Update from AIJAC
February 2, 2007
Number 02/07 #02
Today’s Update features two pieces, both from non-Israeli Middle Eastern sources, correcting the patently incorrect but often heard claim that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the central issue in the Middle East.
It opens with a piece by Iranian exile author, editor and journalist Amir Taheri. To prove the baselessness of Israel-centric contentions, Taheri surveys the reality of the states of the region, their post-colonial borders, the conflicts between various ethnic groups, the lack of a culture of conflict resolution, and the many full scale wars which have plagued the region for decades and have nothing to do with Israel. He observes that “far from being the root cause of instability and war in the wider Middle East, one could argue that the Arab-Israeli conflict is rather peripheral.” For this full essay, CLICK HERE.
Next, Dr. Sami Alrabaa, a liberal staff writer at the Kuwait Times, tackles head on various Arab arguments that Israel is a “racist, decadent, expansionist, and illegal ensemble”. Citing a new book by Alex Grobman, he argues that Arabs should recognise that in terms of both equality of races and human rights, Israel stacks up much better than almost all Arab countries, and gives concrete examples. For this important example of an Arab voice promoting peace and compromise, CLICK HERE.
Finally, on a wholly different topic, this Update finishes with a very important new piece about al-Qaeda’s recent successes in reforming itself into a effective terror organisation after the body blows it took in Afghanistan in 2001-2002. It comes from Peter Bergen, who wrote one of the better general readership books on al-Qaeda following Sept. 11. He cites evidence that al-Qaeda is rebuilding proper training bases in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq, and is not simply a source of inspiration to other groups, as many have asserted, but a serious and viable organisation again threatening large scale attacks, possibly with radiological weapons. For this vital update on a serious threat that appears to be resurging, CLICK HERE.
Commentary, February 2007
Fifteen years ago, after the first defeat of Saddam Hussein and the liberation of Kuwait, President George H.W. Bush and his Secretary of State James Baker faced the question of how best to exploit the American victory as a means of stabilizing the Middle East. The obvious course would have been to deploy the immensely enhanced prestige of the United States, backed by its unprecedented military presence in the Persian Gulf, to help create new and durable security structures in a region regarded as vital to American national interests.
How might this have been done? The U.S. could have urged its Arab allies to introduce long-overdue reforms as a step toward legitimizing their regimes and broadening their domestic political support. At the very least, the U.S. might have urged the six member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council to end their decades of intramural feuding and forge a broader alliance with Jordan and Egypt. This, with American support, might have helped create a new balance of power in the region to counter the ambitions of adventurist regimes like Iran, Iraq, and Syria.
But nothing of the sort was ever considered in Washington. Instead, as Baker declared in September 1991, the administration would go for “the big thing”: that is, finding a solution to the century-old conflict between the Jews and the Arabs. The result was the Madrid conference, an impressive show of heads of state but, as the decade’s subsequent events would prove, a wholly counterproductive exercise in peacemaking.
The two key analytical assumptions that led to Madrid were, first, that the Arab-Israeli conflict was the issue, the Ur-issue, of Middle Eastern politics and, second, that all the other issues in the region were inextricably linked to it. Despite everything that has happened in the interim to disprove these two assumptions, they still underlie the thinking of diplomats today. Most recently, they were repeated almost word for word in the long-awaited report of the Iraq Study Group (ISG) headed by the very same James Baker.
Charged by the present Bush administration with finding ways to win the war in Iraq more quickly and at a lower cost in blood and treasure, the ISG found itself irresistibly drawn to the old notion of the Ur-issue. Evidently regarding the Bush Doctrine, with its diametrically opposed analysis, as too irrelevant even to merit mention, the ISG suggested instead that “solving” the Israel-Palestine dispute was the key to winning in Iraq.
In this, moreover, Baker and his team are hardly alone. Kofi Annan, the former Secretary-General of the United Nations, has long been of the same mind. So too, apparently, is his successor Ban Ki-Moon, who told a South Korean newspaper that “If the issues in the conflict between Israel and Palestine [sic] go well, other issues in the Middle East . . . are likely to follow suit.”
That Arab despots should long have sought to divert their tyrannized subjects with dreams of driving the “Zionist enemy” into the sea is no surprise. Each time the late Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt faced social and political unrest at home, he would assure his own people and the Arab “nation” at large that social and political reform had to wait until “the enemy” was dislodged from “our beloved Palestine.” For a group of American “wise men” to embrace such retrograde and easily refuted notions bespeaks a truly dangerous ignorance of reality.
In fact, far from being the root cause of instability and war in the wider Middle East, one could argue that the Arab-Israeli conflict is rather peripheral, and that the region’s deeper and much more intractable problems lie elsewhere. And one would be right. In the last years we have all become acquainted with televised images of the brutal carnage that Shiites and Sunni are capable of inflicting on each other in Iraq, the ghastly work of Baathist death squads, the steady rhythm of political assassinations, and the laying waste of civilian life. And that is just within one country. For our purposes here, however, it may be more instructive to look at the Middle East at the regional level, and to examine in particular the huge number of inter-state conflicts that have bedeviled this area in the modern era—conflicts that have nothing whatsoever to do with the struggle between Israel and the Palestinians.
Covering a vast swath of territory between the Atlantic and Indian oceans, the “arc of crisis,” as British Prime Minister Tony Blair has accurately referred to the greater Middle East, consists of 22 states, sixteen of them Arab, plus Iran, Israel, Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Few could be regarded as nation-states in classical European terms; all are remnants of various empires.
As such remnants, indeed, none of the states in the region enjoys fully defined or internationally recognized borders. Every one of them is engaged in pressing irredentist claims of one kind or another against one or more of its neighbors, and most have entered into armed battle with each other as a consequence. A brief tour of the region, proceeding roughly from east to west, yields a depressingly uniform catalog.
Afghanistan, to begin there, maintains a claim over neighboring Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province. This is the home of the Pathans, whose Pushtun kin form the largest ethnic bloc north of the colonial border fixed by Britain in the 19th century. In the 1960’s, the two neighbors fought a series of border wars over this province, which the Afghans call Pakhtunistan.
For its part, Pakistan has been engaged in a longstanding territorial dispute with India over the ownership of Kashmir, divided between the two in 1947 (with China snatching a portion for itself in 1960). The Indo-Pakistani conflict has led to three major wars and countless border clashes over the past half-century, and in part accounts for the determination of the two neighbors to develop their respective arsenals of nuclear weapons.
Pakistan is involved in a dispute with Iran as well—this one over territorial waters in the Arabian Sea as well as over the nationality of a number of Baluch tribes astraddle the international frontier. Iran, in turn, claims a right of supervision (droit de regard) in western Afghanistan based on the Paris Treaty of 1855. Iran and Afghanistan have likewise been in militant dispute for more than six decades over the waters of three border rivers, the Hirmand, the Parian, and the Harirud.
Then, on a much larger scale, there is the Iran-Iraq conflict. Between 1936 and 1974, these two neighbors fought a series of wars for control of the Shatt al-Arab border estuary. In 1975, they signed an accord to end the dispute, only to see the agreement declared null and void by Saddam Hussein in 1980. Invading Iran, he started a conflict that lasted eight years and claimed a million lives on both sides.
Since 2003, Iran has seized the opportunity presented by the fall of Saddam Hussein to redraw the border to its advantage. Iranian forces have gained control of Zaynalkosh, a strategic salient pointing to Baghdad like a gun. Iran has also revived a series of old accords with the former Ottoman empire, known as the Erzerum treaties, to claim a right of supervision over the Shiite holy shrines in present-day Iraq (Samara, Kazemayn, Karbala, Kufa, and Najaf).
Iran is in disputes elsewhere as well. To the south, it is trying to retain its hold over three strategically valuable islands near the Straits of Hormuz, through which passes each day half of the world’s exported oil. Iran seized these islands from Great Britain in 1971, just hours before the British ended their protectorate over the seven sheikhdoms that together form the United Arab Emirates (UAE). To its north, Iran is fighting with Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Azerbaijan over the Caspian Sea. These littoral neighbors want the territorial waters divided in accordance with the respective lengths of the five countries’ coastlines, leaving Iran with only 10 percent of the sea’s oil, gas, and fishing resources. Iran wants the Caspian to be divided equally among the five, thus doubling its share to 20 percent. Ever since 1995, it has taken action to underline its demands, creating a navy and preventing Western oil companies from exploring in Azerbaijani and Turkmen waters that Tehran regards as its own.
Iran has also acted to ensure its hold over the oil-rich province of Khuzestan, the object of a pan-Arab campaign to claim the region as part of the “Arab homeland.” This territory, which did indeed boast an ethnic Arab majority until the late 1940’s, has been steadily Persianized. Recently, in what amounts to an administrative ethnic cleansing, several Arab tribes living in areas close to the Iraqi border have been expelled, their members replaced by new arrivals, mostly from central Iran.
That the Arabs of the Middle East have long regarded Iran as an alien power is true enough. But their preoccupation with Tehran has hardly deterred them from fighting bitterly among themselves as well. Quite the contrary.
Consider the six members of the inaptly named Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). All six are monarchies, often linked by tribal blood bonds, and four of them share a strong common interest as members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). Nevertheless, in 1955, Saudi Arabia and the sultanate of Oman fought a war over the Buraimi Oasis, an area rumored to hold vast petroleum resources; decades of negotiation have failed to produce an accord. A third party in the same dispute is Abu Dhabi, the richest and most powerful of the entities forming the UAE. Last year the UAE publicly renounced a 1974 accord with Saudi Arabia over the oasis, thus opening the way for entering its own claim of sovereignty there.
Since the late 1990’s, another GCC member, Qatar, has been quarreling with Saudi Arabia over the oil-rich area of Khor al-Udaid. In 2000, the Saudis expelled the last remaining Qatari garrison and formally annexed the area, thus cutting off Qatar’s border with the UAE. Elsewhere, Qatar has been in dispute with its neighbor Bahrain, fighting a naval war in 2001 over control of the Hawar Islands. A more ancient dispute, this one over the Zibarah tribes who live in the Qatar peninsula but claim loyalty to Bahrain, remains unresolved.
Even Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, arguably the GCC members enjoying the closest ties, have not managed to sort out their differences. Although they have agreed to share the oil resources in the so-called “neutral zone,” a joint commission set up in 2006 failed to demarcate the two countries’ frontiers there.
Kuwait’s principal cause of concern, however, is not Saudi Arabia but Iraq. Although the Iraq-Kuwait border was internationally guaranteed in 1992-93 after the first Gulf war, many Kuwaitis still fear a return of the Iraqi “demons.” And not without reason. Iraq’s democratically elected parliament has yet to put aside Iraqi claims against the Kuwaiti islands of Warbah and Bubiyan as well as the southern portion of the Rumailah oilfields granted to Kuwait by the UN. The uncertainty has forced Kuwait to postpone its ambitious plans for developing Bubiyan into a free-trade zone; tourist projects in Warbah and in the nearby island of Failakah have also been frozen. To keep the Iraqis out, Kuwait has built a series of fortifications along the border, including electrified ditches, anti-tank traps, and a no-man’s land at a depth of 10 miles. Saudi Arabia is building similar structures along its own border with Iraq.
Another dormant source of tension in the region is the old claim of suzerainty maintained by the Hashemite dynasty of Jordan over the Saudi province of Hejaz, where the holy cities of Mecca and Medina are located. The Hashemites have been careful to keep up relations with families in the province who suffered losses of land, power, and prestige when the al-Saud tribes drove out the Hashemites in 1924. Whenever the Saudi royal family comes under pressure from one or another of its many enemies, including al-Qaeda terrorists and Shiite militants in the eastern province, noises from Amman about a potentially independent Hejaz climb a notch higher.
In the past five years, Saudi Arabia has succeeded in settling its oldest and potentially most dangerous border dispute with Yemen, ceding to the latter more than 8,000 square kilometers of territory annexed in a 1936 war. But Yemen still has problems elsewhere. It has failed to define its borders with Oman along the Gulf of Hauf and the Rub al-Khali (or “empty quarter”), and it fought a war against Eritrea in 1999 over the Hanish islands in the Red Sea, a strategically valuable archipelago that could create a chokepoint in one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. As for the vicious spectacle presented by Eritrea, Somalia, and Ethiopia, that deserves an essay unto itself.
The list continues. Ever since the 1940’s, both Iraq and Syria have pursued irredentist claims against Turkey, accusing that country of denying them their fair share of the waters of the Euphrates. More importantly, both Syria and Iraq claim the Turkish province of Iskanderun, where ethnic Arabs account for some 30 percent of the population. For its part, Turkey, basing itself on the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, claims a right of supervision in northern Iraq, especially over the two oil-rich areas around Mosul and Kirkuk, and it has recruited, trained, and armed tribal Turkmen groups there. For much of the 1990’s, Turkey also intervened militarily in northern Iraq in pursuit of its war against the Marxist Kurdish guerrillas known as the PKK.
As for Syria, it most notoriously claims the entirety of Lebanon as part of “Greater Syria” (a fictitious unit that supposedly includes not only historical Palestine but also parts of what is now the kingdom of Jordan). For almost three of the five decades of Lebanon’s history as an independent state, Syria maintained an army of occupation there, and it has been involved in provoking and prolonging all three of Lebanon’s civil wars, including the longest one from 1975 to 1991. By dragging Lebanon into the broader conflicts of the region, Syria has been partly responsible for the deaths of an estimated 100,000 Lebanese and the flight of more than 2.5 million more. Last summer, Syria and its principal ally, Iran’s Islamic Republic, encouraged the Lebanese branch of Hizballah to trigger a five-week war with Israel, and then to attempt to destroy Lebanon’s democratically elected government through street agitation and political assassinations.
This brings us to Egypt, the most populous of the Arab states and one that has always vacillated between a policy of distancing itself from “the Arab mess,” as the nationalist premier Nahas Pasha liked to call it, and carving out an empire for itself in the name of pan-Arabism. For much of the 1950’s and 1960’s, Egypt under Nasser was in an empire-building mode. It created the United Arab Republic, to which Syria and, more briefly, Libya and Iraq were attached. It also did much to foment and prolong the 1958-1962 war in Algeria, partly within a grander, Soviet-backed scheme to keep the French army, the largest NATO force in Europe at the time, pinned down for as long as possible.
In the 1960’s, in the name of pan-Arabism, Egypt supported the military coup d’état in Yemen that led to a six-year civil war there. By 1962, an Egyptian expeditionary army of 60,000 men was fighting the forces of the deposed Yemeni imam. Over 200,000 people died in that war, including some 30,000 Egyptians.
Egypt’s defeat in the 1967 war against Israel ended Nasser’s Yemeni adventure. Even so, however, he could not refrain from throwing Egypt’s weight behind the radical regime in the newly independent state of South Yemen, which was to become the only Arab country to build a thorough-going Communist system. With Egypt’s help, South Yemen became a major cold-war base for the Soviet Union, offering it naval facilities in Aden, Mukalla, and the island of Soccotra. From 1969 until the mid-1970’s, South Yemen was also a base of aggression against Oman, as Marxist rebels from the Popular Front for the Liberation of the Occupied Arab Gulf tried to seize control of the Omani province of Dhofar with the help of Cuban and East German military experts. That war claimed over 100,000 lives and produced almost a half-million refugees on both sides of the border.
More recently, Egypt has flexed its muscles against Sudan, annexing chunks of Sudanese territory known as the Halaieb, home to the trans-border Bashara tribes. On its other side, Egypt has engaged in intermittent conflict with Muammar Qaddafi’s Libya over an area of the Egyptian desert. Indeed, the great irony is that the only neighbor with whom Egypt enjoys demarcated and internationally recognized borders is Israel.
Libya, too, has been involved in territorial disputes—with Chad, Sudan, and Tunisia. In the case of Chad, Libyan claims led to a decade-long war in the 1970’s and 1980’s that at one point drew in French forces on the Chadian side. In the case of Sudan, the point at issue is Khartoum’s support for Islamist guerrillas fighting Qaddafi on his home turf of Tripoli.
Further to the west, Algeria, Morocco, and Mauritania have been locked in a triangular struggle over the former Spanish Sahara, which Morocco annexed in 1975 with financial and military help from the Shah of Iran. In retaliation, Algeria has set up and supported the Polisario front that claims to be the legitimate government of the Saharaoui people. Most Arab and African states recognize the Polisario claim, despite Morocco’s protests, and a low-intensity war that started in 1976 has continued ever since.
In 1992, the UN asked none other than James Baker to mediate an agreement on the Sahara. Eight years later, America’s “diplomatic wizard” threw in the towel, having failed to bring the disputants an inch closer to agreement. In the 1990’s, Morocco repaid Algeria for its support of the Polisario by turning a blind eye to Islamist terrorists waging a bloody campaign in Algeria that claimed over 250,000 lives.
This provides only the briefest glimpse into one aspect of reality in the “arc of crisis.” All told, in the past six decades, this region has witnessed no fewer than 22 full-scale wars over territory and resources, not one of them having anything to do with Israel and the Palestinians. And these international disputes, as I mentioned at the outset, are quite apart from the uninterrupted string of domestic clashes, military coups, acts of sectarian and ethnic vengeance, factional terrorism, and other internal conflicts that have characterized the greater Middle East, not infrequently attaining impressive heights of cruelty and despoliation. Nor is that the end of it. Underlying all of this are the unmoving facts, documented at length in the annual volumes of the Arab Human Development Report, of chronic instability, severe economic underachievement, social atrophy, and cultural backwardness. The greater Middle East is the only part of the world still largely untouched by the wave of positive change that followed the end of the cold war.
The notion that all of these problems can be waved away by “solving” the Arab-Israeli conflict is thus at best a delusion, at worst a recipe for maintaining today’s wider political, diplomatic, and social paralysis. For what is the reason behind the failure of the 1991 Madrid conference, the slow but steady death of the 1993 Oslo accords, the collapse of President Bill Clinton’s final effort to negotiate a peace deal at Camp David in 2000, and the faltering history of President George W. Bush’s “road map”? The reason is hardly the want of diplomatic efforts, especially on the part of the United States. No, the reason lies elsewhere, and is plain to see in the sorry tale we have rehearsed.
It is this: with the exception of Israel and with the partial exception of Turkey, the entire Middle East lacks a culture of conflict resolution, let alone the necessary mechanisms of meaningful compromise. Such a culture can only be shaped through a process of democratization. Only democracies habitually resolve their conflicts through diplomacy rather than war, and only popular-based regimes possess the political strength and the moral will to build peace. This is why, unless we mean to consign the Middle East back to the “swamps” from which the United States, its allies, and the region’s reformers have been seeking to extricate it, democratization remains the only credible strategy in and for the “arc of crisis,” and the only hope for its suffering inhabitants.
Amir Taheri, formerly the executive editor of Kayhan, Iran’s largest daily newspaper, is the author of ten books and a frequent contributor to numerous publications in the Middle East and Europe. His work appears regularly in the New York Post.
By Dr Sami Alrabaa
Kuwait Times, Jan. 29, 2007
Israel is the ‘arch enemy’ number one of Arabs and Muslims. Israel was founded by Zionists, acquired independence in 1948, and became a full-fledged member of the UN. After Arabs, backed by the Soviet Union, lost two major wars against Israel in 1967 and 1973, they tried to defeat Israel, at least politically. They submitted to the UN General Assembly a resolution in which Zionism was declared a ‘racist movement.’ The General Assembly of the UN adopted resolution 3379 on Nov 10, 1975 by a vote of 72 to 35, with 32 abstentions. This resolution determined that ‘Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination.’ The resolution was revoked by resolution 4686 on Dec 16, 1991, and since then ‘Zionism and racism’ is referred to in debates about Zionism and Israel.
Resolution 3379 was adopted by a majority of two major blocs of totalitarian regimes; by Soviet-led and non-aligned states that depended on Arab oil and aid. Major world democracies voted against the resolution. By the way, the majority of the UN state members are ruled by repressive regimes, and condone discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities. The irony of it all is that some of these states are members of the UN Human Rights Council.
Arabs and Muslims still insist that Israel is a racist, decadent, expansionist, and illegal ensemble. They often refer to it as the ‘Zionist entity’ established by racist Zionists.
Since the establishment of Israel over half a century ago, Arabs have been delaying, not to say paralysing, development and cracking down on any opposition; all in the name of Arab Karama ‘dignity’ and ‘struggling’ to gain back Arab ‘stolen land’ from Israel. As a matter of fact, they have been merely giving lip service to the Arab-Israeli conflict. They never actually mean what they say. Arabs are renowned for being masters of rhetoric. While Arab and Muslim countries have remained poor and underdeveloped, Israel enjoys democracy, a vibrant cultural life, and a technologically and industrially advanced economy. In 2006, Israel was ranked 23rd out of 177 countries in the UN Human Development Index, the highest ranking in the Middle East and third highest in all of Asia.
But are Israel and Zionists really as racist as Arabs and Muslims say they are? Alex Grobman refutes this allegation in his book ‘Nations United.’ Here are some of his arguments: Arabic is an official language in Israel on par with Hebrew. In addition, it is as natural for an Arab to serve in public office in Israel, as it is as incongruous to think of a Jew serving in any public office in an Arab country. Over half a million Kurds are not allowed to speak their national language. Syrian Kurds are not even recognised by the Syrian regime as a minority. Now, who is discriminatory? Unlike the situation in most Arab states, all faith-followers; Muslims, Christians, Bahais, as well as others have the right to practice their religions the way they please. All these people as well as ethnic communities, including Druze and Bedouins have the right to exert their cultural heritage and all of them are citizens of the State of Israel and possess the same passports their fellow Jews have. By contrast, until recently, Syria refused to give its Kurdish citizens Syrian identity cards and passports.
Palestinians who live in the State of Israel enjoy some political and cultural freedom as well. They have their own parties and have the right to vote in Israeli national and local elections like all other Israelis. The current Israeli Parliament has four Palestinian members. Azmi Bishara is one of them. He and his fellow Arab MPs are free to travel to all Arab states, something that is inconceivable for all Arabs. Arabs who visit Israel are persecuted, accused of being spies, tortured, and jailed. Some Arab countries do not even admit foreign nationals as tourists if their passports carry a visa for Israel. Now, one really wonders, who is racist? The Zionist Israelis, or Arabs? Arabs abuse the Palestinian refugee issues. They allege that Israel would not allow Palestinian refugees to return to their homes back in Palestine. After the Oslo treaty between the PLO and Israel in the mid 1990s, lots of Palestinians were allowed to return to Palestine including staunch enemies of Israel, Grobman says. Syria and other Arab countries turned down the offer and keep exploiting the refugee issues in the world arena, also in the UN.
The Syrian regime does not permit its Druze citizens to visit their relatives and friends in the Golan Heights, which Israel occupied in the 1973 war, and vice versa. Almost everyday the Druze on both sides of the border stand with loudspeakers and talk to their relatives and friends. With this behaviour the Syrian regime is violating one of the basic principles of human rights. Besides, Arabs are not allowed to contact people living in Israel. They are not allowed to know the truth. Grobman cites Professor Bernard Lewis who says, “Arab fixation with Israel is the licensed grievance. In countries where people are becoming increasingly angry and frustrated at all the difficulties under which they live – the poverty, unemployment, oppression – having a grievance, which they can express freely, is an enormous psychological advantage…. The Israeli-Arab conflict is the only political grievance that can be openly discussed.”
A research study, which I conducted with my students on Arab school textbooks and media reports, shows that Arab schools and media teach and disseminate the vilest anti-Jewish hate. They demonise Israel and Zionists.
“For decades the Arabs have been obsessed by memories of past glories and prophecies of future greatness (without Israel),” Grobman says. ‘Israel, an alien limb in the heart of the Arab body’ is hampering development in the Arab world. Defence is devouring national resources, Arabs claim. Indeed, Arab textbooks and the media highlight historic clashes between Muslims and Jews and ignore good relations between the two peoples during old times in the Arabian Peninsula. By contrast, Israeli schools and media are more balanced towards Arabs. They simply warn of danger from hostile neighbouring Arab countries, but they do not blatantly incite hatred against Arabs. Arab governments have used Israel and Zionism as a monster to, “divert attention from their own critical domestic social and economic problems.” Grobman says. Arab leaders are not much concerned with Israel occupying Arab land as much as they are concerned with Israel becoming a role model for democracy and development, which would eventually be conducive to put an end to totalitarian Arab regimes.
Political analysts believe that the Arab-Israeli conflict is primarily an Arab-regime problem. This conflict is benefiting the agenda of Arab regimes but absolutely not the legitimate aspirations of Arab masses. If Arabs were free to express their mind, they would resort to peaceful means to resolve the conflict. On both sides of the conflict there are people who are interested in peace. Arab regimes are hindering peace because they are benefiting from keeping the flame of the ‘conflict’ burning and burning. Having said all the above, it is laughable and ludicrous when Arab regimes and fellow totalitarian regimes at the UN General Assembly accuse Israel and Zionism of being racist and discriminatory. These regimes are twisting facts on the ground. Grobman concludes by citing the late Egyptian President Anwar Al-Sadat who said, “The Arab-Israeli conflict shall not be resolved by military force but by peaceful means.”
Sheikh Abdulhadi Palaazi, Director of the Cultural Institute of the Italian Islamic Community, says, “Grobman’s book is a valuable tool for all students on campuses where the Arab/Israeli debate needs to be de-fanged. Muslim and Arab students can learn the truth from this book and see how callously contemporary Arab dictators of the Muslim world have manipulated them and deformed Islam in order to promote their anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish agenda.”
THE RETURN OF AL QAEDA.
by Peter Bergen
The New Republic
Post date: 01.22.07
Issue date: 01.29.07
sama bin Laden will turn 50 this year. But, when we picture him today, most Westerners imagine a man who, addled physically by disease and psychologically by the repeated blows the United States has dealt his cause, looks much older than his age: a gaunt figure limping from cave to cave along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, one step ahead of U.S. forces–surrounded, perhaps, by a small group of loyalists but cut off from the rest of the world, his once formidable ability to mastermind dramatic acts of violence now rendered nearly nonexistent.
As for Al Qaeda, the terrorist group bin Laden founded nearly two decades ago, Americans have been told that it, too, is unhealthy, isolated, and in decline. A National Intelligence Estimate declassified in September 2006 opens with the observation that “United States-led counterterrorism efforts have seriously damaged the leadership of [Al Qaeda] and disrupted its operations.” At a press conference the next month, President Bush affirmed, “Absolutely, we’re winning. Al Qaeda is on the run.” American officials aren’t the only ones who believe this. In July 2005, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf told reporters that “Al Qaeda does not exist in Pakistan anymore.” More recently, Newsweek’s Fareed Zakaria opined that “Al Qaeda Central … appears to have turned into a communications company. It’s capable of producing the occasional jihadist cassette, but not actual jihad.” In Washington, the consensus view is that, while Bush’s foreign policy has been an overall disaster, he still can lay claim to one key achievement: severely weakening Al Qaeda in the five years since September 11.
There was a time when that was true. In the months and years immediately following the Taliban’s ouster, Al Qaeda lost its main sanctuary and struggled to regroup in the largely lawless zone along Afghanistan’s border with Pakistan. Key leaders were captured or killed. Years passed during which the group mounted few major attacks.
But, today, from Algeria to Afghanistan, from Britain to Baghdad, the organization once believed to be on the verge of impotence is again ascendant. Attacks by jihadists have reached epidemic levels in the past three years, with terrorists carrying out dramatic operations in Madrid in 2004 and London in 2005, as well as multiple suicide attacks across the Middle East and Asia–not only in Iraq, but also in Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, India, and Indonesia. Meanwhile, jihadists have made inroads in the horn of Africa; the Taliban’s efforts to turn Afghanistan back into a failed state appear to be succeeding; and Al Qaeda’s Iraqi branch recently declared sovereignty over the country’s vast Anbar province.
Still, many have clung to the view that Al Qaeda remains a shell of its former self. They argue, as Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte did last April, that Al Qaeda, “a somewhat weakened organization,” is “more in the mode of serving as an inspiration for some of these terroristically inclined groups elsewhere.” Newsweek’s Zakaria echoed this analysis. “Al Qaeda Central,” he wrote last year, “no longer has much to do with the specific terrorist attacks–even the most bloody ones, in Madrid, Sinai and London–that have taken place in the past three years. These appear to be the work of smaller, local groups, often inspired by Al Qaeda but not directed by it.”
Certainly, there are plenty of examples of freelance terrorists acting in Al Qaeda’s name–such as the seven men arrested in Miami last summer who allegedly plotted to blow up federal buildings in Florida. But the existence of Al Qaeda imitators does not prove the obsolescence of the real thing. Far from it: There is considerable evidence that, over the last few years, Al Qaeda has managed to regroup; and there is reason to believe that, over the next few years, it will grow stronger still. More than at any time since September 11, Osama bin Laden’s deadly outfit is back in business.
The story of Al Qaeda’s renaissance begins with its eviction from Afghanistan in late 2001. Unfortunately, the group didn’t disintegrate–it merely moved across the border to the tribal regions of western Pakistan, where today it operates a network of training camps. A former American intelligence official stationed in Pakistan told me that there are currently more than 2,000 foreign fighters in the region. The camps are relatively modest in size. “People want to see barracks. [In fact,] the camps use dry riverbeds for shooting and are housed in compounds for 20 people, where they are taught calisthenics and bomb-making,” a senior American military intelligence official explains. The existence of these camps bodes well for Al Qaeda, since terrorist plots have a much higher chance of success if some of the cell’s members have received personal training in bomb-making and terrorist tradecraft rather than merely reading about such matters on the Internet–as many freelance terrorists have done. Just as it would be absurd to argue that U.S. troops could be trained over the Internet instead of at boot camp, so, too, it turns out that effective terrorists need to have attended terrorist training facilities.
The tribal areas of Pakistan have proved to be a comfortable home for Al Qaeda–and that isn’t going to change. The Pakistani government has already concluded peace agreements with local militants (but not, obviously, Al Qaeda) in two of the seven federally administered tribal areas along the Afghan border, and it is likely to reach additional peace deals this year. That means the Pakistani army will gradually pull out of these areas, which can only help Al Qaeda.
Meanwhile, on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, the Taliban has staged a comeback while virtually merging with Al Qaeda. The Taliban were a provincial bunch when they held power in Afghanistan, but, in the past couple of years, they have increasingly identified as part of the global jihadist movement, their rhetoric full of references to Iraq and Palestine in a manner that mirrors bin Laden’s public statements. Mullah Dadullah, a key Taliban commander, gave an interview to CBS last month in which he outlined how the Taliban and Al Qaeda cooperate: “Osama bin Laden, thank God, is alive and in good health. We are in contact with his top aides and sharing plans and operations with each other.” Indeed, the senior American military intelligence official told me that “trying to separate Taliban and Al Qaeda in Pakistan serves no purpose. It’s like picking gray hairs out of your head.” Suicide attacks, improvised explosive devices, and beheadings of hostages–all techniques Al Qaeda perfected in Iraq–are being employed by the Taliban to strengthen their influence in the southern and eastern parts of Afghanistan. Hekmat Karzai, an Afghan security expert, points out that suicide bombings were virtually unknown in Afghanistan until 2005, when there were 21 attacks; last year, there were 118. In May, maverick Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a one-time opponent of the Taliban, declared his allegiance to Al Qaeda. Having reorganized across the border in Pakistan, bin Laden’s group is now on the rise in Afghanistan–again.
Nowhere in the West do these developments pose a greater danger than in Great Britain. A British government report published last year explains that Mohammed Siddique Khan, the ringleader of the 2005 London bombings that killed 52 commuters, visited Pakistan on two occasions in 2003 and 2004 and “had some contact with Al Qaeda figures [and] some relevant training in a remote part of Pakistan.” Two months after the attacks, Al Jazeera aired a videotape of Khan saying, “I’m going to talk to you in a language that you understand. Our words are dead until we give them life with our blood.” The tape bore the distinctive logo of As Sahab (“The Clouds”), the TV production arm of Al Qaeda. Khan’s appearance on the As Sahab videotape suggests that he met members of Al Qaeda’s media team, who are based on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. On the same tape, Al Qaeda’s number two, Ayman Al Zawahiri, directly acknowledged his group’s involvement in the London bombings.
The nexus between Al Qaeda, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the United Kingdom is almost certain to generate more attacks. Making a rare public speech last November, Eliza Manningham-Buller, the head of Britain’s domestic intelligence service, MI5, said, “We are aware of numerous plots to kill people and damage our economy … 30 that we know of. These plots often have linked back to Al Qaeda in Pakistan, and, through these links, Al Qaeda gives guidance and training to its largely British foot soldiers here on an extensive and growing scale.” One such plot involving Al Qaeda was the alleged plan by a group of British-Pakistani citizens to launch an attack in the United Kingdom using 1,300 pounds of fertilizer (reportedly stored in a locker in West London). They were arrested in March 2004 by British police. According to court documents entered in the trial, two of the accused said they worked for Abdul Hadi, a senior leader of Al Qaeda. Also, the British government alleges that several of those arrested had trained at terrorist camps in the tribal areas of Pakistan along the Afghanistan border in 2003.
The Al Qaeda threat to Britain is not only a domestic problem for the British; it is also a major security headache for the United States. In July 2004, following the arrest in Pakistan of accused Al Qaeda computer expert Mohammed Noor Khan, British police arrested eight men–many of them British citizens–for their alleged involvement in an operation to attack U.S. financial landmarks like the New York Stock Exchange and the IMF headquarters in Washington, D.C. And the alleged plans by a group of British citizens to blow up as many as ten U.S. passenger jets with liquid explosives that was broken up in the United Kingdom last August was a “top down” Al Qaeda operation, I was told by a veteran American counterterrorism official. That analysis was seconded by Lieutenant General Michael Maples, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), who, earlier this month, publicly said the plot was “directed by Al Qaeda leadership in Pakistan.”
Al Qaeda’s resurgence is being felt elsewhere, too. A violent Algerian organization named the Group for Call and Combat (and known by its French initials, gspc) announced last year that it was placing itself under the Al Qaeda umbrella. In September, gspc leader Abu Musab Abdul Wadud explained that “the organization of Al Qaeda of Jihad is the only organization qualified to gather together the mujahideen.” Subsequently, in December, the gspc attacked a group of oil workers employed by a Halliburton subsidiary in Algeria, killing one and injuring nine. Also in December, Jean-Louis Bruguière, the leading French counterterrorism investigator, told The International Herald Tribune that France had become “the main target” of the gspc and that the risk of attacks had increased recently: “We consider the threat level to be very high. … What is new is that this organization has formally pledged allegiance to Al Qaeda.”
And then, of course, there is Iraq. Several studies have shown that the suicide attackers in Iraq are largely foreigners, while only a small proportion are Iraqi. In June 2005, the site Institute of Washington found, by tracking both jihadist websites and news reports, that, of the 199 Sunni extremists who had died in Iraq either in suicide attacks or in action against coalition or Iraqi forces, 104 were from Saudi Arabia and only 17 were from Iraq. And the University of Missouri’s Mohammed Hafez, in a study of the 101 known suicide bombers in Iraq from March 2003 to February 2006, found that, while 44 were Saudi (and eight were from Italy!), only seven were from Iraq. Most of these foreign suicide attackers are affiliated with Al Qaeda in Iraq, which the DIA judges to be “the largest and most active of the Iraq-based terrorist groups.” Meanwhile, a classified U.S. Marine assessment of the situation in Anbar province–obtained by The Washington Post in November 2006–states that Al Qaeda surpasses all other groups “in its ability to control the day-to-day life of the average Sunni” and is an “integral part of the social fabric of western Iraq.” No wonder the organization felt emboldened to recently declare an Islamist emirate in Anbar province.
Yet another indicator of Al Qaeda’s renewed vitality lies in its growing propaganda operation. Al Qaeda has long understood that propaganda is one of the keys to its success; as bin Laden explained in a letter to Taliban leader Mullah Omar sometime before the September 11 attacks, as much as “90 percent of the total preparation for the battles” is conducted in the media. As Sahab debuted its first major project on the Internet in the summer of 2001. Since then, As Sahab has continued to release statements from Al Qaeda’s leaders–and has significantly increased its output in the last year. IntelCenter, a Virginia-based company that tracks statements by jihadists, calculates that As Sahab produced 58 videotapes in 2006, more than tripling its 2005 output. As Sahab’s videos are reasonably polished productions, with English subtitles, animation effects, and studio settings. Its production operation probably does not have a fixed studio location but likely consists of a number of cameramen, as well as editors using programs like Final Cut Pro on laptops.
The material As Sahab is producing in Afghanistan and Pakistan is not merely talking-head propaganda. On a videotape produced in April 2006, As Sahab documented three separate IED attacks against American convoys in Kunar province in eastern Afghanistan. The film is well-shot, first showing militants mixing the explosives for the IEDs and molding them into devices with detonators, then documenting the attacks themselves. After explosions devastate the Humvees, the cameraman continues to film, showing U.S. Army medevac helicopters arriving to evacuate the dead and wounded.
As Sahab also released more than 20 audiotapes and videotapes by bin Laden and Zawahiri in 2006, neither of whom seem too hassled by the global war on terrorism, given the volume of their output. Bin Laden may not be calling people on a satellite phone to order attacks, but he remains in broad ideological and strategic control of his followers, in some cases using the tapes to issue general direction to militants. For instance, on October 19, 2003, bin Laden called for action against Spain because of its troop presence in Iraq. Six months later, terrorists killed 191 commuters in Madrid. (According to American intelligence officials, it now appears that Al Qaeda had a much greater role in the Madrid attacks than was generally understood in the immediate aftermath of the bombings.) In the spring of 2004, bin Laden offered a truce to European countries willing to pull out of the coalition in Iraq. Almost exactly a year after his truce offer expired, on July 7, 2005, an Al Qaeda-directed cell carried out the bombings on London’s transportation system. In December 2004, bin Laden called for attacks on Saudi oil facilities; and, in February 2006, Al Qaeda attacked the Abqaiq plant in Saudi Arabia, arguably the most important oil-production facility in the world. The operation was a failure, but the message was clear: When bin Laden speaks, his followers still listen–and act.
To be sure, while Al Qaeda is resurgent now, the long term is likely to be a very different story. The organization has several strategic weaknesses that should allow the United States and its allies to eventually gain the upper hand. First, it has killed a lot of Muslims. This is doubly problematic for Al Qaeda, as the Koran forbids killing both civilians and fellow Muslims. Al Qaeda lost a great deal of support in Saudi Arabia after its campaign of attacks in 2003 that killed mostly Saudis, and the same effect can be seen in Indonesia, where Jemaah Islamiyah, the local Al Qaeda affiliate, has killed mostly Indonesians in its attacks over the last three years. Popular revulsion also followed Al Qaeda’s 2005 attacks against three U.S.-owned hotels in Amman, Jordan, which killed mostly Jordanians.
Second, while bin Laden enjoys personal popularity in much of the Muslim world, this popularity does not translate into mass support for Al Qaeda–the kind of mass support that, say, Hezbollah enjoys in Lebanon. This is not surprising, since there are no Al Qaeda social welfare services, schools, hospitals, or clinics. Even Al Qaeda’s leaders are aware of this problem: In a 2005 letter from Zawahiri to Zarqawi, Al Qaeda’s number two urged the terrorist leader in Iraq to prepare for U.S. withdrawal from the country by not making the same mistakes as the Taliban, which alienated the masses in Afghanistan.
Third, Al Qaeda’s leaders have constantly expanded their list of enemies, to the point where it now includes all Middle Eastern regimes; Muslims who don’t share their views; most Western countries; Jews and Christians; the governments of India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Russia; most news organizations; the United Nations; and international NGOs. It’s very hard to think of a category of person, institution, or government that Al Qaeda does not oppose. Making a world of enemies is never a winning strategy.
Finally, we know what bin Laden is against; but what is he really for? If you asked him, he would say the restoration of the caliphate. For bin Laden, that doesn’t mean the return of something like the Ottoman Empire, but rather the installation of Taliban-style theocracies stretching from Indonesia to Morocco. A silent majority of Muslims don’t want that. A 2003 poll conducted in Saudi Arabia, perhaps the world’s most conservative Muslim country, makes this abundantly clear: In that survey, 49 percent of Saudis said they admired bin Laden, but only 5 percent wanted to live in a bin Laden-run state. Many Muslims like bin Laden because he “stands up” to the West. That doesn’t mean they would actually want to live under the Taliban.
Al Qaeda’s strategic weaknesses have already led to declining support both for bin Laden and for terrorist attacks against civilians in a number of Muslim countries. But, while these long-term weaknesses will damage Al Qaeda over time, they are unlikely to have a significant impact on the group over the next few years because Al Qaeda is drawing energy, support, and new recruits from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan–conflicts that are likely to go on, in one form or another, for quite a while. In a study of 90 insurgencies fought around the world since World War I, Seth Jones of the rand Corporation found that it took an average of 14 years for governments to defeat insurgencies and an average of eleven years for insurgents to topple governments. Either way, we are in for protracted conflicts in both Afghanistan and Iraq. As a result, even though the group faces long-term problems, Al Qaeda can do plenty of damage in the years to come.
What will that damage look like? Certainly, Al Qaeda will continue its post-September 11 campaign of attacking “soft” Western targets around the world, particularly U.S.-owned hotels and oil facilities important to the U.S. economy, as well as Israeli and Jewish targets outside of Israel. It will also remain a destabilizing force in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iraq. For the moment, Al Qaeda is finding it difficult to attack the United States, thanks to the rejection of its ideology by the American Muslim community and security measures taken by the U.S. government. But all bets are off once the war in Iraq winds down and the foreign fighters there, and some of their Iraqi colleagues, turn their sights on the United States. The resulting blowback from the Iraq war could make the blowback from the Afghan war against the Soviets look like high tea at the Four Seasons.
There are two tactics that a resurgent Al Qaeda could easily deploy in the next few years that would have significant detrimental effects on U.S. interests. Neither has been successfully used before–but both are well within the organization’s capability; unlike the threat of Al Qaeda detonating a nuclear device, they do not represent Chicken Little scenarios. The first such tactic is the use of rocket-propelled grenades or surface-to-air missiles to bring down a commercial jetliner. Al Qaeda already tried such an attack against an Israeli passenger jet in Kenya in 2002. That attempt almost succeeded. If Al Qaeda manages to down a commercial plane anywhere in the world, it would have a devastating impact on both global aviation and tourism.
The second scenario is the detonation of a radiological bomb, most likely in a European city–which would cause widespread panic by leading many to believe that terrorists had “gone nuclear,” even though a radiological bomb is nothing like a nuclear device. In June 2004, a report in New Scientist magazine, based on records from the International Atomic Energy Agency, indicated that the risk of a radiological bomb attack is growing. In 1996, there were eight incidents of smuggling radioactive materials suitable for such a device; in 2003, there were 51 such cases. The dramatic rise in smuggling has coincided with efforts by Al Qaeda to acquire radioactive materials. A dirty-bomb attack in a Western city would kill relatively few people but would engender enormous panic and severely damage global investor confidence.
Thanks to the safe havens that exist today for Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq, such attacks are a real possibility. These are not the ideal havens that the organization enjoyed in Sudan or Afghanistan before September 11, but they are sufficient for the group’s leaders to run small training facilities and to reorganize–which is exactly what they have done. Belatedly, American officials are beginning to acknowledge this. Earlier this month, testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Negroponte observed that “Al Qaeda’s core elements are resilient,” while FBI Director Robert Mueller noted that “the group has been able to rebuild itself and remain viable–finding new staging grounds for attacks.” Far from being on the defensive, Al Qaeda is once again on the move. As bin Laden turns 50 this year, he has much to celebrate.
Peter Bergen is a Schwartz senior fellow at the New American Foundation and the author of The Osama bin Laden I Know.