US President George W. Bush arrived in Israel at the start of an eight-day tour of the Middle East at an interesting moment. In the lead-up to his trip, enemy forces, of both the terrorist and statxe variety, clarified their strategic outlook and the scope of their ambitions. Unfortunately, the president seems not to have noticed.
For the past several weeks, the leaders of the global jihad and their state sponsors in Syria and Iran have escalated their rhetorical and military attacks against Israel and the US. Osama bin Laden, his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri and his American lackey Adam Gadahn all issued video and audio appeals on the eve of Bush's trip. Their messages were devoted mainly to the campaigns against US forces in Iraq and against Israel. Bin Laden labeled Iraqi opponents of al-Qaida in Iraq apostates and called for Iraqis to rally around his allied forces. Gadahn called for Bush's assassination. All three men called for Israel's annihilation and for the unification of the forces of global jihad.
Then there is the al-Qaida affiliate Fatah al-Islam. Fatah al-Islam is considered a creation of Syrian intelligence. It is led by Shaker al-Absi, a Palestinian and a former member of the Syrian military. Syrian intelligence dispatched Absi to Lebanon last year to launch a campaign against the Lebanese military. Under his command, Fatah al-Islam took over the Nahr el-Bared Palestinian refugee camp where it pinned down the Lebanese Army for four months before being overrun.
Despite assertions by the Lebanese military that Absi had been killed, his body was never found. This week, ahead of Bush's trip, Absi surfaced alive with a videotape attacking the Lebanese army, calling for a jihadist takeover of the Levant and announcing his allegiance to Osama bin Laden.
Western intelligence agencies have claimed that he is currently operating from Syria. Jihadist Web sites claim that Absi has based himself in northern Iraq. There, they reported that he is combining forces with al-Qaida in Iraq.
Whether he is in Iraq or Syria, allegations that he is collaborating with al-Qaida terrorists in Iraq make sense given that Absi was formerly allied with Abu Musab Zarkawi, who led al-Qaida forces in Iraq until he was killed by US forces in June 2006.
Absi's Syrian-supported operations have also extended to Gaza. Over the past several months, Gazan terror cadres claiming membership in Fatah al-Islam have been actively involved in recruitment and propaganda activities. Last month, the organization in Gaza claimed it fired missiles at southern Israel.
Absi's videotaped message was followed by Monday night's Katyusha attack on the Galilee and Tuesday's roadside bombing of UNIFIL forces near Sidon. When seen as component parts of a larger whole, it is clear that Fatah al-Islam's various groupings are acting to unify al-Qaida forces in Iraq, Gaza and Lebanon under one banner.
Like al-Qaida, Hamas too spent the period leading up to Bush's visit escalating both its missile offensive against southern Israel and its anti-Israel and anti-American rhetoric. The massive anti-American protests in Gaza on Wednesday were followed by an RPG attack against an American school in northern Gaza early Thursday morning. Moreover, Bush's visit was greeted by a ferocious shelling of southern Israel with rockets and mortars.
FOR ITS part, the Palestinian Authority government led by Mahmoud Abbas stepped up its own anti-Israel propaganda drive in December. According to a Palestinian Media Watch report, Abbas's television station intensified its rhetoric calling for the destruction of Israel by advocating the "liberation" of Haifa, Tiberias, Acre and Tel Aviv. Then too, in his press conference with Bush, Abbas restated his hope of renewing negotiations with Hamas over control of Gaza.
Noting that his government spends 59 percent of its Israeli- and internationally-funded budget in Gaza, Abbas stated that if Hamas were to agree to roll back its control over Gaza, "recognize international legitimacy, all international legitimacy, and… recognize the Arab Initiative, as well… we will have another talk."
Then too, Fatah's own terrorist forces in Judea and Samaria have not ceased their efforts to join their Gazan and Lebanese counterparts in their missile war against Israel. Last week's major IDF operation in Nablus was directed against Fatah terror squads which had begun producing rockets to attack central Israel.
With Bush's arrival in Israel on Wednesday, the Sunni terrorist groups' Shi'ite counterparts launched their own rhetorical attacks against the US and Israel. Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah gave a televised speech excoriating Bush for his support and recognition of Israel. Against the backdrop of "Death to America and Israel" chants from the crowd, Nasrallah intoned, "Bush is a faker, who fails to protect the Arabs from the real murderer and instead argues that he wishes to defend them from a fictitious enemy. He is attempting to convince our Arab and Muslim people of a bogus danger. It's a deception."
Nasrallah's Iraqi counterpart Muqtada el-Sadr made a call on Wednesday for Arab leaders to boycott Bush. Sadr condemned Bush and the US stating, "You brought the wars and you can't bring peace. . . . Get out of our land and you will be safe from us." Addressing Arab leaders, Sadr said, "Don't be partners responsible for the blood of your own people. If you will accept his visit, then you are collaborating with him on the blood of your brothers in Palestine, Iraq and others."
The jihadists' state sponsors – Syria and Iran – also took pains to demonstrate their anti-American and anti-Israel animus. As Bush landed in Israel, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's representative Ali Larijani was rounding off a week-long official visit to Syria. There he met with Syrian dictator Bashar Assad and reasserted Iran's strategic alliance with Syria. He also met with representatives of Iran's terrorist and political proxies headquartered in Syria and Lebanon. Larijani held talks with the heads of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other Palestinian groups as well as representatives of Hizbullah and the Lebanese Shiite Amal militia and political party.
Finally, a week after US military spokesmen in Iraq released contradictory statements about Iran's continued support for the insurgency in the country, Iranian forces directly challenged US naval forces in the Straits of Hormuz. Although US leaders angrily referred to the Iranian operation as a dangerous provocation, a more constructive way to view the Iranian attack on US naval ships is as a probe.
The Iranians probed both the US's defenses and its willingness to take action against Iranian aggression. Whereas the ships apparently demonstrated their readiness to engage, in their decision not to open fire on the Iranian boats, they signaled clearly that the US is unwilling to actually fight Iran.
Today in Iraq US forces are concentrating their efforts not on Iranian proxies but on Syrian-supported al-Qaida in Iraq units and cells. After flushing al-Qaida forces out of their former sanctuaries and operating bases in Anbar Province and Baghdad, Tuesday US forces mounted a major offensive against al-Qaida in its current operational hub in Diyala province. Apparently tipped off in advance of the attack, most of the terror operatives reportedly fled the area ahead of the US offensive after laying roadside bombs and booby traps in the towns they abandoned.
Rather than contend with the destructive power and influence of Iranian-backed Shi'ite militias in southern Iraq to US strategic interests, US military commanders and US diplomatic chiefs in Iraq brush them off as an internal Iraqi affair. US diplomats maintain open relations with Sadr's representati
ves in Baghdad in spite of his overt incitement against the US and its efforts in Iraq.
And after the confrontation between the US navy and Iranian forces in the Straits of Hormuz, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari announced that the US would soon begin a fourth round of talks with Iran about the situation in Iraq. Zebari announced that these talks – the most intensive to date – will include discussions of how to control militias, how to cooperate in fighting militant networks and monitor the border and how to prevent the flow of weapons, money and fighters through Iraq's borders. Given Iran's bellicosity in threatening US naval ships in one of the most vital waterways in the world, it is hard to see why the US would believe that Iranian cooperation in policing and defeating its own proxy forces in Iraq would advance US interests in the country or in the larger war.
BUSH STATED that he has come to the Middle East to promote peace between Israel and the Palestinians and to ensure US allies that the US is committed to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Yet on both scores US actions do not accord with the president's message.
On the Palestinian front, his calls for Israeli concessions to the Palestinians and for Palestinian statehood make little sense given the central role that Palestinians play in the global jihad. Bush repeatedly stated that he will not support a Palestinian state that will serve as a base for terror operations against Israel. And yet, under the current circumstances when all Palestinian forces – from Fatah to Hamas to al-Qaida – are committed to Israel's violent destruction, there is no chance that a Palestinian state will be anything other than a base for terrorist attacks and not only against Israel.
Even if Israel were to conclude an agreement with Abbas that sets out the contours of a Palestinian state in the next year, such an agreement would not engender peace. Given the current jihadist state of Palestinian society as a whole, such an agreement would simply serve to empower jihadists still more.
As to Iran, Bush's decision to visit the Middle East was made immediately after the National Intelligence Estimate effectively removed his most potent threat against Iran's nuclear ambitions. The thought was that by visiting the region, Bush would be able to convince US Middle East allies that America is still serious about thwarting Iran's nuclear and regional ambitions despite the NIE.
Unfortunately, the US navy's refusal to open fire on the Iranian boats in the Straits of Hormuz and America's continued refusal to combat Iranian-backed Shi'ite militias in Iraq send the opposite message.
In their statements and actions in the run-up to Bush's visit, jihadist groups and state sponsors made clear that they are serious about fighting their war for regional and indeed global domination. Had Bush acknowledged their plans and expressed a strategic plan for countering their actions and intentions, his visit here could have gone a long way towards cementing alliances to combat and defeat them. Unfortunately, both Bush's statements and US actions on the ground give the jihadists every reason to believe that they will be able to continue their war without fear of America.
Originally published in the Jerusalem Post.