Americans this week have been swamped with dire pronouncements by their leaders warning that additional terrorist attacks on US soil are a foregone conclusion. From Vice President Richard Cheney to FBI Director Robert Mueller, Americans this week were told it is only a question of time before they will again experience mass murder similar in scale to the September 11 attacks.
Also this week it surfaced that on March 27, the very day the Arab League convened in Beirut to discuss the much touted Saudi "peace plan," a clandestine conference of leading al-Qaida, Hizbullah, and Hamas operatives took place in the Lebanese capital.
Given this confluence of discoveries and warnings, one could have reasonably expected that the State Department's annual "Patterns of Global Terrorism" report, released on Tuesday, would be a no-holds barred explication of the threats posed by terrorist organizations and their sponsors against which the US is currently at war.
Secretary of State Colin Powell himself gave cause to believe the report would meet this expectation when, in releasing the document, he announced, "This report, mandated by Congress, is the 22nd such annual report to chronicle in grim detail the lethal threat that terrorism casts over the globe."
Sadly, at least with regards to Palestinian terrorism against Israel, the report is a painful disappointment. Far from detailed, and a football field shy of the truth, it paints a muted, almost apologetic picture of Palestinian terrorism. So far from accurate is the version of events that one is given pause to consider whether the State Department is committed to playing a helpful role in winning the war against terrorism.
An examination of the report must first begin with its reporting on terrorist attacks. Its "Chronology of Significant Terrorist Incidents, 2001" lists all terrorist incidents that occurred worldwide during 2001 that the department deems "significant." According to the report, "An International Terrorist Incident is judged significant if it results in loss of life or serious injury to persons, abduction or kidnapping of persons, major property damage, and/or is an act or attempted act that could reasonably be expected to create the conditions noted."
As Aaron Lerner of Independent Media Review Analysis news service notes, the chronology contains only nine incidents of Palestinian terrorism against Israel in all of 2001. It is far from clear how the State Department chose which attacks to mention. Some of the nine took place within Israel's pre-1967 borders, and others took place outside of them. Some were large-scale massacres, while others were isolated drive-by shootings. The most likely explanation is that the State Department considered significant only attacks in which non-Israelis were killed or wounded, as in all but one of the nine, foreign nationals were among the victims.
While not included in the department's own definition, a determination that the only "significant" terrorist incidents are those which involve harm to non-citizens of the state in which the acts are perpetrated could perhaps be defended if it were applied across the board. But going over the list, it is clear that this is not the case. The State Department provides relatively detailed accounts of 37 terrorist incidents in India, none of which involved any non-Indian victims.
Thankfully, the massacres at the Dolphinarium discotheque and Sbarro restaurant make the list. The Dolphinarium massacre apparently warranted note because among the 21 victims was Sergei Pancheskov of Ukraine. Similarly, Sbarro presumably receives notice because among the 15 dead were two American citizens and five members of the Schijveschuurder family, who held dual Israeli-Dutch citizenship (although the State Department mentions only that they were Dutch). Again this is unclear, because the report fails to mention that another victim of the Sbarro attack was a tourist from Brazil.
The Foreign Ministry, which lists victims murdered in terrorist attacks since the start of the Palestinian terrorist war on its Web site, counts 95 terrorist attacks in 2001 that resulted in 191 fatalities. The total death toll from attacks noted by the State Department is 56.
Among the 86 terrorist attacks and 146 victims the State Department deemed insignificant were the assassination of tourism minister Rehavam Ze'evi on October 17; the massacre of 15 (including one Philippine national) on an Egged bus in Haifa on December 2; the murder of 10 Israelis in an attack on a Dan bus outside of Emmanuel on December 12; the March 26 murder of 10-month-old Shalhevet Pass, gunned down by sniper fire while being wheeled in her baby carriage at a playground in Hebron; or the murder of five and wounding of 100 Israelis blown up by a Palestinian terrorist outside a shopping mall in Netanya on May 18 to name just a few examples.
Then there's the problem of characterizing Palestinian terrorism. Although the Aksa Martyrs Brigades made the list of foreign terrorist organizations, the report claims that sources of external aid to the group are unknown. This even though Israel provided documentary evidence to the State Department proving that Yasser Arafat personally authorized payment to the group; that the brigades are indistinguishable from Tanzim and work closely, if not seamlessly, with Tawfik Tirawi's General Intelligence Service in the West Bank; and that members of Arafat's security forces double as members of the Aksa Brigades.
As regards Tanzim, in the country report concerning Israel and the PA, the State Department claims that Tanzim "is made up of small and loosely organized cells of militants drawn from the street-level membership of Fatah." Here too, the State Department ignores the facts. The fact is that Tanzim itself has claimed that Arafat is the organization's supreme leader and that Marwan Barghouti, the head of Fatah in the West Bank, is its field commander. Israel, again, has provided documentary evidence proving conclusively that Arafat siphoned funds from the PA budget, to the tune of $200,000 per month, to each of the Tanzim regional commanders in the West Bank.
When questioned about the documents provided to the US government by Israel, Ambassador Francis Taylor, the State Department's coordinator for counter-terrorism, stated, "We don't have any question about the authenticity of the documents provided by the Israeli government. We are continuing to study those documents and to draw our own conclusions about what they mean."
Clearly, the documents meant nothing for those who wrote and approved the State Department's 2001 report.
The terrorism report also notes and to a certain degree draws conclusions about international links among terrorist organizations and between these organizations and states that support their actions. Yet somehow, when it comes to state support for terrorism against Israel, no conclusions are drawn. For instance, there's the problem with arms smuggling. While the State Department applauds Egypt's actions in combating terrorism, it makes no mention of the rampant arms smuggling taking place along the Egyptian border with the Gaza Strip. Very rarely does a week go by without an IDF announcement about another tunnel for arms smuggling at Rafah being exposed and destroyed. Only this past week, the IDF exposed a massive tunnel, complete with electric lighting and a telephone cable connecting Palestinian Rafah with Egyptian Rafah. The Egyptian government has done nothing to stop this illicit flow of arms, and on several occasions Egyptian soldiers have fired on IDF troops patrolling the international border.
Further, the report contains bizarre accounts of Israel's capture of the Santorini and Karine A weapons ships. Of the Santorini capture, the report states, "In early
May, the Damascus based Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC) tried to smuggle weapons into Gaza aboard the Santorini." While no doubt an accurate description, the report makes no mention of the fact that the arms were destined for PA forces.
The account of the Karine A capture is even more incomprehensible. Given that the interdiction occurred in January 2002, the State Department was not obliged to make mention of the episode at all, but since it did, one could expect for it to do so accurately. And yet, here too, underplay was the order of the day. According to the report, "In January 2002, Israeli forces boarded the vessel Karine A in the Red Sea and uncovered nearly 50 tons of Iranian arms, including Katyusha missiles, apparently bound for militants in the West Bank and Gaza Strip."
Apparently? The captain of the ship, Omar Achawi, was the deputy commander of the PA's Naval Police. Its crew was Palestinian. The commander received his orders from Arafat directly, and the entire operation was reportedly agreed upon last May when Achawi accompanied Fuad Shubaki and Arafat to Russia and met secretly with Iranians, while Arafat met with President Vladimir Putin.
President George W. Bush himself implicated Arafat directly. Briefing reporters after meeting with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on February 7, the president said in response to a question about maintaining contact with Arafat, "Mr. Arafat has heard my message… that he must do everything in his power to reduce terrorist attacks on Israel. And that at one point in time, he was indicating to us that he was going to do so, and then all of the sudden a ship loaded with explosives shows up that most of the world believes he was involved with." "Most of the world" apparently does not include the State Department.
Saudi support for Palestinian terrorism is similarly downplayed and distorted. While Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayaf personally set up a fund paying the families of dead terrorists $5,333 each after September 11, the State Department limits its characterization of Saudi support for Hamas to funding from "private benefactors in Saudi Arabia."
This past week, terror warnings caused traffic halts on the Brooklyn Bridge, as New Yorkers were forced to wait until police investigated a "suspicious package." New York police officers came over here to learn from the Israel Police how to deal with suicide attacks in population centers. Since September 11, the fact that the forces attacking Israel and the US are one and the same has become obvious. The State Department terrorism report's whitewash of this reality jeopardizes the ability of both nations to destroy this threat to their countries and citizens.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post