Discover more from It Can Always Get Worse
Islamic State Says the War Against Israel Must Be Religious, Not Nationalist
In late March 2022, the Islamic State (IS) carried out its first officially-claimed terrorist attack in Israel since its first and previously only such operation in June 2017. The main editorial in the 332nd edition of Al-Naba, the group’s weekly newsletter, released on 1 April, was devoted to the subject. IS’s main concern was to stress that the atrocities of its agents were carried out for purely Islamic motives, rather than nationalistic ones. IS regards nationalism as an affront to the proper understanding of the faith. IS was careful to denigrate—though not by name—HAMAS and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), its main rivals in anti-Israeli terrorism, for being supported by the Iranian theocracy. IS also mocked its critics who have spread conspiracy theories suggesting IS’s lack of emphasis on the Palestine cause means it is in league with the Jewish state. Rather, IS claims that it has the proper religious position that neither neglects nor fetishises the war to eliminate Israel.
It Can Always Get Worse is a reader-supported publication. To receive all new posts, become a free subscriber. If you value this newsletter and are able, consider becoming a paid subscriber.
THE RECENT ATTACKS IN ISRAEL
On 22 March, four people were murdered … and two were wounded in an attack in Be’er Sheva in southern Israel. The attacker, Mohammed Abu al-Kiyan, … was a Bedouin from Hura, about ten miles north-east of Be’er Sheva, who had been imprisoned in 2016 for promoting IS and planning to join the “caliphate” in Syria. Members of Abu al-Kiyan’s family succeeded in joining IS in Syria and Iraq. Abu al-Kiyan was put through a rehabilitation program in prison and released in 2019 having “expressed remorse over his support for the terror group”. …
HAMAS and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) celebrated the Be’er Sheva attack, which took place on the anniversary of the day in 2004 that Ahmed Yassin, one of HAMAS’ founders, was killed in an Israeli counter-terrorism operation. …
On 27 March, two 18-year-old Israeli-Arab policemen from Umm al-Fahm, Shirel Aboukrat and Yazan Falah, were shot to death in Hadera. The two assailants were killed in a counter-terrorism raid and five people have been arrested in connection with the attack. The two killers were found in possession of “more than 1,100 bullets, three handguns and knives, as well as protective armor”.
Following its well-established pattern, a video circulated showing the two attackers pledging allegiance to IS’s new “caliph”, Abu al-Hassan al-Hashemi al-Qurayshi, and hours later IS issued a formal claim for the attack via Amaq, saying that two operatives of the “Islamic State in Palestine”—named as Ayman Ighbariya and Khaled Ighbariya—had killed members of the “Jewish police”. Khaled, who is identified in some of the reporting as Ibrahim Ighbariya, had been on Israel’s radar since at least 2016 when he was arrested in Turkey as he tried to join IS.
The IS statement naming the Ighbariya cousins also in effect admits Abu al-Kiyan was acting for IS, describing him as an “inghimasi” attacker. Israel’s Police Commissioner described Abu al-Kiyan as a “lone wolf”, but there is every reason to doubt this: true “lone wolves” are vanishingly rare; hardly any of the attacks IS has claimed were truly of this kind (i.e. merely “inspired” without some form of guidance from the group); and the coincidence with the Hadera attack is too glaring to ignore: it would be more surprising if these attacks were genuinely independent.
It is unlikely to be a coincidence that IS orchestrated the Hadera attack while Israel was hosting an historic summit in the Negev with the foreign ministers of four Arab states: Bahrain, Egypt, Morocco, and the United Arab Emirates.
In total, between 22 and 31 March, there were five attacks in Israel that murdered eleven people, leading Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to say his country is “facing a new wave of terrorism”.
ISLAMIC STATE’S VIEW OF ISRAEL
Jews play a central role in IS’s cosmology, of course: IS’s leaders and soldiers believe very deeply in the antisemitic theory of Jewish world control. But Israel remains much less central. IS’s official spokesmen have devoted very few speeches to the Israel-Palestine dispute. Rather, IS has repeatedly made a polemical point of attacking other Islamist groups for insufficient “purity” because they overstress the anti-Israel cause, making it, by IS’s reckoning, into a fetish bordering on an idol. When Israel comes up in Al-Naba, IS’s weekly newsletter, it is generally in this context: as a weapon against other Muslims and Islamists.
In early 2017, Al-Naba highlighted its apparent “liquidation” of Israeli spies in the Sinai, but the main thrust of the article was an attack on Egypt for being reliant on Israel. When denouncing the U.S. moving its Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and the Abraham Accords that normalised Israel’s diplomatic relations with Arab states, IS was stern that these were merely symptoms of a wider malaise among Muslims who had an incorrect understanding of the faith. By the time of the May 2021 clashes between Israel and HAMAS, IS was positively exasperated that “people expect us to talk about Jerusalem”, a city whose reconquest by Muslim forces was no more and no less urgent than the recovery of Andalusia (Spain), which was lost in the fifteenth century.
There is no sign in the Naba editorial that this view has changed.
THIS WEEK’S AL-NABA
The main editorial in Al-Naba 332, on page three as always, is entitled, “Our Battle with the Jews is Purely Islamic!”
The editorial begins with a denunciation of the “Iranian-funded Palestinian factions”—i.e. HAMAS and PIJ—and specifically notes that these groups “did not find a way to try to deny the Islamic State’s connection to the inghimasi attack in [Hadera in] northern Palestine”, a reference the fact that HAMAS claimed that it and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) were really behind the June 2017 attack.
IS accuses these groups of “seeking to de-Islamicize the fight in Palestine”, of “stripping the doctrine of al-wala wal-bara from the hearts of Muslim children, and raising a purely nationalistic generation”. IS quotes an alleged saying of the Prophet Muhammad from the Hadith, “Whoever fights to make the word of God supreme is in the cause of the God”, and says this renders all other motives illegitimate and unlawful, adding:
The only goal of the fight is to be in the cause of God Almighty, to support his creed, raise his word, and establish his law—whether the public rejects it or accepts it! … We are not required to please the public, as God did not mandate us to do so. … [W]hat defines legitimate objectives … is the law of God Almighty, and not the deficient minds of human beings, their volatile moods, and their illusory interests.1
While the nationalist groups pursue their false ends, “the reality of the struggle with the Jews” has been explained, says Al-Naba, giving the example of Muhammad’s successor, Umar ibn al-Khattab (d. c. 644) and the Companions (Sahaba) with him, and of Saladin al-Ayyubi (d. 1193), who crossed great distances to battle the Jews for the faith, well outside the boundaries of the polity he ruled. “There is no place for nationalism … in this battle”, says Al-Naba, quoting the notorious Hadith that says, during the End of Days, Jews will try to hide but the rock they shelter behind will call out: “Oh Muslim, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.”
IS has laid upon itself the task of correcting the “major sin” that has tried to take Islam out of the “battle with the Jews” through decades of “distortion and deception” (al-tahreef wal-tadleel). “Our battle with the Jews is a purely Islamic, doctrinal battle”, IS emphasises, deriving from “the legitimacy of the Book [Qur’an] and the Sunnah”.
IS praises the Ighbariya cousins for giving their bay’a (oath of allegiance) to the caliph in a “special way”, namely in “the blood of two lions from among the sons of Islam”. By IS’s reckoning, this murder spree should have “gladdened the hearts of Muslims everywhere, and vexed the Jews and hypocrites (munafiqun)”.
Al-Naba goes on: “The apostates have tried to convince people that the Islamic State does not fight the Jews because it does not want to!” Al-Naba returns the accusation, saying this “libel” comes from the same governments, factions, and militias that worked over the last decade to “prevent the soldiers of the caliphate or their detachments (al-mafariz) from reaching Palestine or even having a point of contact with the Jews” because it is their goals and interests that “intersected with the Jews’.” By IS’s telling, these governments and groups have to wait after attacks on Israel to be sure there is no association with IS or Islam before they can praise it.
IS says it has made itself quite clear on the Palestine issue, adopting a position between “excess and negligence”: “the Islamic State [has] spared no effort in trying to deliver death to the Jews or to recruit the detachments [locally] that seek to do so”. Al-Naba claims that “the Jews know” the extent of what IS has done against them, but they “hide” it; for now, this is known to God, which is all that matters, “and tomorrow you will know”.
IS says it will not be drawn into superstitious games of setting a date for victory in Palestine. This habit has spread too far already in the region, says Al-Naba, allowing “astrologers” to “seduce people into their creed and open the door for atheists to slander and question Islam.”2 Al-Naba’s closing appeal is for “the youth of Palestine” to throw off their erroneous beliefs, “liberate themselves” from “the slavery of nationalism” and open up to Islam, to “realise that the solution is not merely in fighting”, but jihad for the “pure” cause of God, to make the shari’a the law of the land.
The word translated as “creed” is deen, which is often translated as “religion”. The problem with using “religion” is it comes freighted in English with Christianized assumptions—that it is about personal belief and has a counterpart in “the secular”—that IS is explicitly seeking to reject, looking to recast Islam as it had been: a totalising system of custom and practice that specifically erases the distinction between the personal and political. See: Tom Holland (2019), Dominion: The Making of the Western Mind, p. 432.
The word translated as “atheists” is mulhideen, which could also be given as “heretics” or in some contexts can refer to “apostates” (i.e., those who having adopted Islam then abandon it).