The most senior cleric in Saudi Arabia has called for greater Islamic cooperation against the Islamic State, while also labeling ISIS a “part of the Israeli army.” The revealing interview this week with Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia Sheikh Abdulaziz Al Sheikh provides important insight into the Wahhabi establishment, which is the core partner of the House of Saud.
The Mufti praised the creation of an Islamic military alliance to fight terrorism, promising the alliance will defeat the Islamic State, which he labeled a heretical and un-Islamic movement. The new alliance is the brainchild of Deputy Crown Prince and Defense Minister Prince Muhammed bin Salman, the king’s favorite son.
The 72-year old cleric was asked about comments made by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self proclaimed caliph of the Islamic State, that the new alliance is not serious because it is not “killing Jews and liberating Palestine.” Al-Baghadi called the new Saudi-led alliance a pawn of the United States and Israel, promising that the “tanks of the mujahideen are moving closer to Israel day after day.”
Both the Mufti’s remarks and al-Baghdadi’s illustrate that Israel remains the hot button issue in the Kingdom.
Al Sheikh dismissed al-Baghdadi’s threat to Israel, calling it “simply a lie.” He added: “Actually Da’esh [another term for the Islamic State] is part of the Israeli soldiers,” therefore asserting a supposed relationship between the Israeli army and the Islamic State.
The Sheikh is a direct descendant of the 18th-century founder of Wahhabi Islam Muhammad Ibn Abd al Wahhab. The Al Sheikh family is the theological equivalent of the Saud family. Abdulaziz was appointed Grand Mufti in 1999 by King Fahd. He wields enormous authority. Earlier this year, for example, he absolved Crown Prince and Interior Minister Prince Muhammed bin Nayef of any responsibility for the Hajj stampede that killed hundreds by saying it was an act of God.
Both the Mufti’s remarks and al-Baghdadi’s illustrate that Israel remains the hot button issue in the Kingdom. If you want to smear your enemy, label him a stooge of Israel.
I think it's unusual for the chief of staff to go on a trip, particularly on a trip this long. The chief of staff is usually more of a chief operating officer in the White House itself, and normally when your principal—whether it's the president himself or the head of Cabinet agency—goes abroad, you have his deputy and those folks staying behind to help manage operations in his absence.