Last summer, terrorists affiliated with the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement—a Muslim Brotherhood offshoot that operates within Israel—opened fire on border police on the Temple Mount. Since then, Israel has rolled up two cells loyal to Islamic State (IS) that were planning attacks on the al-Aqsa mosque. Nadav Shragai explains what has brought these two jihadist groups to agree on a common strategy:
The leader of the Northern Branch, Sheikh Raed Salah, envisions Jerusalem as the capital of an international Muslim caliphate [in the Middle East]. . . . Islamic State and its supporters, by contrast, have never limited or defined the borders of the future caliphate, or named a capital for it. After their defeats in Syria and Iraq, the issues of Jerusalem and al-Aqsa are, for them, a new horizon—or at least a potential one.
The way that the Northern Branch sees it, the story about al-Aqsa’s being in danger, [a regular theme of its propaganda], is a tool to recruit the masses, and al-Aqsa itself is a place that must be “redeemed from the Jewish desecration” and “freed from its bonds.” . . . For the small cluster of Arab Israeli supporters of Islamic State, al-Aqsa is everything that the Northern Branch says it is, and more: it is a tool that IS can use to spread and promote the idea of an Islamic state, and active war against Jews and Christians—“the new heretics and Crusaders.” . . .
As in July 2017, each of the cells [recently broken up by Israeli police] included three young men from [the northern Israeli village of] Umm al-Fahm, some of whom [likewise] belonged to the Jabarin clan. . . . It’s not hard to picture what would happen if two IS cells from Jabarin, linked by family ties, were to execute an attack. In the Middle East, the Temple Mount is the ultimate powder keg. Any fire that breaks out there spreads quickly and is very difficult to put out. In previous incidents, the spinners of the “al-Aqsa is in danger” yarn found a way to foist responsibility for the attacks onto Israel, as the entity that “rules over Islamic holy sites.”