A Houthi fighter raising the flags of Yemen and Palestine along with the famous slogan of the group “Death to Israel” (Picture courtesy Saba News Agency, affiliated with the Houthis)

«O Al-Aqsa: We are Coming» - How AQAP and Iran Exploit the Palestinian Cause


Wed, 22-11-2023 12:06 AM, Aden Time

Introducing the liberation of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the war against Jews as a main or general goal for these extremist organizations and groups is something that camouflages their special propaganda and strategic goals.

Ibrahim Ali* (South24) 

Concurrently with the current events following Hamas’ fatal attack against Israel on October 7 and the subsequent Israeli destructive war on Gaza, there have been questions about the anti-Israel slogans raised by terrorist organizations and armed militant Sunni and Shiite groups. 

For example, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is always keen to tag all its video releases with the sentence “O Al-Aqsa: We are coming”. Moreover, the terror organization allocated the last page of “Inspire” (a magazine affiliated with Al-Qaeda which was released in English between 2010-2017) to reiterate its commitment to liberate Al-Aqsa Mosque as one of its priorities or main purposes. [1]

Regarding Hamas’ “October 7 operation”, AQAP published a statement on October 9, 2023 under the so-called title “The Blessed Al-Aqsa Flood Operation”, in which it praised the attack. The statement attributed credit to Al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, without mentioning the Palestinian group. AQAP urged neighboring states to support the internal Palestinian factions as they are geographically closer to Palestine. Furthermore, the organization called on the Palestinian factions to unite and denounce everything that causes division and disagreement among them and their Muslim brothers. [2]

AQAP is always keen to tag all its visual releases with the sentence “O Al-Aqsa: We are coming”. 

For its part, the main Al-Qaeda organization urged its supporters to launch attacks against Jewish targets. In a statement released recently through its propaganda channels, Al-Qaeda said: “Jihad against the aggressor Jews and their allies extends to each land, sea and sky. Muslims must attack Zionists in places such as the streets of Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.” [3]
However, is the statement consistent with the practical reality for Al-Qaeda regarding Israel?

Reality and slogans

Al-Qaeda depicts its activities inside the Arab and Islamic states as being part of preparatory efforts to achieve its goal of “liberating Al-Aqsa”. The organization accuses the regimes of these countries of being “agents” of the “Zionist regime”. However, despite all the noise, the fact that Israel remains away from Al-Qaeda’s direct activities is a pertinent point to note, especially as destroying the Hebrew state still constitutes an important ideological goal for the jihadist organizations. 

Since its establishment, AQAP hasn’t carried out any notable operations against Israel, whether inside or outside the occupied Palestinian territories.

The geographical location factor isn’t a barrier for AQAP’s operational activities as it is well known for carrying out cross-border operations, which made the “CIA” classify it as the most dangerous branch of Al-Qaeda. [4]

AQAP’s cross-border terror operations reached the United Kingdom, the United States, France and Saudi Arabia. And enroute to these countries, AQAP passed through other states such as the Netherlands, despite the tight security measures. However, the organization hasn’t attacked Israel or Israeli targets outside the occupied Palestinian territories as yet.

Death to Israel

This factor is not limited to AQAP, as the Houthis too raise the slogan “Death to Israel and curse upon the Jews”, but they didn’t carry out military operations against Israel until recently on instructions from Iran. Tehran directed its other agents in Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria to implement similar operations to save the face of the so-called “The Axis of Resistance”. Experts believe that the Houthi operations are symbolic and don’t represent a threat to Israel. [5]

However, one shouldn't ignore the fact that the Houthi aim behind targeting Israel isn't only a part of their personal ambition to belong to “the Axis of Resistance'', and enhance their position in the Yemeni talks as well as a means to mobilize the local people. They also seek to serve the objectives of their sponsor and funder, Iran. Tehran doesn’t basically aim to liberate Al-Aqsa but to expand the circle of its regional influence and gain popular support through radical religious Shiite and Sunni groups. [6] Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi recently told Al-Jazeera explicitly that Tehran has no links to the “Al-Aqsa Storm” operation.

On the other hand, the Houthis may carry out attacks against what they describe as “the mercenaries of Israel and America”, including their local and Arab rivals. A prominent Houthi official recently threatened to do so. [7]

It is important to note that the slogan “O Al-Aqsa: We are coming” was previously used by Ruhollah Khomeini1 with a similar form “O Quds: We are coming”. 

The Houthis may carry out attacks against what they describe as “the mercenaries of Israel and America”, including their local and Arab rivals.

Thus, it can be said that Al-Qaeda’s attacks against Israel - if they occur - would be on instructions from Iran, which is accused also of managing and funding the terror outfit. 

This was confirmed by Israelis themselves. In 2011, after the Al Nusra Front seized control of Al Qunaitra (in southwestern Syria, situated in the Golan Heights), the then Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon "blamed responsibility on Iran and Syria”. In an economic conference, he spoke about the threat of the Islamist groups in Syria, and said: “Iran's fingerprints can be seen in Syria including the Golan Heights. It attempts to use the terrorist squads against us.” [8]

Direct point of contact

Although the Al-Qaeda has since its inception kept the Palestinian cause prominently in its hostile discourse, its record of attacking Israel is weak or non-existent, in comparison with its operations in other countries. This has stirred much criticism against the organization. This was justified by Al-Qaeda founder “Osama bin Laden” in March 2009 during a video release titled “Practical Steps to Liberate Palestine”. He said that due to the peace agreements between Israel and its several Arab neighbors, the organization finds it difficult to penetrate the Israeli borders. Consequently, according to bin Laden, Al-Qaeda prioritizes the downfall of the local regimes to create a starting point for launching future attacks against Israel. [9] The same pretext was used by the Houthi leader Abdulmalik Al-Houthi in his latest TV speech commenting on the Israeli war in Gaza. [10]

However, things changed after bin Laden was killed in an American raid in his hideout in Pakistan’s Abbottabad (on May 2, 2011) and the outbreak of the so-called “Arab Spring revolutions” in late 2010 and early 2011. In 2013, the Al-Nusra Front, Al-Qaeda's branch in Syria, was able to find a foothold near Israel after seizing control of Al-Qunaitra, between Syria and the occupied Golan Heights. This placed Israel at the time on the contact line with Al-Qaeda. [11]

However, this didn't happen, despite the strong presence of Al-Nusra in the region during that period and its being in a position that allowed it to carry out attacks through the arid area where the borders of Israel, Syria and Jordan converge. 

It is clear that the Hebrew state isn't a priority for Al-Nusra or other extremist Islamist groups. Al-Nusra's attacks were limited to the Syrian regime's forces before engaging in a violent intra-conflict with ISIS. 

In Egypt, after the downfall of the Hosni Mubarak regime (February 2011), Al-Qaeda found a foothold in the North Sinai Governorate. However, its attacks were limited to the Egyptian Army, except for an attack on a gas pipeline that extends to Israel in July 2011. 

The then Al-Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri praised the attack on the gas pipeline. The organization's branch in North Sinai carried out one operation in the direction of the occupied territories which killed civilians and foreign tourists. [12]

In Egypt too, ISIS’ branch in North Sinai “Sinai Province” has stressed that targeting Jews and liberating Al-Aqsa are among the organization's main goals. This was included in a 14-minute video under the title “Sinai the Gateway of Bayt Al-Maqdis” in which the branch introduced itself at the forefront of the “Conquest of Al-Quds” operation. However, its actual attacks carried out against Israel remained very few, and at long intervals. [13]

In 2014, the then Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon and former Head of IDF’s Military Intelligence Directorate and the Director of the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University, Amos Yadlin, said that “ISIS isn’t a serious or direct threat against Israel”. [14]

Amos Yadlin stressed that “for Israel, ISIS’ threat as a global jihadist organization doesn’t essentially differ from Al-Qaeda’s with which Israel has coexisted with for more than 10 years”. [15]


Introducing the liberation of Al-Aqsa and the war against Jews as a main or general goal for the extremist organizations and groups is something that camouflages their special propaganda and strategic goals. The occupied Al-Aqsa Mosque is a central issue for Arabs and Muslims. These groups and organizations try to exploit the vision adopted by Arab people who view their regimes as being submissive regarding the Palestinian issue and the holy places. They try to fill this “vacuum” with their emotional and electrifying slogans which are inconsistent with the actual reality.

It can be said that these slogans were carefully selected to act as a release for the pent-up hatred towards the United States and Israel for the simple and average people. Iran is ultimately the main source of these slogans, whether they are raised by Al-Qaeda or the Houthis.

*Ibrahim Ali is a pseudonym of a researcher specializing in the armed group’s affairs. He demanded anonymity for personal reasons.

[1] Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini was the founder and first supreme leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran. In that role, Khomeini created or influenced multiple violent extremist groups, including Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the Lebanese political-terror hybrid Hezbollah. Ref.counterextremism.com)

Note: This is a translated version of the original text written in Arabic.