounding Moslen villages by artillery attacks in order to bring about a retaliation and a massacre against the poor Christian villagers, who believed that we were their true allies.
    Sound evil? Well, it is evil.
    Israel, with the active support and even instigation of the Neocons and the right wing minority in the American Jewish community has been, with increasing recklessness,rattling the cage of the Arab and Moslem world. In my opinion, there is one large miscalculation in the Israeli line of thinking:The sport of “cage rattling” is best played when there are metal bars seperating the instigator and the beast he aggravates. While the Jewish American community in safely located outside of the cage, Israel exists on the wrong side of the metal bars. Days of reckoning will come for Israel, and they will be well earned.

  3. Scott,your attack against the author reflects warped understanding of the facts unique ,only, to our country’s Neo-cons. The author’s logic is clear and simple. Since the Neo-cons ascendancy on the coats of the Bush administration, they have displayed the banner perpetuated by Israel that the Palestinian conflict had nothing to do with the Arab and the Islamic world dislike of our country. Jim Lobe astutely points out how false the Neo-connish argument has been. But of course you are incapable of understanding the truth,even when it hits you in the face. Calling Jim names clearly reflects your own character not his.

  4. The standard of neocon response trolls has gone down over the last year or two. Scott in the comment immediately prior to this one appears to be arguing that whoever adduces a fact is entitled to demand that it be used “ONLY” for their own stated purpose, and that anyone who uses the same fact for another purpose is “likely motivated by some deep seated angst and self loathing.”

  5. Goodness Scott, let’s not hold Rove to the logic of his conclusion. Clearly Rove has made a case for Obama to spend more time addressing the root cause of al Qaeda’s terrorist motivations, the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

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