I've interviewed former U.S. counterterrorism official Matthew Levitt and appeared on panels with him. I've consistently come away very impressed. Now at the esteemed Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Leviit is one of the very best when it comes to analyzing trends in Al Qaeda and the global War on Terror. His latest study addresses a topic that I've heard rumblings about for some time: the possibility of Al Qaeda setting up shop in Gaza. From the New York Times:
-- Palestinian militant groups are trying to link with al-Qaida, but Osama bin Laden's terror network has so far snubbed Hamas and its offshoots for infighting and failure to prove their global jihadist intentions, a new study says.
Al-Qaida has granted formal ties with insurgent organizations in Yemen and North Africa but doesn't yet appear to believe that Hamas and its splinter groups are sufficiently focused beyond Israel to the Western world, according to the study by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
The study, which was obtained by The Associated Press and is scheduled to be released next week, suggests al-Qaida may be waiting patiently for one of the Gaza-based terror groups to establish itself -- perhaps by successfully attacking Western targets.
''Al-Qaida likely remains unconvinced of the ideological commitment of groups like Jaish al-Islam,'' said Matthew Levitt, co-author of the study. ''Al-Qaida may also have concerns about the survivability of such groups,'' including their susceptibility to infiltration by Israeli intelligence.
Levitt's co-author is Yoram Cohen, who until recently served as the deputy director of the Israel Security Agency, Shin Bet.
Their report quotes one militant leader as saying, ''We are waiting to carry out a big jihadist operation'' dedicated to bin Laden. ''If al-Qaida asks us to pledge allegiance to it, we are completely ready for it.''
The study goes on to suggest that an influx of foreign fighters into Gaza could be a deadly game changer.