Al Qaeda boss Osama bin Laden says the decline of America's dominance on the world stage was one of the main factors which prompted Israel to launch its offensive in Gaza.
"The great and swift decline in America's influence is one of the most important motivations for Israelis to wage such a barbaric attack on Gaza, in a bid to try and make use of the last days of (President) Bush's mandate and the neo-conservatives," he says.
The message was delivered in a speech downloaded Wednesday by CBS News from a Web site frequently used to disseminate al Qaeda propaganda. The audio was produced by al Qaeda's media wing, as-Sahab.
It was impossible to confirm the authenticity of the recording, but the voice appeared to be that of the terror group's leader. The audio has not been heard before. The last known audio address from bin Laden was released on May 18, 2008.
"It appears this tape demonstrates his isolation and continued attempts to remain relevant," White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said Wednesday.
The audio, about 22 minutes long, is titled: "A Call for Jihad to Stop the Aggression on Gaza. The message of Sheikh Osama Bin Laden to the Muslim Ummah."
"Israelis are in a rush to get rid of their enemies in Gaza, and replace them with (Palestinian President Mahmoud) Abbas and his administration, in order for him to protect their backs. They thus carried out this horrific butchery before the end of Bush's term in office before the American weakness shows even more."
Its release came on the 19th day of Israel's military campaign in the Gaza Strip targeting Hamas militants, which Palestinian doctors say has left 940 people dead, less than half of whom were combatants.
Bin Laden says Mr. Bush has left President-elect Barack Obama with "two bitter choices," and wonders aloud whether the next American leader will be able to keep up the fight against al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.
"Can America keep up the war with us for more decades to come? All reports and analysis indicate that this is not possible. In fact, 75 percent of American people are happy with the departure of the president who got them into wars they could not possibly win."
Bin Laden goes on to say President Bush "drowned" the American people in economic woes and "left his successor a difficult legacy, and left him one of two bitter choices… The worst heritage is when a man inherits a long guerrilla warfare with a persevering, patient enemy - a war that is funded by usury. If he (Obama) withdraws from the war, that would be a military defeat, and if he goes on with it, he'll drown in economic crisis."
The terrorist leader calls for Jihad, saying it is the only way to defeat the "Zionists" and liberate the Gaza Strip.
Bin Laden calls on Muslims worldwide to support the cause, and reissues his plea for donations. "Your duty is to support the Mujahideen with money and men. I have experienced Jihad myself and I know how costly it can be. The Zakat (tithe) of one affluent Muslim merchant is enough to finance all the Jihadi front against our enemies."
Bin Laden said the current global situation offered a good opportunity to purge Muslim countries of Western influence. "Oh, Muslim Ummah (nation), those wars and crisis represent a great opportunity, and wise men would not let it slip away from them. You have a great chance now to overthrow the injustice and the tyranny that has overwhelmed you for decades."
Bin Laden closed his speech by addressing Palestinians in Gaza. "My brothers in Palestine, you have suffered a lot, and your fathers before you, for nine whole decades. Muslims sympathize with you, for what they see and hear. We, the Mujahideen, sympathize with you, too, much more than anyone else… Because the Mujahideen lead the same kind of life that you lead; they are bombed the same way you are bombed, from the same airplanes, they lose their children just like you do."
Also in the address, bin Laden predicts that Mr. Obama will be unable to solve the economic problems facing America.
Quoting Mr. Obama's vice-presidential pick, Joe Biden, bin Laden says, "Here's Biden, the deputy of the newly elected president, saying: 'The crisis is even worse than we expected, and the entire American economy is in peril.'"
It was the latest attack on Mr. Obama by an al Qaeda figurehead. Bin Laden's deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, accused Mr. Obama of standing behind the "massacre of Gaza" in an audio released earlier this month.
Bin Laden also taunts President Bush over his pledge to abolish terrorism and kill or arrest terrorist leaders - a promise the outgoing American president couldn't keep, according to the al Qaeda chief.
"A group of your sons declared Jihad on that single power, the Hitler of our time," bin Laden said. "We thus broke its horn, struck his fortress and demolished his tower. He thus became enraged and said he would bring the leaders of the Mujahideen, dead or alive, to regain America's stature in the world and set it as an example for everybody."
Prior to the release of the bin Laden communication, Mr. Bush was asked Tuesday on CNN's Larry King Live if the U.S. will ever find the al Qaeda chief.
"Absolutely," Mr. Bush said, adding, "He can't run forever." Pressed to answer whether U.S. forces ever came close to bin Laden, the president said,
"I really don't know."