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Opinion

Osama's Shadow Over Israel?

While the PLO, the Hamas, the Islamic Jihad, the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade etc continue to overtly maintain a distance from the Al Qaeda and the IIF, three terrorist incidents since November last year raise disturbing questions.

Osama's Shadow Over Israel?
Osama's Shadow Over Israel?
outlookindia.com
-0001-11-30T00:00:00+05:53

Three terrorist incidents directed against Israeli nationals and interests since November last year do not fall into the pattern of the normal terrorist strikes of which Israel and its nationals have been victims.

The first of these incidents took place in Mombasa in November last year, details of which are well known and hence need no repetition.  In my comments then,, I had commented on this incident as follows:

"When bin Laden announced the formation of the International Islamic Front (IIF) in the beginning of 1998 and issued its first fatwa, it designated the USA and Israel (the crusaders and the Jewish people as he put it) as the principal enemies of Islam and called for attacks on them.  In many of his subsequent statements, this characterisation of the US and Israel as the principal enemies of Islam has been a recurring theme.

"However, despite this, Al Qaeda and the other components of the IIF had confined their attacks mainly to US and other Western targets and avoided attacks on Israeli nationals and interests, though some Jewish persons were reported to have been killed in the terrorist strike by Al Qaeda in Tunisia earlier this year.

"This was due to the anxiety of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and other organisations allied to it not to be perceived by the USA as having links with Al Qaeda or the IIF.  The PLO used to be of the view that the Palestinians would never be able to achieve their political objective without the support of the USA and, therefore, wanted that the Palestinian organisations should keep away from bin Laden.  While there are Palestinians serving in Al Qaeda, no Palestinian organisation is a member of the IIF.

"Bin Laden too respected the concerns of the Palestinian organisations and avoided any terrorist strike against Israeli targets lest there be any difficulties for the Palestinian organisations in their attempt to get the political support of the West against Israel.  If the strikes in Mombasa are established to be the work of Al Qaeda or the IIF, this would show that this consideration no longer acts as a restraining factor. 

Either Al Qaeda and the IIF have decided to strike at Israeli targets without worrying about the concerns of the Palestinian organisations or they undertook the Mombasa operations with the approval or at the instance of the Palestinian organisations, which have been disillusioned with the failure of the US to restrain Israel and, therefore, see no longer any need to keep away from bin Laden.  More attacks on Israeli lives and interests are likely . "

(End of citation)

The second terrorist strike, which does not fit into the normal pattern, took place at Haifa in Israel on October 4, 2003, when 20 innocent civilians, including reportedly some children, were brutally killed by a woman suicide bomber, believed to be from the Islamic jihad, in a local restaurant called Maxim.  The Al Jazeera and other Arabic TV channels had claimed that the restaurant was part-owned by an Arab and that some of those killed were Arabs.

While large sections of the international media focussed on the family background of the suicide bomber and the alleged death of one of her brothers at the hands of the Israelis in an unfortunate attempt to rationalise her action in brutally killing innocent children, women and men, they did not highlight another ominous aspect of the terrorist strike.

The owner of the restaurant and the non-Jewish victims were not Arab Muslims as initially projected but, Maronite Christian migrants from the Lebanon.  In an article in the Jerusalem Post of October 10, 2003, Walid Phares, a US-based Professor of Middle East Studies and a terrorism expert, has drawn attention to this and raised the following questions:

"Non-Shabbat-observing Haifa Jews eat at various local restaurants. Why would Islamist suicide bombers knowingly target a Lebanese Christian restaurant in Israel, when they could have attacked any culinary establishment? Why did bomber Hanadi Jaradat select this particular eatery?"

He goes on to say:

"Indicating (by Al Jazeera and others) the real ethnic and  religious identities of the owners and the workers would open a new chapter in the jihadists' war, both in Israel and the Middle East."

What is this new chapter about? The Professor does not explain, but  anyone who has been studying carefully the pre and post-9/11 terrorist strikes of the Al Qaeda and the Pakistani and South-East Asian components of the IIF would have been struck by the ominous similarity to the targeted killing of Christians and Christian establishments by the Al Qaeda-brainwashed jihadi elements in Indonesia and similar targeted killings of Christians in Pakistan last year by the Pakistani components of the IIF.

Even if one accepts that the Haifa suicide bomber had cause for personal anger against the Israelis, that does not explain who selected this particular restaurant owned by a Christian and hence frequented by Christians. The Islamic Jihad exploited her personal tragedy and anger to direct her to the restaurant in order to achieve targeted killings of Christians as part of the jihad of the IIF against the Christians and the Jewish people.

While intervening during the discussions at a conference in  Jerusalem on October 12, 2003, I had drawn attention to the Haifa incident and said that this incident needed to be investigated carefully since one could smell the hand and inspiration of bin Laden's IIF in it. 

Subsequently, while discussing my assessment with some of the participants in the margins of the conference, I had stated that if my assessment proved to be correct, one could expect targeted attacks on US and other Western tourists in Israel -- a Bali-type incident.

On October 15, 2003, three American officials were killed and one other was injured when the convoy of vehicles in which they were travelling in northern Gaza was attacked by unidentified elements. Is there a linkage between the Haifa attack on a Christian-owned establishment and the Gaza attack on the Americans? Most probably yes.

These incidents show that the jihadi terrorist elements subscribing to the anti-US and anti-Israeli ideology of the Al Qaeda and the IIF are probably assuming ascendancy in the proxy war being waged against Israel by Syria and its other adversaries through their surrogates such as the PLO, the Hamas, the Islamic Jihad, the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade etc.

There is as yet no evidence to show the infiltration of non-Palestinian elements into the areas controlled by the Palestine Authority (PA) for organising terrorist strikes not only against Israeli (Jewish) civilians as they have hitherto been doing, but also against the Christian residents of the area and US nationals and interests. The penetration, the beginnings of which one is seeing, is not of the cadres of the Al Qaeda and the IIF, but of their influence on the terrorist operations in the area.

To what extent, are the PLO and other organisations allied to it  privy to this penetration? Are they covertly encouraging this, while overtly continuing to maintain a distance from it? Yasser Arafat and other PLO leaders have strongly condemned the attack on the Americans, the first of its kind during the last three years, but to what extent is their condemnation genuine and to what extent is it an eye-wash similar to what Gen.Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan is adept at doing to India -- overtly condemning acts of terrorism in India, but covertly sponsoring them?

In a commentary on the PLO's condemnation of the Gaza ambush of the Americans, Itamar Marcus of the Palestine Media Watch (PMW) draws attention to what he vividly describes as the duplicity of the PLO vis-a-vis the Americans for many years.  He says:

"In its English statements, the PA presents itself as an American ally, while its Arabic messages incite its people to hate and kill Americans. Never has this hypocrisy been more striking than today, after the Palestinian ambush that targeted and killed three American diplomats in the Gaza Strip. The official PA rushed to condemn the attack -- even as the PA-controlled media continues its relentless campaign of anti-American indoctrination. 

"During the war in Iraq, the PA actively endorsed the killing of Americans, and even produced a music video celebrating the deaths of US soldiers that was broadcast repeatedly on official PA TV.  In the months before the Iraq war, the official PA daily published calls to Saddam Hussein to turn Iraq into a graveyard for American soldiers.  At a pro-Iraq rally they "praised the role of Iraq and the Commander Saddam Hussein, and stressed that Iraq’s land will be a graveyard for the American soldiers..." [Al Hayat Al Jadida, Dec. 19, 2002] Since the war, hatred of the USA has continued unabated in the official and tightly-controlled PA media.  This morning’s political cartoon in the official daily Al Hayat Al Jadida attacks the US for trying to "paint" the entire world American."

Even though the PLO, the Hamas, the Islamic Jihad, the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade etc continue to overtly maintain a distance from the Al Qaeda and the IIF, it is becoming disturbingly clear that covertly they are increasingly following the anti-American and anti-Israeli agenda of the IIF. Its impact on the jihadi terrorist situation has to be carefully monitored not only by Israel, but also by India and other victims of jihadi terrorism. 


(B. Raman,  is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Convenor, Advisory Committee, Observer Research Foundation (ORF), Chennai Chapter. He is at present in Jerusalem)

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