JERUSALEM—A German journalist who spent 10 days this year in territory controlled by ISIS says that the only country that deters the extremist Jihadi group is the Jewish state.
"The only country ISIS fears is Israel," Jurgen Todenhofer told the British newspaper Jewish News. "They told me they know the Israeli army is too strong for them."
The interview was published Sunday, the day after ISIS released a taped message from its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, threatening Israel.
"The Israelis will soon see us in Palestine," he said. "We are getting closer to you every day. God has gathered you in Palestine so that the Mujahadeen (Muslim fighters) can reach you."
Israeli security analyst Yossi Melman wrote in the Jerusalem Post that Baghdadi has been criticized in the Arab world for waging war against fellow Muslims but ignoring the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Baghdadi’s statement, writes Melman, is intended to rectify that. "ISIS is on the defensive," said Melman, "and even in a state of withdrawal. Despite their cruelty, Baghdadi and his helpers are listening to the criticism."
The reference to Israel was a small part of a 20-minute-long message, the first to be heard from Baghdadi in seven months.
"The Israelis thought that we forgot Palestine and that they had distracted us from it," wrote Baghdadi. "That is not the case. We have not forgotten Palestine for one moment." Referring to the intense air strikes by Russia and the U.S.-led coalition, he said "the more intense the war against our state, the purer it becomes and the tougher it gets."
ISIS has a small presence in southern Syria near the Golan Heights but it has not yet been active against Israeli targets. If it does launch rockets into Israeli territory or attempts to infiltrate the Golan Heights, says Melman, "ISIS knows that the Israeli Air Force will respond with greater force than that used in the surgical strikes carried out by the U.S. and its coalition partners."
ISIS also has a branch in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula where a militant Jihadi organization last year pledged allegiance to Baghdadi.
Todenhofer, the German journalist, obtained permission from the ISIS leadership for his visit to the city of Mosul and interviewed many fighters. "They think they can defeat U.S. and British ground troops who they say have no experience in urban warfare or terrorist strategies," he said. "But they know that the Israelis are very tough as far as fighting guerillas and terrorists. They told me the Israeli army is the real danger. ‘We can’t defeat them with our current strategy. These people (the Israeli army) can fight a guerilla war.’"
In Mosul, he said, there are 10,000 ISIS fighters living among 1.5 million people in 2,000 scattered apartments. "It would be difficult to fight them. ISIS fighters are ready to die in a war against Western soldiers."
Todenhofer is a former member of the German Bundestag.