A Message to Jerusalem: ISIS Threatens Israel

Global Challenges Counter-extremism

A Message to Jerusalem: ISIS Threatens Israel

Posted on: 26th October 2015
Adam Hoffman
Hebrew University of Jerusalem, PhD Candidate

ISIS' momentum since its all-conquering advance in the summer of 2014 has largely stalled. Although one should not underestimate the group's continued threat to Middle Eastern states, despite its repeated efforts and aggressive attacks, ISIS has been unable to capture new ground in Iraq and repeat its success of last year.

ISIS released a video in almost-perfect Hebrew, threatening the annihilation of the Jews.

A crucial part of the ISIS narrative is the group's constant expansion and aggression against other forces, which it defines as "enemies of Islam." While its propaganda has so far mostly been directed at Arab regimes, Shia and the West, last week the group released several videos for the first time addressing the Israel/Palestine conflict. One video in particular went in a new direction, directly addressing Israelis in a message delivered in almost-perfect Hebrew. In the video, presented as "a serious and important message to all Jews, the first enemy of the Muslims," ISIS promises Israelis that its fighters "are advancing towards you everywhere, from the north and the south, from Sinai to Damascus. From all over the world we will come to wipe you out."

Despite the fact that ISIS' propaganda up to this point has mostly concentrated on its enemies in the territories of its so-called caliphate, its media efforts recently started focusing on the Palestinian arena: early last week, ISIS published a series of videos that praised the current wave of Palestinian violence against Israelis and called for more attacks. These videos, which were addressed to "the mujahedin in Bayt al-Maqdis [an Islamic name for Jerusalem]," combined the usual rhetoric and imagery from ISIS propaganda with videos and pictures of the recent Palestinian attacks against Israelis. Unsurprisingly, ISIS presented the wave of Palestinian violence as a holy war against the enemies of Islam – not as a popular struggle against Israel, as Palestinians themselves (including Hamas and the Palestinian Authority) present it – and called for "returning the terror to the Jews," as well as the liberation of the al-Aqsa Mosque.

The new video, presented in Hebrew and addressed directly to Israeli Jews, presents a new and worrying phase in ISIS's threat towards Israel. The almost-perfect Hebrew of the speaker in the video raises the possibility that he is an Israeli-Arab – someone who has learned Hebrew and is familiar with the Israeli discourse and public concerns. While most analysts are hesitant about calling the present wave of Palestinian attacks an Intifada, many Israelis are understandably unnerved by the many incidents of Palestinian stabbings and vehicular attacks over the last three weeks. Preying on these fears, the ISIS militant told Israelis "look what happened to you from a few stabbings and car ramming attacks from our brothers in Palestine – you have turned over your heads, and feared any driver that drives fast. You were even afraid of any person holding anything in his hand."

ISIS uses the video to threaten Israel and remain relevant.

Despite this new and direct threat towards Israel, for most Israelis ISIS remains a more distant threat than the surge of Palestinian violence within Israel during the last few weeks. As a result, Israeli security forces are more focused on containing the violence and preventing future attacks by Palestinians. However, by directly addressing the Palestinian issue and threatening Israelis, ISIS aims to achieve two goals: first of all, in praising the Palestinian attacks, ISIS seeks to score points in the Arab world. No less importantly, the new video allowed ISIS to make the news once again with a new intimidating message – and by that, show its members and supporters that it is staying true to its motto of "remaining and expanding." With little progress to show on the ground, ISIS shows once again how it effectively uses sleek videos, foreign fighters, and social media to present itself as an all-powerful and global threat.

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