By David Dolan
Israeli security officials are warning that a major Islamic terrorist attack upon Israel, possibly on a similar scale to the calamities that struck New York and Washington, could be launched in the near future. Ironically, they say such a massive assault might be directly linked to the Bush administrationâ€™s worldwide anti-terrorist campaign.
Officials say intense American pressure for a quick end to Palestinian-Israeli violence has handed a golden opportunity to Osama Bin Laden and his radical supporters and sympathizers. The United States wants the uprising conflictâ€”now exactly one year oldâ€”to disappear so that Arab states will find it easier to join the US-led anti-terrorist coalition. However, this means that diehard Islamic opponents of the derailed Oslo peace process, including Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Lebanese Hizbullah militia, have been given a greater incentive than ever before to disrupt moves toward a permanent ceasefire and renewed peace talks.
Analysts say it is absurd for American officials to think that Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat can simply wave a magic wand after a year of intense violence and bring Islamic militant groups on board a renewed peace train. (I have pointed out many times that Osloâ€™s main flaw was the contention that such groups could either be pacified or subdued by Arafat, thus allowing true peace to reign between regional Arabs and Jews). This was demonstrated afresh on Wednesday when Hamas bombed a group of Israeli soldiers in the Gaza Strip just before the two leaders met for ceasefire discussions, setting off a gun battle that left several Palestinians dead.
Indeed, Palestinian and Shiite Lebanese Muslim extremists hate the United States as much as Bin Laden does, and are genuinely thrilled over his "successful" attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. And they are well aware that Palestinian opinion polls show overwhelming support (around 85%) for a continuation of the violent uprising, despite Americaâ€™s desire that it come to a rapid end.
Local terrorist groups understand that George Bush and Colin Powell want the violent Palestinian uprising to settle down so that they can recruit Muslim states to join the anti-Bin Laden campaign. Therefore, Palestinian and Lebanese Islamic militants will probably see it as their moral duty to support the revered terrorist leader by doing everything they can to disrupt the pending US operation. The most effective way to do this, say Israeli security officials, would be to launch a massive attack upon Israel.
Just like Saddam Hussein ten years ago, Bin Laden realizes that one issue unites regional Muslims more than any otherâ€”shared loathing for "the Zionist entity." With the help of local sympathizers, the Arabian militant might attempt to draw attention away from his US crimes and portray his jihad warriors as valiant defenders of the Islamic cause by launching an unprecedented attack upon Israel, with the aim of provoking a strong Israeli military response. Muslim states, possibly including moderate Turkey, would then find it nearly impossible to support the Bush campaign in Afghanistan.
Israeli security officials suspect that such an attack could be launched in the form of a Hizbullah missile strike, possibly against the northern port city of Haifa. They warned earlier this year that the Shiite group has taken possession of Iranian rockets that can hit the city and beyond, even up to the northern outskirts of Tel Aviv. More ominously, it is thought that some of the relatively short-range missiles are capable of carrying chemical weapons.
Concern that Hizbullah might launch a massive assault in the coming days or weeks grew on Wednesday after supreme Iranian leader Ayatollah Khameini strongly denounced the US-led anti-terror campaign as "another example of American arrogance." He maintained that President Bush was using the September 11 terrorist strikes as "an excuse to increase US influence" in the Middle East. His remarks were followed by hearty chants of "Death to America!" from his audience of Iranian war veterans. Tehran is the main sponsor of the radical Hizbullah militia, which occupies southern Lebanon with Syrian complicity.
Israeli leaders complain off the record that they feel like they are being forced to wear the same straight jacket that former Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir was saddled with during Saddamâ€™s missile attacks on Tel Aviv and Haifa a decade ago. They would face a tremendous dilemma in the wake of a major Hizbullah strike, say security officials. If Ariel Sharon kept earlier promises to hit back at Syria for any further Hizbullah assaults, a major war could begin which might also involve Iraq and other countries. That is the last thing Bush wants as he prepares to go after Bin Laden in Afghanistan. However, a significant military response might be exactly what Israelâ€™s many enemies desire, since it would draw the ire of the preoccupied president and make it even less likely that US forces would come to Israelâ€™s aid during any subsequent Arab-Israeli war.
Israeli security officials say such a frightening scenario might have been in Bin Ladenâ€™s evil mind all along. They are convinced that in launching such audacious and unprecedented attacks upon the very heart of America, the militant jihad warrior and his unseen Muslim backers realized they would provoke a substantial US military response (and hopefully in turn a worldwide Islamic holy war against America). "They must have much more up their sleeves than just another terror attack or two in the US or elsewhere" one official told me. If fact, he is convinced that Iran, Iraq and other states knew in advance what Bin Ladenâ€™s terror network was up to, and may have even sponsored them as an intended opening act in a new Mideast conflict.
On a related topic, my Israeli contacts are quite concerned that part of any insidious plot might involve an attempt to trap US forces behind enemy lines. They say it is more than dangerous for American leaders to be considering using Pakistan as a military staging area, since the government in Islamabad has been the main sponsor of the radical Taliban movement. Even if Pakistani leaders are sincere in offering help to President Bushâ€”which my sources doubtâ€”they could be quickly overthrown in the midst of the crisis by anti-American forces.
"It would be like Somalia all over again, except this time tens of thousands of American troops could become sudden targets for attack," said one contact. He added that the "most dangerous part of the world at present stretches from Iraq and Iran through Afghanistan, Pakistan and into northern India," warning that the US must proceed very cautiously lest it "find itself stuck in a hell hole that would make Viet Nam look like a cake walk by comparison."
DAVID DOLAN is a Jerusalem-based author and journalist. He has written the monthly Israel News Digest for CHRISTIAN FRIENDS OF ISRAEL since 1986. His new book ISRAEL IN CRISIS: WHAT LIES AHEAD? and his previous books ISRAEL AT THE CROSSROADS and THE END OF DAYS may be ordered by phoning 888-890-6938 in North America, by e mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by visiting his web site at www.ddolan.com