The Islamic State released a series of videos Sunday praising attacks against Jews in Israel and encouraging more violence.
The coordinated media campaign, which came out of several IS controlled provinces in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen, is a rare foray into the Palestinian-Israeli conflict for the group, which typically focuses on recruiting fighters and drawing adherents to the territories under its control.
"Israel doesn't really loom large in Islamic State propaganda," said Will McCants, an IS expert at the Brooking Institution. "It's not mentioned as a top territorial priority for IS acquisition."
The recent videos, McCants said, are most likely an effort to capitalize on the media attention surrounding the recent spat of violence in Israel and the occupied territories to recruit more fighters.
A series of stabbing, shooting and vehicular attacks have resulted in the deaths of eight Israelis at the hands of Palestinians. At least 70 more people have been wounded in the attacks. At least 39 Palestinians have been killed, including 21 who died in clashes with Israeli security forces. Eighteen other Palestinians were killed during alleged attacks on Israelis.
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As the unrest entered its fourth week the Israeli army has moved to lock down Arab portions of East Jerusalem, installing concrete barricades at the edges of Palestinian neighborhoods and establishing impromptu checkpoints on arterial roads in and out of the city.
The IS propaganda videos urge Palestinians to ramp up attacks. Composed in IS's signature macabre style, it includes footage of children executing prisoners, interviews with IS fighters, and stock images of past attacks in Israel. The videos emphasize the religious significance of al-Aqsa — the embattled Jerusalem holy site that's sacred to both Muslims and Jews — and praise past Palestinians who have taken up arms to defend Muslim claims to the holy site.
The recent violence, many Palestinians say, has been fueled by an aggressive Jewish presence at the al-Aqsa compound, including an uptick in visits by religious Jews during the recent holiday season.
In a video released by the Iraqi Nineveh province media wing, IS fighters urge Palestinians "to continue their fight against Jews by all possible means… and to not forget [to use] explosive devices."
By Monday morning, IS had released six separate propaganda videos. One video, titled "Return Terror to the Jews," features a masked fighter who praises Palestinians who attack Jews, calling them "lone wolves who refused to be subdued and spread fear among the sons of Zion."
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It's definitely one of the group's biggest propaganda pushes directed at Israel," Nadav Pollak, a counterterrorism expert and fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told VICE News. "It's a great recruiting tool for them."
The Israeli military was quick to highlight the videos — IDF spokesperson Peter Lerner tweeted out "#ISIS encouraging more beheadings. Now in #Israel."
When contacted by VICE News, Lerner declined to elaborate further on the significance of the videos, or how they would alter Israeli security procedures.
""The current wave of violence, has so far been fueled by the same social media tactics that IS has been using to recruit people," Consul for Media Affairs at the Israeli Consulate in New York Shimon Mercer-Wood said. "We can't completely isolate ourselves from the violent rhetoric that's going on around us."
In the past the Israeli government has been quick to link the US-led coalition's campaign against the Islamic State with its own conflict with the Palestinians. In a speech before the 2014 UN General Assembly, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu proclaimed "Hamas is ISIS and ISIS is Hamas."
The reality on the ground may be a bit more complicated.
"ISIS could be trying to recruit people from Hamas, and bring them over to ISIS," Pollak noted. Far from praising the Palestinian leadership, the IS videos released over the weekend contain explicit attacks on both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority for their inability to aggressively confront Israel.
During the most recent round of violence, the Palestinian Authority has largely cooperated with Israel to tamp down unrest, sending in its own security forces to help quell demonstrations.
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Some Palestinians worry that the latest Islamic States videos will, ironically, prove to be a strong Israeli propaganda tool.
"The Israeli government tries to make a false link between the Palestinian struggle and what's going on with IS in the region more broadly," said Diana Butto, former spokesperson for the Palestine Liberation Organization. "We've never asked anyone from Al Qaeda and ISIS to do this on our behalf."
She fears that the videos will be used by Israelis to link their crackdown on Palestinians with the broader fight against terrorism in the region.
"It should be clear that in Palestine what people are inspired by is not what ISIS says or does," she said. "What's inspiring people is that a generation that was born into occupation."
Pollak disagrees — he fears the videos mark a new trend where IS inspires more violence against Israelis.
"Palestinians see incitement to violence online and that motivates them," he said. Though he's quick to acknowledge that none of the recent attacks can be linked to the group.
"I see it as a effort by IS to capitalize on the current tensions," McCants said. "Rather than anything that's going to have a meaningful impact on ground in the Palestinian territories."
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