Alexander's Column

The uphill struggle

Mark Alexander · Apr. 5, 2002

President George W. Bush’s well-waged war against Jihadistan has lost some wind this week, as events in the Middle East took center stage from Enduring Freedom’s successes on warfronts around the world. Speaking about escalating conflicts in the Holy Land as Israeli military forces began rolling up Palestinian terrorist resources, Mr. Bush said, “This is a conflict that can widen or an opportunity we can seize. And so I’ve decided to send Secretary of State Powell to the region next week….”

Powell’s message will be two-fold: urging Israel to withdraw its forces from the territories, and pressing Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian terrorists, and Arab neighbors, to cease and desist. Intervention by Powell is a “face-saving” measure necessitated by Arafat’s historical unwillingness to fold under pressure from Israel alone. The Israeli Cabinet welcomed the President’s pointed statement on Palestinian terrorism; Arafat has likewise agreed to the proposed U.S. intervention strategy “without condition.” Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon also announced that he will also allow U.S. Middle East envoy Gen. Anthony Zinni, USMC and CINCCent (Ret.) to meet with Arafat in his besieged Ramallah compound, even as the Israeli offensive into the territories reaches an unprecedented intensity.

Setting the tone for these meetings, Mr. Bush noted: “Israel has recognized the goal of a Palestinian state. The outlines of a just settlement are clear: two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side, in peace and security. … [But] no nation can negotiate with terrorists. For there is no way to make peace with those whose only goal is death. … The Chairman of the Palestinian Authority has not consistently opposed or confronted terrorists. The situation in which he finds himself today is largely of his own making.”

Although the Israeli-Palestinian conflict seems isolated within its own region, analysts at The Federalist suspect the heavy (and lightly hidden) hand of Iraqi tyrant Saddam Hussein behind the recent escalation in Palestinian terrorist attacks. We believe Hussein, rightly fearing Mr. Bush meant it about the “axis of evil,” and to avert or postpone anti-terror efforts against his regime, is trying to leave Mr. Bush’s plans stranded between Iraq and a hard place, so to speak. In fact, intelligence sources tell The Federalist that Iran and Iraq are principal underwriters of the Lebanese Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Palestine Islamic Jihad (PIJ), and have underwritten al Qaeda forces now working with Arafat’s forces.

Last Friday as Israel Defense Forces began their operations, the Israeli Cabinet released this statement: “The Cabinet met last night in special session against the background of the severe escalation in Palestinian terror [and] approved, in principle, a wide-ranging operational action plan against Palestinian terror. Israel will act to defeat the infrastructure of Palestinian terror in all its parts and components; to this end, broad action will be undertaken until this goal is secured. Arafat – who set up a coalition of terror against Israel – is an enemy; at this stage, he will be isolated….”

The same morning, Prime Minister Sharon gave this statement to his nation: “In the past few days we have witnessed horrific terrorist attacks. … All this has happened at a time when Israel’s hand was – and still is – extended towards peace. … All we have received in return was terrorism, terrorism and more terrorism. No sovereign nation would tolerate such a sequence of events.”

Speaking at Sharon’s press conference, Israeli Defense Minister Ben-Eliezer added: “What has happened during the past few weeks, and particularly during the last two days, has thwarted all our efforts over the past year. … It is not an easy thing to say, but I will mention here that for an entire week we restrained ourselves. We did not respond to a single terrorist attack in the hope that maybe, maybe [it would stop]. Arafat has made himself into the enemy. He cannot absolve himself from responsibility. … We have stated at every turn the fact that we have no interest in continuing in the use of arms, but given no other choice, we owe it to our homes, to our children and to our people.”

The IDF’s Ramallah incursion, which isolated Arafat in his headquarters, provoked this response from Brigadier Sultan Abul-Aynayn, chief of Arafat’s Fatah faction: “If one hair on the head of Arafat is harmed, the U.S. had better protect its interests around the world. I mean what I am saying. The U.S. should protect itself if anything happens to Arafat. We are not like Osama bin Laden, but we have our own style of response.” This only serves to further demonstrate the necessity of dealing with Arafat based on who he is – a terrorist. By carving out an exception clause for Arafat in its zero-tolerance policy on terrorism, the Bush administration is only delaying the inevitable. The fact that a senior member of Arafat’s organization has openly threatened the sovereign power of the United States highlights what we have always known to be the case: the Palestinian authority in reality is still the PLO, with its terrorist tactics and anti-Jew, anti-American sentiments fully intact.

Many have raised the question of U.S. intervention strategy, and the seeming Israeli-bias of the Bush administration. (How dare we be biased toward one of our allies?) The claim is that a genuine and productive Middle East policy should act more evenhandedly to stop the ultra-violent territorial disputes between the Palestinian Arabs and Israelis. We read this stuff, but are we hearing it right? Are any Israeli or Jewish terrorists blowing themselves up in Muslim cafes and plazas, murdering noncombatants in order to win territorial or other concessions from their Arab neighbors? Real evenhandedness is affirming Israeli territorial sovereignty and Israel’s right to eliminate terrorist threats as Israel sees fit. There is no difference between Afghanistan and Ramallah, bin Laden and Arafat. As President Bush said earlier this week, “Suicide bombers in the name of religion is simple terror.”

And Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld concurred, “Murderers are not martyrs. Targeting civilians is immoral, whatever the excuse. Terrorists have declared war on civilization, and states like Iran, Iraq and Syria are inspiring and financing a culture of political murder and suicide bombing. The president has declared war on terrorism. It’s a war unlike any other America has ever fought – not only in the nature of the battle and the weapons and tactics employed, which will undoubtedly change from place to place, but in this conflict, the battlefield is but one front of many.”

(However, the conflict is also spreading regionally, as Egypt announced the breaking off of diplomatic ties with Israel, except as related to Palestinian interests. Egypt receives $2 billion a year in U.S. aid conditioned on maintaining peaceful relations with the Israeli state.)

The actual perpetrators of the terror bombing against Israeli civilians – the so-called “suicide bombers” – are not wholly responsible for their evil acts; many are youths just shy of the age of accountability. Those who instruct them in hate, incite their acts, and support their acts with technical, material and financial support are perhaps even more responsible.

Palestinian authorities have also murdered other Palestinians willing to make peace with Israel. This is why the Palestinian controlled areas are a self-radicalizing proto-state. Until this changes, and the Palestinians support rather than murder their peacemakers, no negotiations will produce meaningful results. In a recently thwarted terror attack, a terrorist on Israel’s wanted list was captured while traveling in a Red Crescent ambulance, with an explosive belt often used by terror bombers hidden in the vehicle. (The ambulance was also carrying a sick Palestinian child and several of his relatives.)

In other regional news, Operation Anaconda’s successes against the Jihadistan front in Afghanistan definitely put a “dent” in al Qaeda’s organization, but Jihadi terrorists are regrouping and planning other attacks. “There is no question but that al Qaeda have moved into and found sanctuary in Iran. And there is no question but that al Qaeda have moved into Iran and out of Iran to the south and dispersed to some other countries,” noted Defense Secretary Rumsfeld.

The capture and arrest of Abu Zubaydah, one of al Qaeda’s top surviving operational commanders, has damaged the terror structure’s capabilities significantly – and reportedly has already thwarted one planned attack. As The Federalist alerted you several weeks ago, Zubaydah had been suspected of reconstituting al Qaeda capabilities in Pakistan, where he had previously organized Jihadi activities. His expertise was with mortars and heavy weapons, and as “linchpin” commander of field operations implementing bin Laden’s policies by translating them into concrete operational plans. He is chief suspect as lead organizer for the October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen, and for millennium plots thwarted in Los Angeles and Jordan. “There is no question but that having an opportunity to visit with him is helpful,” Mr. Rumsfeld said in delightful understatement. (This is not “visit” as in “a visit from a neighbor.)

Also helpful will be the intelligence gathered along with the other 75 or so Jihadis rounded up with Zubaydah. But reports are that significant numbers of al Qaeda fighters are escaping via Iran, with the cooperation of Tehran. Also, while publicly supporting Hamid Karzai and the Afghan interim government, in reality Iranian intelligence is actively working to destabilize the U.S.-backed Afghan regime.

And as we’ve known for some time, Saddam Hussein is offering compensation to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers. Since Iraq upped its payments from $10,000 to $25,000 last month, 12 terror bombers have struck murderously inside Israel, including one attack killing 25 Israelis, many of them elderly, as they sat down for their Passover celebration meals. (And documents picked up worldwide suggest Saudi contributions to terror bomber families in the range of $5,000 each.)

As far as Hussein’s other links with terrorism…. "We were training these people to attack installations important to the United States,” said a senior officer who defected from Iraq, on that rogue state’s increasing involvement in terrorism. “The Gulf War never ended for Saddam Hussein. He is at war with the United States. We were repeatedly told this.”

Concerning “installations important to the United States,” a security investigation of the headquarters of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission reveals the presence of some 100 foreign nationals and as many as 35 visa violators and illegal aliens in the Commission’s employ. This includes a Chinese national in visa violation, who has never had a background check, “writing sensitive computer code on NRC computers.”

In other homeland security “red lights,” airport screeners failed hundreds of security tests ordered by President Bush between November and February, when airport security was in its highest state of alert. Investigators were able to smuggle hundreds knives, guns and simulated bombs through security checkpoints, in spite of the heightened security effort. On a related note, the nation’s 429 commercial airports are on the hook for at least $2 billion in construction costs to make room for bomb-detection machines required by the year’s end under new anti-terror security laws. The government will fund installation costs of $175,000 per machine, although the equipment is likely to be obsolete within a year or two.

Elsewhere on the homefront, the Department of Justice will seek the death penalty for alleged 20th 9-11 Jihadi attacker Zacarias Moussaoui. Good choice! The decision to try Moussaoui in a civilian court rather than before a military tribunal was already concession enough to the French … and anything more would have constituted rank appeasement. And the State Department has designed forgery-resistant features for passports, and the DOJ is set to announce that state and local police duties may encompass enforcement of immigration laws.

And new concerns arose at the revelation of 9-11 hijacker Ahmed Alhaznawi’s visit to a Florida hospital over the summer prior, where he received treatment for a lesion that has now been diagnosed as cutaneous anthrax. Two other hijackers, Mohammed Atta and Marwan al-Shehhi, went to a Florida pharmacy to find a treatment for a similar irritation contracted by Atta – and were known to be in the area of the home of the nation’s first pulmonary anthrax fatality. As the anthrax attacks occurred after 9-11, the inevitable conclusion is that the 9-11 terrorists were only part of cells still hibernating in U.S. suburbs.

On a brighter note in anti-bioterrorism strategy, 70 to 90 million doses of decades-old smallpox vaccine have been “discovered” in the freezers of a Pennsylvania-based pharmaceutical company. As The Federalist has previously noted, the notion that we had no such defense dates back to Cold War strategy in an effort to discourage our Soviet nemesis from developing other toxins. The fact that this supply is now public record suggests that intelligence sources now believe that the only large quantity of contagion in Jihadistan’s inventory is smallpox – and using it would create a much greater risk of its catastrophic spread through the Islamic world, than through the West.