The world press on the new wave of terrorism

Asia Times predicts that the next attack will be in Europe. Plus reports from Israel, Spain, Egypt, Mexico and the U.K.

Published May 20, 2003 9:29PM (EDT)

Hong Kong, Syed Saleem Shahzad in Asia Times

With local funds, local teams and local agendas, a limited war on a worldwide scale is being waged against the United States and its allies by groups that have distanced themselves from Osama bin Laden's International Islamic Front (IIF) so as to act independently.

The suicide attacks in Casablanca in Morocco on the night of May 16 that claimed 41 lives are the latest manifestation of this...

The U.S.-led invasion of Iraq created the ideal conditions for the IIF to flourish, and it rode the wave of anti-U.S. sentiment in the Muslim world to draw more members. But in the process the organization has undergone a transformation. Al-Qaida is no longer a coalition of different jihadi bodies. It is an independent organization that is planning a major strike on targets within the U.S. All the other jihadi bodies, including the Jamaat al-Jihad and the Jama-i-Islamia (or Gama-i-Islamya) are now autonomous and identify their own targets, raise their own funds, recruit and select their own teams for attacks. Even if al-Qaida members happen to be in a particular country where an attack is planned, they will submit to the locals and not attempt to create a new al-Qaida cell.

This restructuring took final shape as soon as the U.S. war on Iraq was over. The first country where this took effect was Afghanistan, where effectively al-Qaida no longer exists. The Taliban, al-Qaida, the Hezb-i-Islami led by Gulbuddin Hikmatyar and other anti-U.S. mujahideen commanders have now restructured into a new outfit called Saiful Muslameen (Sword of Muslims). The command structure is entirely local, and all foreigners are now fighting along with their Afghan commanders.

According to intelligence sources, the Mujahideen Jazeratul Arab, which recently has threatened to strike U.S. interests in the Middle East, comprises a few dozen Arab fighters who fought in Afghanistan during the resistance against the Soviets. They do not have any direct association with bin Laden's IIF network. This group and others like it have emerged recently as a direct result of the U.S. action against Iraq.

In the past week there have been the major attacks in Morocco and Saudi Arabia, as well as more symbolic attacks on 21 foreign-owned petrol stations in the Pakistani port city of Karachi.

These attacks have been carried out by unknown local groups. Now, intelligence sources have indicated to Asia Times Online that the next targets could be in Europe, and soon.

Mexico, Editorial in El Universal

It must be pointed out that, notwithstanding all of the repressive measures, [and] the annihilation of presumed terrorists ... there is no possible defense against suicide attacks. Consider, as primary example, how aside from all the measures carried out by the Israeli army to avert Palestinian suicide attacks, they are repeatedly and inevitably carried out in the Jewish cities. Moreover, it appears that this verity has not sunk in for the U.S. and Israeli governments, who insist on combating the terrorists while remaining unconcerned with knowing or attacking the causes of the terrorists' actions.

And worse yet: Washington and Tel Aviv don't appear to realize that the measures they've adopted to fight terror are not only ineffective, but are counterproductive; they stir up hatred and the desire for revenge among those who suffer indiscriminately from the effects of the very anti-terror strategies themselves.

The world is confronting a classic vicious cycle: Terrorist acts give rise to bloody repression in Muslim countries, and to the trampling of democratic freedoms in Western nations, which sparks new and deadlier terrorist attacks, and this leads to increasingly severe measures of repression and the further suffocation of democracy.

With the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, a solution doesn't seem out of reach. It would be enough to quell the escalation of violence if Tel Aviv were to do its part to fulfill the multiple U.N. resolutions orchestrating the withdrawal of the army and the settlements from the Palestinian territories occupied illegally since 1967. The alternative to this potential solution is truly infernal: that the Jewish and Palestinian societies continue suffering for years or decades. And that the world remains witness to the agonizing phenomenon of parents continuing to bury their children in the so-called Holy Land.

In terms of al-Qaida, the solution will undoubtedly be more difficult and prolonged, but any path forward looks better than the current Washington strategy of military strikes, the destruction of countries, the deaths of innocents, the restriction of liberties, and inadequate results in the fight against terror...

Israel, Danny Rubinstein in Haaretz

Based on what has been happening lately in the West Bank and Gaza, it's apparent that one must get used to the idea that the Israeli regime in the territories, in its current form, is becoming permanent. The elements are familiar: The Israel Defense Forces have taken the place of the Palestinian security services, which the army obliterated in the West Bank and partially destroyed in Gaza.

Palestinian cities, towns, and villages are under various forms of siege ("closure" in the official terminology), with severe limitations on freedom of movement for the residents, and the Palestinian Authority's institutions and services are barely able to function. Last year's Operation Defensive Shield practically destroyed the sovereign existence of Area A, which had been under full Palestinian control in the West Bank. In recent months, Gaza's Area A has been going through a similar process of elimination.

From several perspectives, the worse things have become for the Palestinian residents of the territories, the better things have become for the settlers. Though settlers are targets for unceasing Palestinian attacks, and settlers have left some places, the overall framework of Jewish settlement in the West Bank continues to develop apace...

The Defense Ministry's civil administration, which in the past handled all matters in the territories, has become an instrument to extend Israeli control over about half the West Bank.

The most tangible example of this situation is the outposts. In recent years, the 125 Jewish settlements have added another 105 outposts...

The outposts, which are an expression of Israel's lengthening grasp over everywhere possible in the West Bank, have become a symbol of settler power and of the power of their representatives in the Israeli government. The question of the legality of one or another settlement is irrelevant because the authority and the power to decide whether they are legal or not is either directly or indirectly in the hands of the settlers.

This new Israeli reality in the territories is first of all the result of the Israeli government and apparently most of the Jewish public having lost faith in the Palestinian Authority and its institutions...

No less important is the fact that Ariel Sharon and a majority of his ministers are completely in thrall to the political and ideological belief (and not simply the security concept) that there must be full Israel control over nearly all of the western bank of the Jordan River.

United Kingdom, James Rodgers in BBC News

"These attacks will continue in all the territories of 1948 and 1967, and we will not stop attacking the Zionist Jewish people as long as any of them remain in our land."

The words come from a statement issued on Monday morning by the armed wing of the militant group Hamas.

Hamas is prominent among the Palestinian groups who have refused to have anything to do with the latest plan for peace in the Middle East --the so-called roadmap...

The Palestinian Authority, under the new Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, more commonly known as Abu Mazen, has accepted the roadmap.

The plan speaks of "a permanent two-state solution", of "an independent, democratic and viable Palestinian state living side-by-side in peace and security with Israel".

That is what Hamas, and other militant groups like Islamic Jihad, do not agree to.

In a recent interview, one of Hamas' political leaders, Dr Abdel-Aziz Rantissi, explained his movement's position relative to that of the Palestinian Authority.

"What they consider as the far goal for them, we consider as just a stage in our struggle. We believe that we shouldn't give up any part of our land."

Israel has yet to accept the roadmap, saying it has "reservations".

At the weekend, as Abu Mazen met Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, the Hamas suicide bombings continued..

Such attacks are the principal reason given by Israel for its reservations.

Under the terms of the roadmap, the Palestinians must "undertake visible efforts on the ground to arrest, disrupt, and restrain individuals and groups conducting or planning violent attacks on Israelis anywhere."

That means Hamas and the other militant groups.

But as the roadmap was published, and ever since then, Dr Rantissi's line has been clear.

"We will not surrender in front of the aggression of the Israelis. And we said many times that as long as there is occupation, there will be resistance," he insisted...

Not only do they reject the route which the roadmap proposes to take, they do not even see the kind of Palestinian state it is supposed to lead to as a desirable final destination.

Egypt, Khaled Amayreh in Al-Ahram

During his visits to Israel, Jericho, Cairo and Jordan, [U.S. Secretary of State Colin] Powell highlighted the Palestinian government's "obligations" to fight what he termed terrorist organisations while failing to mention Israel's role in ending the conflict. The U.S.'s blatant bias for Israel's right-wing government, which was criticised by Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher, will make it difficult if not impossible for Abu Mazen to do the job expected of him.

First of all, Israeli forces will almost certainly continue killing Palestinians and destroying Palestinian homes and property. With the U.S. presidential elections approaching next year, the Bush administration will be in no position to exert meaningful pressure on Israel to make significant moves to end the crisis, such as withdrawing forces from Palestinian areas to their positions prior to the outbreak of the current Intifada.

In addition, there is a strong element of hypocrisy in the U.S.-Israeli demands of Abu Mazen to take concrete steps to disarm Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

Indeed, it is preposterous to expect Abu Mazen's government to succeed where the mighty Israeli army hasn't despite Israel's use of massive repression and collective punishment. Israel understands this but nevertheless insists that Abu Mazen deliver the impossible...

Hamas and Fatah, the two most popular and powerful political resistance groups operating in the occupied territories, are not leaving things to chance. The two groups are expected to resume discussions soon either in Gaza or Cairo with the sponsorship of the Egyptian government. The talks will likely focus on achieving a cease-fire with the Israeli occupation army.

Hamas will certainly demand, and Fatah is likely to agree, that any cease-fire on the part of the resistance groups would have to be reciprocated by similar Israeli action, including Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian areas and the erstwhile PA-run autonomous enclaves.

This stance is backed by Egypt and tacitly supported by the European Union, as expressed earlier this week by Maher and EU security and foreign policy coordinator, Javier Solana, during their joint press conference in Cairo on 11 May.

If Fatah and Hamas reach such an agreement, the ball will be in Israel's court. This is what many Palestinians hope for.

Israel, Danny Rubinstein in Haaretz

"Our way of dealing with Hamas is not through a civil war, but through persuasion and agreements," Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Sha'ath said yesterday before leaving for Jordan to report to the Jordanian prime minister on the first meeting between Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his Palestinian counterpart, Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen).

Sha'ath's statement is the essence of Abu Mazen's political plan, which was presented to Sharon Saturday night, and previously to U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell.

According to the plan, Abu Mazen is trying to renew talks with Hamas as quickly as possible, to achieve a full cease-fire for a period of a full year.

The talks will be conducted in accordance with the draft cease-fire agreement put together by Egypt's intelligence chief, General Omar Suleiman, who met with the Palestinian factions in Cairo early in the year...

Abu Mazen believes he can get Hamas to agree to a cease-fire in response to an Israeli undertaking to stop its raids and targetted killings. Sources close to the Palestinian prime minister said yesterday that as long as the Israel Defense Forces continued operations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the Palestinian government would be unable to begin talks with Hamas because the perpetrators of the terror attacks enjoyed much prestige in the Palestinian street, which regards them as trying to protect their people...

Abu Mazen also believes that improved living conditions in the territories will encourage the Palestinian public that opposes the terror attacks, and contribute to an atmosphere that will enable a campaign against those who wish to continue the armed struggle against Israel.

According to assessments voiced by Palestinian security officials, including Mohammed Dahlan, PA minister in charge of security affairs, it will take a year of calm for the Palestinian security establishment to begin functioning properly and be able to take action against groups of Hamas activists or other organizations that try to continue terrorism. But given the current situation, the Palestinian officials do not believe they have the power to forcibly control terror activists.

Spain, Editorial in El Pais

Once again a wave of violence is derailing hopes of initiating a new peace process between the Israelis and Palestinians. The deadly suicide attack yesterday in Jerusalem ... has given Ariel Sharon an excuse to postpone his trip to Washington. He knows that Bush will pressure him to accept, at least in the public view, the road map toward a two-state solution by 2005. Up to this point, Sharon has resisted the Quartet's plan, which the Palestinian Authority indeed has made its own, and has demanded preliminary changes in its scope.

This, on the eve of the first meeting since September of 2000 between an Israeli prime minister and the Palestinian Authority, represented by its new prime minister, Abu Mazen. It was a political victory for Sharon and a blow to Mazen ... Mazen, according to an Israeli report, condemned the [recent] attacks, calling for "moderation" in the Israeli response, and agreeing "that to put an end to terrorism is the first step toward peace."

In theory it is the first step, and the road map calls for, at the very least, clear efforts in that direction. But in practice it's likely to be extremely difficult to achieve. And Sharon's demands put the key to the negotiations in the hands of the Palestinian terrorists, especially the suicide bombers who fortify themselves with edicts that defy all reason. Unfortunately, Sharon presently has these terrorists as his best allies against a peace that he does not want.

Most likely only the United States, after coming together with the E.U. regarding the plight of the Palestinians, would be able to pressure Sharon and move the process forward. To play this out, it will have to wait for a future Sharon visit to Washington, which the terrorists will continue to help delay and undermine.

By Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

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