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Bin Laden On Gaza: Declaring Jihad In Absentia

So Usama bin Laden has declared yet more jihad, this time in response to Israeli operations against Hamas in Gaza. And naturally, there are scores of headlines and analysis abound since the recorded message has been released. Yet the one piece of viable analysis missing from what I've read thus far seems so obvious to me. Earlier, I shared some thoughts at The Tank on National Review Online.

Well, there's certainly been no shortage of analysis available in the hours since the message was released. One such bit of analysis comes from Peter Bergen, a widely recognized expert on al-Qaeda and bin Laden. Bergen posits that the tape shows that Gaza and the Palestinian cause are important to bin Laden because he is "not going to say much unless it's sort of a big deal. And the Israeli attacks on Gaza would certainly be a big deal for bin Laden."

No it's not. No more than it ever was in the past.

Bin Laden's support for the Palestinian cause is less direct and more tangential. The bin Laden Gaza message is primarily a large dose of PR, if you will. The Palestinian-Israeli conflict remains the greatest single unifying issue on the much-coveted 'Arab street.' And al-Qaeda's disgraceful loss in Iraq -- and utter rejection by Iraqi Arabs -- has done much to damage its street-image and self-image. Bin Laden speaking on Gaza is an opportunity to piggy-back on Arab public sentiment towards a conflict his organization is not engaged in, a battle his organization has not waged (despite much rhetoric) in an area where his organization has failed to successfully establish itself. If there's any "big deal," that's it.

Bergen makes good points about security concerns and chains of custody for bin Laden messages, among other things. But to describe the Gaza conflict as a big deal without the proper context of its popular Arab and/or broader Muslim appeal misses the mark.

For what it's worth, I'm with James Robbins on this one.

He is like a color commentator who has long since left the game and only states the obvious when on screen, but whose previous track record and personality keeps him bankable; and who knows, maybe someday he'll do something memorable again. Meanwhile it's jihad this, ummah that, Al Aqsa and the other thing -- it's a shame we haven't been able to terminate his contract.

I'll not be the one - nor will James, I am certain - to pooh-pooh the al-Qaeda organization and its ability to wage its chosen terror war. But bin Laden on Pakistan or Iraq or Somalia or threats of attacks on the West is one thing. Gaza is another.

This is not to say his concerns or beliefs regarding the conflict between Israel and Hamas are feigned. But his weight and impact regarding the popular Palestinian issue? Let's recognize it for what it is.

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