ATbar Middle Eastern Radical Islamic Terrorism - in the aftermath of the terror attacks in the United Sta
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Middle Eastern Radical Islamic Terrorism - in the aftermath of the terror attacks in the United Sta

10/10/2001 | by Fighel, Jonathan (Col. Ret.)  

As the Bush administration begins what appears to be an extended fight in Afghanistan, it has been unable to reach any clear conclusion with regard to where the Palestinian terrorist groups—Hamas, Hizballah, Islamic Jihad—and the Palestinian Authority itself, fit into its global campaign against terrorism.

In the first days after the heinous attacks in New York and Washington, American officials of all persuasions declared the need to declare war on terrorism. All of this gave a strong impression that “enough is enough,” that a red line had been crossed—that the rules of the game had changed. President Bush announced that the U.S would confront international terrorism, as carried out by what he defined as “foreign terrorist groups with global reach.” [1]

A new global order: “Either you’re with us or you’re against us”

However, behind the scenes, a debate was raging between the State Department and the Pentagon: granted, the U.S. must go after terrorist organizations “with a global reach,” but do Hizballah and Hamas fall into that category? The State Department said no, while some Pentagon advisers argued that these groups are terrorist organizations no less than al-Qaidah. In fact, until September 11, Hizballah was the organization that held the record for killing Americans in terrorist attacks.

As the days passed, it became clearer that the first priority for the U.S. in responding to last month’s terror attacks is finding and destroying bin Laden and his network. All other terrorist organizations—groups that only a few months ago were in the headlines as icons of international terrorism—were now sidelined. “This isn’t a Hizballah moment,” one senior administration official said. “It’s an Osama bin Laden moment. It’s very important to take this one step at a time.”[2]

So in the end, neither Hamas, nor Hizballah was included in the list of groups singled out for Bush’s “new war.”

According to the New York Times, this omission prompted Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House, to write a letter addressed to Secretary of State Colin Powell calling for their inclusion. “To ignore them will be to weaken the moral basis of our efforts,” he wrote, adding with an allusion to Israel, “It will signal to much of the world that the United States abandons its friends to appease some of its enemies.”

The invisible “red line” was felt in the fact that the Islamic radical organizations in the Middle East kept a lid on their activities in the days following the September 11 attacks. This low profile reflects a stage of evaluation on the part of these organizations with regard to the new era which seems to have begun.

Arafat was among the first to recognize—and seize—the opportunity to place himself on the side of humanity; by paying lip service to the American cause, he could await developments without lifting a hand to thwart terrorism in his own backyard. Meanwhile, other Palestinian groups—the same ones that the State Department has placed on the back burner for now—gathered in Damascus to reject any cease-fire, and to call for the continuation of the armed struggle.

The Middle East takes stock

The red line drawn in the ash of the Black Tuesday attacks has already begun to erode. The Bush administration’s hesitation in taking firm steps against the Middle Eastern groups has enabled them to adjust their activities to the new arena, while simultaneously checking the flexibility and tolerance of the powers that be in the new war.

Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Authority

Last month’s attacks appeared to offer both Arafat and Israel an opportunity to bring the situation under control. However, the much talked-about cease-fire never seems to have really taken hold. Terrorist attacks continue, both inside the Green Line and against settlers, especially on the roads. Since September 11th, there have been daily shootings on the roads and in Israeli population centers, such as the attack at the central bus station in Afula on October 3.

In addition, although the PA was originally established on the promise that it would arrest militants engaged in attacks on Israel, this has rarely happened. Where arrests have been made, the culprits were invariably tied to activities which threatened the PA, not Israel. Terrorists, if detained at all, spend very little time behind bars, before being released to continue their activities.

And if Arafat says that he has no control over the activities of radicals, then he has only himself to blame; even now, PA-controlled media continues to incite Palestinians, young and old to “martyr themselves” in order to kill Israelis. But just as Arafat controls the media and its messages, so he can control the groups acting in his name, such as Fatah, the Tanzim, and Force 17.

The fact that he continues with the same old policy of “shoot with one hand; negotiate with the other” is indicative of the flexibility of red line in the new order.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad

On Sunday, 30 September, a number of radical Palestinian groups met in the Syrian capital to denounce the prospect of peace with Israel. They criticized as a “waste of time” attempts by Yasser Arafat and Israel to shore up a cease-fire and called for an intensification of the violence.

Ramadan Abdullah Shalah, head of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, was quoted by the Associated Press as saying the gathering Sunday was a show of solidarity with the Palestinians and an expression of “our resolution to keep the uprising going.”[3]

Ahmed Jibril, secretary-general of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, proclaimed that “the uprising will continue and get stronger, despite U.S. attempts to bring calm to the Middle East region and to put the Palestinian cause on the ice.” Jibril said the Palestinians will “never allow calm to return to the region, as the U.S. and Israel want.” Abu Moussa, leader of Fatah-Intefadeh, agreed. “Armed struggle will continue,” he said.[4]

Islamic Jihad spokesman Abdallah al-Shami said his group, which has been behind a spate of suicide bombings inside Israel, would continue its strikes despite the agreement aimed at ending more than a year of violence. Asked whether Islamic Jihad would continue suicide bombings, Shami said: “Resistance and Jihad (holy war) will continue and if the Israelis stop killing our civilians, we will stop killing theirs. But if they reject them, martyrdom (suicide) operations will go on.” [5]

After the military strikes

Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat, issued a blanket order to all members of the Palestinian Authority establishment not to speak out about the American-led strikes against Afghanistan. Arafat also outlawed public demonstrations in support of Afghanistan, fearing possible Western reactions to a groundswell of popular support for Osama bin Laden, such as the celebrations in Palestinian cities in the West Bank and Gaza in the wake of the terror attacks against the U.S. [5]

CNN reported that in the wake of Osama bin Laden’s attempts to link his Jihad with the Palestinian conflict, the Palestinian leadership rushed to distance itself from the Saudi fugitive. Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abd Rabbo said that that the Palestinian cause should not justify the killing of citizens of countries not involved in the conflict.[6]

Hamas: American strikes are “pure terrorism”

In the West Bank city of Ramallah, senior Hamas officials called the U.S. offensive “pure terrorism against an innocent people.” [7]

The popular feeling and sympathy with the Afghans—and with Osama bin Laden, who many Muslims see as the modern Salah a-Din—were demonstrated in the streets of Gaza City following the initial strikes on Afghanistan. More than 1,000 students from the Islamic University staged a protest march. Carrying posters of bin Laden and waving Hamas banners, the protesters shouted bin Laden’s name and chanted: “Long live Palestine,  long live Afghanistan, long live Islam.”[8]

Palestinian police fired in the air, and then into the crowd of protesters, killing a 13-year-old boy and a 21-year-old university student. Forty-five people were hurt by tear gas, stones and bullets. According to Gaza police chief Ghazi Jabali, ten policemen were among the wounded, including one who was shot.[9]

Palestinian police restricted coverage of the march, ordering journalists at one point to leave the area.

Forecast

Following is a breakdown of the choices facing the major players in the Middle Eastern arena, and some predictions as to their future actions.

Yasser Arafat’s dilemmas

The Palestinian leader is at an extremely sensitive junction, in which he will have to define his policy with regard to the continuation of his armed intifada: how to continue attacks on Israelis with being defined as a terrorist or a sponsor of terrorism.

Contributory to this dilemma is the need to continue to mobilize his society in an atmosphere in which no real achievements can be presented. For Arafat, the true dilemma is that only by continuing with his war can he keep his popularity high among his own people. His propaganda machine has done its work too well; at this point the Palestinians have been fed the story of the supposed Israeli plan to take over the Muslim world to the point where the majority have begun to believe it. Arafat’s attempt to douse the fire at this point can only erode his popularity and credibility. He cannot suddenly turn around and say to his own people, “Sorry, but most of what I’ve been telling you was untrue! Now we’re going to go back to the negotiating table.”

And too, there’s the problem of Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ). To what extant can Arafat agree or ignore the activities of these groups, as he has until now? Their suicide bombings in Israeli cities have the support of the majority of the Palestinian populace. Can Arafat crack down on them without turning this campaign into “Fitna,” or civil war?

The same dilemma faces Arafat with respect to the activities of his own terrorist apparatus, the Fatah Tanzim and Force 17. The Fatah groups enjoy the overwhelming support of Arafat’s constituency, and he has invested a great deal in keeping them armed and active, even when his civilian infrastructure languishes for lack of funds.

What Arafat may do is use the Islamists’s active support of bin Laden as an excuse to crack down on them, in the name of “preserving the PA’s image abroad.” This way he could convey the message that he is in control, without risking his popularity by censuring the Islamists for their attacks against Israel.

Bin Laden: may seek operatives in Israel and the PA

The Saudi arch-terrorist will most likely seek to drive a wedge between the West and the Muslim countries. One way of doing this is to do and say things that will gain the sympathy of Muslims worldwide. One such ploy is of course bin Laden’s sudden championing of the Palestinian cause, as seen in his dramatic broadcast on al-Jazeera TV.

Yet another way for him to win support for his cause among Muslims would be to carry out terrorist attacks on Israeli and Jewish targets in Israel and abroad. In order to attack targets in Israel, he could make use of the existing terrorist infrastructure of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, both of which are sympathetic to his cause.

He could also arrange to claim responsibility for the attacks carried out by the Palestinian Islamists, as a way of glorifying his struggle and strengthening his psychological warfare.

Thus, it is likely that bin Laden will intensify his efforts to recruit Islamic radical operatives in the P.A and the Islamic Movement among Arab Israelis.

Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad: business as usual

The ideology of the Palestinian Islamists has only been strengthened by the attacks on the United States and the subsequent retaliatory strikes. Car bombs and attacks are likely to continue in the territories and inside Israel, and may be claimed as retaliation for the ongoing Western anti-terrorism campaign.

It is probable that a major suicide attack inside Israel will be carried out only after an evaluation of how such an attack will influence American public opinion with regard to the local conflict. Only if the Palestinian Islamists perceive that a major suicide bombing will not be equated with al-Qaida’s suicide attacks, will the green light be given for an attack against Israeli civilians.

In any case, we can expect to see both Hamas and the PIJ mobilizing Palestinian public opinion, in the form of marches and demonstrations. They will also attempt to capitalize on Palestinian popular support for bin Laden for recruitment and fundraising for their organizations.

By omitting the Palestinian radical groups—Hizballah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad—and their sponsors, Syria and Iran, from the list of 27 targets of counter-terrorist action, the United States and its allies have made it clear that the fight is not directed against these organizations or the countries that sponsor them. This may lead these groups to believe that they are immune to the ire of the West, and can use the excuse of the military strikes on Afghanistan to take action. We can not exclude a joint coordinated scenario among a “coalition” of radical groups to carry out terror attacks against Israel in Gaza, the West Bank and along the Northern border. If Israel chooses to retaliate for these attacks, a second front could be opened, thus further eroding the support of Arabs and Muslims for the U.S.-led anti-terrorist action. This, in turn, would undermine any future efforts by the Western countries to go after the infrastructures of other terrorist organizations in the Middle East.

To ignore the Middle Eastern radical organizations—and the countries that support them—could thus have a negative long-term effect on Middle Eastern stability. In today’s regional reality, this could be perceived as inconsistency and hesitation on the part of the United States as to what type of actions can be regarded as terrorism. In the long run this can only weaken the basis of the American anti-terrorism campaign and its efforts to restore its deterrent capability, which has been significantly eroded by the September 11 attacks.

 


 

Sources
1. The New York Times, October 4, 2001
2. Ibid
3. Associated Press, September 30, 2001
4. Ibid
5. Palestine-info.net, September 30, 2001
6. CNN, October 8, 2001
7. Palestine-info.net, October 8, 2001
8. Israel T.V Channel 1, October 8, 2001
9. Ibid