Terrorism: September 19, 2001


The Battlefield Countries- The war on terrorism is going to be fought most dangerously in Moslem nations containing populations with many pro-Bin Laden people. Rounding up suspected terrorists in non-Moslem countries is relatively risk free, even when the terrorists are living in Moslem neighborhoods. But Moslem nations are less stable and often the majority of the people are not happy with their own government. Bin Ladens principal grievance is not the United States, but the corrupt rulers of Moslem nations. Countries like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, Israel, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Algeria, and Iraq will be dangerous, diplomatically and militarily, to root out terrorists. But each of these nations is a special case because of local conditions.

Egypt is seen, in the Islamic world as the senior state, if only because of its large population and ancient civilization. But Egypt has made a difficult transition to democracy and economic prosperity. Corruption and poverty are found in great abundance. This produces thousands of recruits for terrorist organizations. The government has been strong enough to fight the local terrorists to a standstill. But as more graduates of the Bin Laden training camps come in, with more effective terror techniques, money and weapons, the terrorists are liable to become more of a threat once more. Egypt would like some help in dealing with its terrorists, but accepting American aid against anti-government terrorists is politically risky. The population is inflamed over the year long battle between Palestinian militants and the Israelis. America is seen as Israels ally. Egypt wants to join the war on terrorism, but not at the cost of inflaming a revolution against the government. The Egyptians would prefer that we just get rid of the Bin Laden organization outside of Egypt and provide very discreet assistance inside of Egypt. This situation is typical of many Moslem nations under attack by Bin Laden associates.

Saudi Arabia is, ironically, the source of many of the major players in the war on terrorism. Osama Bin Laden comes from here, as do many of his key lieutenants. The Taliban were created by Saudi religious instructors working in Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan. Saudi Arabia also provides many of the volunteers for Bin Ladens training camps, and many of these have gone on to carry out suicide attacks. The royal family is one of Bin Ladens primary targets. Bin Laden wants to turn Saudi Arabia into an Islamic Republic. Naturally, the Al Saud family does not want to be replaced by a committee of Islamic clerics. But at the same time, the Al Sauds have held onto their power by showing remarkable ability to make deals with both religious conservatives and liberal technocrats. But this furious survival dance limits how much they can crack down on terrorists. The government cannot afford to offend too many people. The idea that Western influences are a menace to Islam is popular in Saudi Arabia, so the government has to at least appear to be in tune with current Islamic thinking. If they ignore this, there could be a revolution. There has been terrorism in Saudi Arabia, and the government has responded forcefully. Remember, Saudi Arabia is the only country that still executes criminals with public beheadings. 

Jordan also has its local terrorists, but these groups are very much on the defensive. Jordan has a special problem in that half the population are Palistinians and the Palestinians are most interested in the conflict in Israel, not international terrorism. Moreover, the royal family of Jordan (the Hashimites, who trace their descent from the prophet Mohammed) and are very capable. The current king, Abdullah (who has an American step-mother), like his father Hussein, is pro-Western and manages to balance this with the needs of the Bedouins who are his most loyal subjects. While not a police state, the king runs a tight ship. When the Palestinians got out of hand in the 1970s, the Jordanian army (mostly Bedouins) drove out the Palestinian militants with great loss of life. Jordan repaired relations with the Palestinians and has an informal arrangement where by some anti-Israeli activity is allowed as long as there is no unrest in Jordan. Jordanian intelligence agencies have long worked with their counterparts in the West and this will probably continue during the war on terrorism.

Syria has long been a sanctuary for terrorists, mainly as part of it's support for Palestinians and it's ally Iran. This terrorism support has long a part of Syrian foreign policy. Syria also controls most of Lebanon, where many Iranian supported terrorist groups have their bases. In the last ten years, Syria has tried to pull back from it's terrorist supports, mainly because the demise of the Soviet Union has removed financial and political support for the Syrian dictatorship. Since Syria is a police state, there are no terrorist groups that are any threat to the government. Syria has agreed to join the war on terrorism, but it's uncertain if this pledge will have any tangible results.

To be continued tomorrow.


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