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

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 last night (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 Asim 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).

About the Author
Avi Melamed is a Strategic Intelligence Analyst and an Expert on the Current Affairs in the Arab and Muslim World and their impact on the Middle East. He is the Founder and CEO of Inside the Middle East: Intelligence Perspectives (ITME), an empowering intelligence analysis praxis transforming students and practitioners into knowledgeable, media literate, critical thinkers. ITME’s goal is to ensure that the next generation of policy influencers will have be equipped with the knowledge, skills and tools to independently and accurately decipher the Middle East and accurately predict the direction of future events. He is a former Israeli Intelligence Official and Senior Official on Arab Affairs. In his public service, he has held high-risk Government, Senior Advisory, Intelligence and Counter-Terrorist intelligence positions in Arab cities and communities throughout the region – often in very sensitive times - on behalf of Israeli Government agencies. His newest book, Inside the Middle East: Making Sense of the Most Dangerous and Complicated Region on Earth, (also available as an audio book) – a GPS to help you navigate the dramatically changing Middle East, offers a unique insight into the Arab world, challenges widely-accepted perceptions, provides a guide to make sense of the events unfolding in the region, and offers an out of the box idea that could lead to a positive breakthrough in the Israeli- Palestinian conflict. As an Author, Educator, Expert, and Strategic Intelligence Analyst, Avi provides intelligence analysis, briefings and tours to diplomats, Israeli and foreign policy makers, global media outlets, and a wide variety of international businesses, organizations, and private clients on a range of Israel and Middle East Affairs. An Israeli Jew, fluent in Arabic, English and Hebrew, with a unique understanding of Arab society and culture, Avi has his finger on the pulse on the Arab world. He has a proven record of foreseeing the evolution of events in the Middle East and their impact on a local and regional level. Through all of his efforts, as an analyst, educator, entrepreneur, and writer, he is a bridge builder, and dedicates himself to enhancing the Arabic, English and Hebrew speaking audience’s comprehensive understanding of the Middle East and of each other. @AviMelamed