|No. 465 November 2001
Accurately Assessing Global Changes
In Israel, ongoing contingency planning in the military, political, economic, and information fields is particularly essential now, especially in light of the structural global changes that may occur after the September 11th terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Such evaluations are done elsewhere for other reasons, such as by stock market analysts, and for those who draw accurate operating conclusions the rewards are very significant. In politics, it is even more difficult to imagine and rank potential shifts. Those who continually train themselves intellectually, however, may do better than others, both in defining policies and in suggesting rapid reactions to the unforeseen.
For Israel’s future, we must try to understand as best we can what may happen in the changing global environment and evaluate what Israel should do, beginning with a reorientation of Israel’s information policy. It is first necessary to try to identify structural rather than temporary changes, in order to understand which motifs are recurring and getting stronger and which are fading away.
Analysts predict a variety of structural developments in the world. Some expect radical changes in Western attitudes on such issues as civil liberties, energy policy, aid to developing countries, and the way America will present itself to the developing world.
Three long-term trends appear probable:
A Heightened Sense of Vulnerability
Western society has made major efforts since World War II to decrease the overall vulnerability of its citizens. When the West has been involved in armed conflicts, preventing casualties among its own soldiers has been a very high priority. On an individual plane, this includes financial coverage for unemployment, health problems, and old age.
However, the attack on the U.S. has made it clear to the general public that, even in rich societies, considerable unforeseen vulnerability exists. One economic expression of this is the fact that certain terrorism hazards are no longer insurable with private companies. Previously, vulnerability was mainly a concern of professional risk experts. After September 11th, the use of the words “vulnerability” and “risk” has multiplied in the general media.
This does not necessarily mean that their assessments are rational. In the 1980s Mary Douglas and Aaron Wildavsky1 had suggested that the perception of risk is determined culturally and socially: “different people worry about different risks — war, pollution, employment, inflation.” After the recent terrorist attacks, Netscape polled its users, asking what scared them the most: anthrax, suicide bombers, hijackings, or nuclear bombs? If the issue were real risks rather than perceptions, car accidents should have been high on this list.2
The attack on America has brought two motifs to the forefront of public perception: one is the fear of terrorism; the other is a general concern that each of us is more insecure than formerly thought. This seems all the more so as we see how a few anonymous, well-organized people with evil intentions can change the world, not only directly but also indirectly through widespread economic after-effects. Previously, it was believed that only individuals at the top of power pyramids could have a worldwide impact.
Is violent terrorism the main real threat to the well-being of Western society? Not necessarily. Over the years, two structural elements have been frequently mentioned as potential sources of the West’s general vulnerability: dependence on oil, to a large extent imported from undemocratic countries, and the possibility of a meltdown of the global financial system.
It is now emerging that Bin Laden’s ideas are shared by substantial segments of the population of Muslim, oil-producing countries such as Saudi Arabia.3 If the governments of these countries are overthrown, the flow of oil may be interrupted for some time.
When seeking to understand global and individual economic risks, it is also useful to consider the potential vulnerability of worldwide computer systems. In a society which is nearly cashless, one’s deposits, debentures, shares, and other financial instruments are nothing but an electronic inscription on a computer chip. One’s possessions may be wiped out by the unintentional mistake of a bank clerk, an attack by a computer terrorist, or a computer breakdown.4
Cyber-security expert Terry Benzel told a Congressional committee that the possibilities are “beyond frightening….What if the terrorists were also able to impact our communications system, thus hampering the rescue and recovery efforts? What if the attackers were able to compromise systems monitoring the water supply for Manhattan? What if power to parts of the Northeast corridor could have been brought down through a cyber-attack on key systems? We must prepare now to prevent this from happening.”5
In early summer 1997, the U.S. military conducted a threat-assessment exercise to test the vulnerability of “borderless cyber geography.” The results confirmed that in a software-driven world, an enemy need not invade the territory, or the air over the territory, of a country in order to damage that country’s resources.6
Indeed, what if, instead of training suicide murderers, Bin Laden had spent the last ten years focusing on cyber-terrorism and preparing for attacks on major computer systems of a variety of strategic services?
Greater Attention to the Risks of Terrorism
The West now perceives terrorism as a much greater risk than it did before September 11th, and there is enhanced awareness that terrorism may come in many forms. For example, bio-terrorism — the spreading of viruses and bacteria — and environmental terrorism — the diffusion of lethal gases — are matters of serious concern, as the U.S. seeks to cope with an attack of anthrax.
The media recall how in 1995 the Aum Shinri Kyo sect unleashed nerve gas in a Tokyo subway station, killing a dozen people and injuring 5,000, with experts warning that Japanese cities “are as vulnerable today as they were then.”7 In the first large-scale use of germs by terrorists in the U.S., a long-forgotten incident, in 1984, followers of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh spread salmonella in Oregon salad bars, poisoning 751 people.8
The self-censure of media is a new question that arises in the wake of a heightened awareness of the threat of terror, since the disclosure of details of security defects can enable even a small group of inexperienced terrorists to cause serious harm. For instance, the New York Times reported that the Environmental Protection Agency “has fallen years behind its timetable for safeguarding the nation’s water supply against a possible terrorist attack.”9
Similarly, the Los Angeles Times published a detailed article with the subtitle: “Security experts say composite- and ceramic-bladed knives which are as sharp and strong as normal metal knives, are difficult to detect by airport screeners.” The article explains that such knives can be bought openly and legally through “retail stores, mail order catalogs and on the Internet.”10 Another article reports that “in 1950…a Navy vessel sprayed bacteria along two miles of the San Francisco coast. Thanks to a gentle wind, the bacteria blanketed the sky during one test. Had a similar but lethal bacteria been sprayed, more than 60% of residents would have been infected, according to William Patrick III, a former manager of Army bio-weapons programs.”11
Yet another article tells us that some nuclear plants in California have not been built to withstand the impact of crashing aircraft.12 This drew a response from a reader a few days later, which the paper also published: “Suddenly it dawned on me how incredibly easy it would be for two or three suicidal 18-wheelers heading south on Highway 5 to pull over to the side of the freeway (as many of them do), exactly opposite the two domes of the nuclear reactors, only 50 or 60 yards from them, and within 10 to 20 seconds detonate themselves!” The reader posits that, even if radiation leakage were kept to a minimum, southern California “would empty itself.”13
A French newspaper reported that uranium and plutonium have fallen into the hands of individuals in recent years. For instance, 920 grams of enriched uranium were seized last year at the Georgian border with Turkey. The paper asked an executive of the International Atomic Energy Agency what would happen if one took a suitcase full of explosives and some uranium, and left it in a major train station at rush-hour. He answered that it would depend on how enriched the uranium was and how much the explosive managed to disperse it. The paper added that it is usually difficult to lay one’s hands on radioactive materials. One French expert points out, however, that this may be true for uranium and plutonium, but that radioactive cobalt, cesium, or strontium in hospitals and various industries are found in many places that are much less guarded.14
The mayor of the small Dutch town of Bedum says that research he carried out last year showed that if a passing chlorine train had a disaster — if one 50-ton car leaked rapidly — this could potentially mean 5,000 deaths and 17,000 injured. The trains presently travel no faster than 10-15 kmph, which reduces the involuntary risk but increases the chances of a terrorist attack. Experts estimate that the killing of 5,000 people in New York — and direct economic damage of over $100 billion15 — required an investment of about $500,000 by al-Qaida. In the case of Bedum, the investment might be much smaller for the same number of deaths.
Dutch police have requested the removal of a page from a Dutch web site that indicates where one can acquire the equipment and cultures for cultivating anthrax.16 In the United States, lists of factories which work with hazardous products have been taken off the Internet, precisely in order not to provide potential terrorists with information. These include the “national mapping system for a variety of pipelines…a report on the dangers of chemical plant terrorism…[and] information on risk-management programs, which inform communities of dangers from 15,000 chemical plants and other industrial facilities nationwide.”17
A 1982 U.S. Department of Energy report that identified in great detail the vulnerability of various American nuclear plants to jetliner crashes has been removed from the public reading room of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. It had included a chart that identified the speeds at which a jetliner would begin to penetrate the primary containment wall and interior structure of a nuclear reactor.18
Similarly, the World Federation for Culture Collections, a global organization of 472 germ banks in 62 countries, has removed data on anthrax from its web site.19
The present anthrax terrorism has focused mainly on well-known institutions and personalities, in order to cause fear and raise consciousness. However, it may develop more randomly and thus multiply the number of people who must seek protection. Such a staggered approach was applied, for instance, by the Italian Red Brigades in their shooting attacks.20
The West’s Perception of Islam and Saudi Arabia
The third structural change involves the increased attention to Islam and Muslim societies. Their profile in the West has been raised, scrutiny has increased, and much of what is published shows their remoteness from democratic culture.
American booksellers report a major boost in sales of books about Islam, while “around the country, colleges are expanding classes on the Middle East, terrorism and Islam to meet the demands of students trying to make sense of the terrorist attacks.”21
Issues frequently discussed in the media are the degree of Islam’s tolerance of outsiders, the differences in worldview between fundamentalists and moderates, the nature of holy war, and religious scholars’ edicts of death against people who live in other jurisdictions, of whom the edict against writer Salman Rushdie is the best known.
Sandra Mackey spent four years as an underground journalist in Saudi Arabia in the 1980s for the Christian Science Monitor: “The only way I gained entrance into Saudi Arabia was as a dependent of my physician husband….Through it all I guarded my anonymity for one reason only: to stay out of jail…only a few trusted Western friends in Saudi Arabia knew that I was a writer. They took my rough drafts to the desert to burn, carried copy out of the country when they went on vacation, and stored my notes when I had reason to believe that the secret police might be closing in.”22
Since September 11th, more articles on Muslim states have appeared in the Western press than in the entire previous year. The starting-point of general knowledge is very low. “Western politicians, who two months ago didn’t know a Pashtun tribesman from an Uzbek warlord, are now feverishly searching for a Pashtun alternative to Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers.”23 Indeed, before Ayatollah Khomeini came to power in Iran in 1979, few people had heard about Shi’ism. Before September 11th, it was mainly experts who knew about Wahhabism, an eighteenth-century group of fanatic Sunni Muslims that originated in Saudi Arabia. Now a flood of articles on the subject is appearing.
“Ibn Abdul Wahhab (1703-92), the founder of totalitarian Islam, was born…in the part of Arabia…where Riyadh is today…his cult was associated with the mass murder of all who opposed it. For example, the Wahhabis fell upon the city of Qarbala in 1801 and killed 2,000 ordinary citizens in the streets and markets.”24 Qarbala is one of the holy cites of Shi’ite Islam in Iraq, and early Wahhabism sought to eradicate anything that deviated from its puritanical interpretation of Islam.
Wahhabism’s ideas have spread throughout the Muslim world. “Bin Laden is a Wahhabi. So are the suicide bombers in Israel. So are his Egyptian allies, who exulted as they stabbed foreign tourists to death at Luxor not many years ago, bathing in blood up to their elbows and emitting blasphemous cries of ecstasy. So are the Algerian Islamist terrorists whose contribution to the purification of the world consisted of murdering people for such sins as running a movie projector or reading secular newspapers. So are the Taliban-style guerillas in Kashmir who murder Hindus.”25 Russian periodicals note that the Wahhabis have reached the Volga River; hundreds of Wahhabi religious centers are located in Dagestan.26
The Saudi royal family, in fact, made a pact with its Wahhabi clergy for mutual support, beginning with the first Saudi state in the eighteenth century. The Saudis backed Wahhabism while the Wahhabi clergy provided the Saudis with legitimacy. This pact was renewed by the founder of modern Saudi Arabia, King Abd al-Aziz ibn Saud (1902-53). As a result, the Saudi royal family has allocated to its Wahhabi clergy enormous subsidies for spreading its doctrine worldwide, with an estimated annual budget of approximately $10 billion.27 Sheikh Hisham Kabbani, of the Islamic Supreme Council of America, warned in 1999 that 80 percent of the mosques in the U.S., alone, are now under Wahhabi influence.28
Given the fact that 15 out of the 19 hijackers in the U.S. were Saudi nationals, Riyadh has come under greater scrutiny. Saudi Arabia’s internal faults are being repeatedly analyzed in the U.S. press: the explosives in the bombing of the USS Cole came from Jizan in southwest Saudi Arabia; Riyadh blocked the FBI’s investigation of the 1996 terrorist bombing at al-Khobar that killed 19 American servicemen; and the Saudis refused a U.S. request in 1995 to hold Imad Mughniyah, Hizbullah’s international terrorist mastermind, as he stopped over in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.”29
As a result of these reports, the Saudis are increasingly on the defensive. Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, whose $10 million check was refused by Mayor Giuliani because he linked the Israel-Palestinian conflict to the attack on America, felt a specific need to state that Saudi Wahhabism is different from Bin Laden’s approach.30
Militant Islam in Europe
Today approximately 12.5 million Muslims live in Western Europe,31 and they are receiving much more scrutiny. A few weeks after the terrorist attack in New York and Washington, an imam delivered a sermon in the mosque in Hamburg, Germany, saying: “‘God, we implore You to destroy the United States of America.’ Not a soul flinched. The congregation recited in unison, ‘Amen.'”32
A month after the attack on the U.S., the German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung published a detailed review of the extremist Turkish IGMG,33 which claims to have 500 branches in Germany and 214 in the Benelux, France, Scandinavia, Austria, and Switzerland. The German security services think that the IGMG might be the European arm of the religious extremist Turkish Virtue party, which is forbidden in Turkey. Its publications indicate that it wants to erect an Islamic state in Europe, including statements such as “We promise that we…will fight for the triumph of the Islamic revolution” and “will not accept outside the Koran any system or government.” Under present German law, even more extreme Moslem organizations operating in Germany such as Dschihad, Hamas, and Kalifatstaat (the state of the caliphs) cannot be outlawed.34
The first important Muslim leader in Italy to make statements in favor of Bin Laden was the imam of Turin, Bouriq Bouchta. The daily La Repubblica reported that Nabil Bayoumi, the director of the Islamic center at a mosque in Bologna, had stated: “I do not know who has destroyed the twin towers. I think it must have been the American right, which is using Bin Laden as a front. Bin Laden is not dangerous. The danger is American. But there will come a day of justice when every man will find himself before God without flag or nationality. Bush will have the hell he merits.”35
More or less the same was said in interviews by several other Muslim religious leaders in Italy such as Mohammed Hannon, president of the Islamic community of Genoa; the imam of the Islamic community of southern Italy, Abdullah Amar; and Abdurahman Auchi, the imam of Bari. A tape that was allegedly sold until a few months ago at the Milan Islamic Cultural Center and Mosque, which has been described by the U.S. government as “the main al-Qaida station house in Europe,” features an unidentified sheikh stating that “terrorism against the enemies of God is an obligation for Islam.”36
A London-based Islamic grouping has called the murder of Prime Minister Blair justified.37 Outside the great Regent’s Park mosque in London, a man harangued the people coming out: “‘USA go to hell. Great Britain go to hell. Bin Laden go to war. Bin Laden we want more.’ His shouts are taken up by tens of young people with beards. The speaker shouts ‘jihad, jihad!’ while his followers burn tissues with the colors of the U.S.A. and Great Britain or spit on the pictures of Muslim leaders who are the accomplices of the West.”38
The web site of the El Tawheed mosque in Amsterdam has published statements such as “The Jews possess the weapon industry and on the other hand they are the ones which make the wars” and “The Jews, the Christians and the Communists…are working together to destroy the Islamic community.” The president of this mosque is also president of a Muslim elementary school.39
According to a Dutch daily, among the more than 25,000 Afghans in The Netherlands are probably a substantial number of war criminals. They include not only Communist military who tortured, but also members of the Hezb-i-Wahdat, a coalition of Shi’ite movements whose routine methods of torture — according to a report of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs — included skinning prisoners alive or forcing them to eat human flesh. A much-used method of torture included forcing an arrested person to kneel, bound, on the street, after which his captors struck nails into his head until he died.40
The Lack of Muslim Introspection and Muslim-Jewish Dialogue
Those who committed the worst hate-crime in modern times on American soil were all Arabs. The lack of introspection on this, and several other highly problematic issues in many Muslim communities, is slowly coming to the fore in the media. Muslims interviewed on television often say that Bin Laden distorts true Islam; however, the pictures of demonstrators in several countries show that many think otherwise. Hamzah Haz, the Vice President of Indonesia — the country with the largest Muslim population in the world — and the leader of its largest Muslim party, said that the suicide attacks could serve “to cleanse the sins of the United States.”41
Extreme views are systematically propagated in many religious schools (madrassas) in Pakistan, where “militant Muslims lecture students that the Unites States is a nation of Christians and Jews who are not after a single terrorist or government but are bent on the worldwide annihilation of Islam.”42
Within the framework of the general Arab effort of delegitimization of Israel and the Jews, one also hears claims that the Jews are behind the terror attacks in the United States. Salim al-Marayati, executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council and a high-profile Arab spokesman in Los Angeles and the United States, interviewed on the Which Way, L.A.? program on September 11th, noted, “If we’re going to look at suspects we should look to the groups that benefit most from these kinds of incidents, and I think we should put the State of Israel on the suspect list because I think this diverts attention from what’s happening in the Palestinian territories so that they can go on with their aggression and occupation and apartheid policies.”43
A month after the attack on the U.S., in Damascus, Syrian Defense Minister Mustafa Tlass blamed the airliner crash at the World Trade Center on the Israeli Mossad, which he claimed had given thousands of Jewish employees working there advance warning not to go to work on that day.44
Last month, Sheik Muhammad al-Gamei’a, the former leader of New York’s Islamic Cultural Center, an important mosque in upper Manhattan, suddenly returned to Egypt and then made a series of anti-Semitic remarks in an Arabic-language interview on a web site that usually carries articles by leading Muslim teachers, many of whom teach at al-Azhar University in Cairo. Al-Gamei’a claimed that “there is proof that Jews were the terrorists because only they had the capability to neutralize the automatic pilot, command the control tower, erase the black boxes, and infiltrate the White House and Pentagon.”45 He further stated: “Muslims do not feel safe even going to the hospitals, because some Jewish doctors in one of the hospitals poisoned sick Muslim children, who then died….You see these people [the Jews] all the time, everywhere, disseminating corruption, heresy, homosexuality, alcoholism, and drugs. [Because of them] there are strip clubs, homosexuals, and lesbians everywhere. They do this to impose their hegemony and colonialism on the world….But Hitler annihilated them because they betrayed him and violated their contract with him.”46
Imam Abu-Namous, al-Gamei’a’s successor, did not repudiate his predecessor’s remarks, but rather excused them. It is important to note that New York’s Islamic Cultural Center used to be involved in interfaith dialogue with American Jews. Salim al-Marayati was also involved in such interfaith groups in Los Angeles with local rabbis. Given the blatantly anti-Jewish stands taken by many Muslim-American leaders, these contacts are likely to be suspended.47
It is rare to hear a voice among Western Muslims like Tarek E. Masoud, a graduate student at Yale University and a devout Muslim. He writes: “Already we can hear rumblings in the Muslim community about the need to keep fighting against profiling, the practice of singling out Arabs and Muslims for increased scrutiny at airports….But Tuesday’s events should have demonstrated the folly of [this] position. How many thousands of lives would have been saved if people like me had been inconvenienced with having our bags searched and being made to answer questions? People say profiling makes them feel like criminals. It does — I know this firsthand. But would that I had been made to feel like a criminal a thousand times than to live to see the grisly handiwork of real criminals in New York and Washington.”48
Fareed Zakaria, a former editor of Foreign Affairs and an Indian-born Muslim, narrows the rage of militant Islam to the Arab world, noting that neither Afghan nor Pakistani Muslims attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, but rather Saudis and Egyptians. He points to the failure of the Arab states in dealing with modernization just as globalization has made the Arab masses aware of the economic success of the West.49
Militant Islam is the answer for many of the Arab world’s youth, who are educated but unemployed, given the present demographic surge in the Middle East, by which population growth has vastly outstripped economic growth in every Arab state. Similarly, Fouad Ajami, a Lebanese Shi’ite scholar living in the United States, has written that the Arab world is “seething with resentments of every kind….A foul wind had been blowing in Arab lands.” Ajami also describes the failure of the Arab state system as the breeding ground for the rage that supports Bin Laden.50
What Should Israel Do?
What should Israel’s position be in the West’s conflict with terrorism and its many supporters? While Israel would prefer not to figure in it at all, Arab and Muslim political and religious leaders often make a point of bringing Israel to center stage, as do Bin Laden and some Western politicians, policy experts, and journalists.
Israel should stay as much as possible away from issues which do not concern it. Israel has, at best, a tertiary role as a source of Muslim rage against the West, yet Israeli spokesmen appearing on network television saying “it’s not us” only draw attention to the possible role of Israel as a source of Muslim anger. In a political election campaign, a candidate falsely charged by his rival with corruption only worsens his situation if he goes on television with the message: “I am not corrupt.” A more successful strategy would involve shifting the spotlight onto his rival’s failures.
Saudi Arabia seems a typical target. Despite President Bush’s claims that he is pleased with the actions of Saudi Arabia, American intelligence and law enforcement specialists claim that “Saudi Arabia — although long considered a crucial ally of the United States — has provided little if any assistance to investigators hunting the friends and finances of Osama Bin Laden and his al-Qaida terror network.”51
Some of the main newspapers of the United States are not buying the “Israel is to blame” line. Thus, a Washington Post editorial on October 11, 2001 concluded: “The largest single ’cause’ of Islamic extremism and terrorism is not Israel, not U.S. policy in Iraq, but the very governments that now purport to support the United States while counseling it to lean on Ariel Sharon and lay off Saddam Hussein.”
The commonly accepted diagnosis in the West of the causes of Muslim rage in the months ahead may have major implications for Israel. If a new conventional wisdom evolves that Israel’s problematic relations with the Palestinians is the source of Islamic anger at the West, then diplomatic pressures on Israel will grow enormously, as Western states establish new policies that seek to prevent what they believe are the “root causes” of terrorism.
Alternatively, if it becomes understood in policy circles that Israel is not the main motivating factor behind the present rage at the West, then other, very different, Western policies may follow. For example, should the diagnosis of this anger lead to the identification of a far more fundamental failure of the Arab states internally, as suggested by Zakaria and Ajami above, then Western policies might begin to focus for the first time on the need for democratization of the Arab world.
Regardless of how Muslim rage is finally diagnosed, Israel should prepare itself for the newly-emerging reality by stepping up its information efforts with respect to the Palestinian issue in order to preempt the possibility of increased diplomatic pressure.
One motif for Israel’s future information policy is that, in the Palestinian world, the difference between “moderates” and fundamentalists is emerging as insignificant. Today, both Hamas and Yasser Arafat’s Fatah organization are directly engaged in terrorism against Israelis. In fact, the distinction between moderates and extremists was overstated many decades ago as well, long before Israel entered the territories.
Haj Amin el-Husseini, the Mufti of Jerusalem, was the leader of the Palestinian extremists before the War of Independence and supported Hitler’s actions against the Jews. For many years, the leader of the “moderates” was Ragheb bey el-Nashashibi, the mayor of Jerusalem. After the 1929 riots in Mandatory Palestine, the non-Jewish French writer Albert Londres asked him why the Arabs had murdered the old pious Jews in Hebron and Safed, with whom they had no quarrel. The mayor answered: “In a way you behave like in a war. You don’t kill what you want. You kill what you find. Next time, they will all be killed, young and old.” Later on, Londres spoke again to the mayor and tested him ironically by saying: “You cannot kill all the Jews. There are 150,000 of them.” Nashashibi answered “in a soft voice, ‘Oh no, it’ll take two days.'”52
The late Faysal al-Husseini, the Palestinian Authority Minister for Jerusalem Affairs who died earlier this year, was considered one of the most moderate of contemporary Palestinian leaders. When visiting in Beirut, however, he said that the Palestinian people are striving toward the strategic goal of a state from the sea to the river. At the beginning of this year, “Salim Za’anun, the Chairman of the Palestine National Council, stated in an official PA newspaper that the PLO Covenant calling for Israel’s destruction was never changed and, hence, remained in force.”53 Thus, in tactics and strategy, the differences between Hamas and the PLO have evaporated.
The U.S. has clearly established an international standard for fighting terrorism. As the war against terrorism develops, it will have to define more detailed basic rules of approach and conduct. One early example of this is that President Bush has frequently mentioned that one must either be in favor of America or against it. The day does not seem far off, in view of the radical expressions of several Israeli Arab parliamentarians in their condemnation of the American attacks, when these questions may be asked of them as well. As events develop, more and better examples will emerge where Israel can tack on its positions to defined American ones.
Similarly, American journalists are now providing many arguments on the Muslim world which enable Israelis to put matters in the Middle East in some perspective, and this phenomenon will strengthen. One minor example from the New York Times illustrates this: “Those we call suicide bombers are called shaheed, or martyrs, which is how bin Laden has urged the entire Muslim world to view 19 hijackers who extinguished more lives in an hour and a half on a golden American morning than all those killed over the years, on both sides, in two intifadas and nearly five dozen suicide bombings launched by Palestinian groups — three times more, in fact.”54
A Changed World Order
One of the most important international developments since September 11th is the decision of the Russian Federation to support the deployment of American forces in Central Asian states that were once part of the Soviet Union, such as Uzbekistan. Over time, this dramatic shift could lead to a substantial American-Russian rapprochement. Should the war against terrorism serve as the highest priority for both countries, American-Russian collaboration could fundamentally alter world politics.
Juxtaposed against the disappointing level of cooperation that the U.S. is receiving from its Arab allies, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, the Central Asian states that are providing military bases may become an attractive alternative to the states of the Arabian Peninsula. Already in 1999, the U.S. removed the Central Asian states from the operational responsibility of the U.S. Pacific Command, that defends America’s Asian interests, and placed them under the responsibility of the U.S. Central Command, dedicated to the defense of the oil resources of the West in the Persian Gulf.
In view of this and the energy resources of the Caspian Sea basin, Central Asia could be significantly upgraded as an American strategic interest, while the less reliable Arab Middle East would be relatively downgraded. The Middle East has about the same amount of oil reserves as the rest of the world combined. Nonetheless, the total of American imports of oil from Central and South America (2,458,000 barrels a day) almost equals its total imports from the Middle East (2,489,000 barrels a day).55 Central Asian energy resources could further reduce American energy dependence on Middle East oil and gas.
European-American relations are already changing in light of the shared mutual threat of militant Islamic terrorism. The American-British alliance remains rock solid; however, new realignments have been particularly noticeable with France and Italy, both less reliable partners for the U.S. With a new Russian-American relationship, the likelihood is reduced that the European Union will be able to emerge as a separate global political force that can maneuver between Washington and Moscow. American-European ties could improve as a result.
An emerging global realignment would also affect the foreign policy calculations of Russia’s former Middle Eastern partners, particularly Libya, Syria, Iraq, and Iran. The U.S. and Iran have been part of a multilateral working-group on the future of Afghanistan at the United Nations since 1997. These contacts could now intensify. Some of these other states might seek to draw closer to the U.S., while others may sense that their freedom of action to challenge American interests has become highly constrained.
Thus, Israeli diplomacy should be alert to these developments and utilize the new alignments to protect Israeli national interests. As noted at the outset of this article, clear-sighted analysis of events, identification of emerging motifs, and integration of these findings in an orderly framework of thought, policies, and actions may enable Israeli planners to improve the nation’s performance in dealing with the new era of global disorder.
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* The author is grateful to Joel Fishman, Dore Gold, Zvi Marom, and Dan Segre for their comments.
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Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld is Chairman of the Steering Committee of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, and is an international consultant specializing in business and environmental strategy to the senior ranks of multinational corporations.
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