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Analysis: Riding the third wave of terror

By CLAUDE SALHANI

WASHINGTON, May 27 (UPI) -- U.S. President George W. Bush is about to follow in the footsteps of several of his predecessors -- including Bill Clinton -- when he heads off to the Middle East in the next few weeks for summit meetings, aimed to advance the "road map" to peace.

Delving into the Middle East conflict, Bush has come to realize the importance of finding a viable solution to the region's half-century's debacle. The region's instability, after all, is directly tied in to the West's current terror woes.

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With the end of the Cold War and the demise of communism, the West entered a period of stability, which, alas, did not last very long. It now finds itself confronted with what could well be a far more dangerous threat to Western democracy; a threat emanating from something that the West is partially responsible for creating -- fundamentalist Islam.

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Already, the United States is fighting a difficult war against terrorism. A war, one might add, that is far from over and that is being fought on multiple fronts, including, for the first time in modern U.S. history, on the home front.

The first wave of terror came in the aftermath of the June 1967 Arab-Israeli War, after Israel defeated Egypt, Syria and Jordan, and humiliated the Arabs. In six days, Israel captured the entire Sinai Peninsula, took Gaza and the West Bank and managed to conquer and occupy the old city of Jerusalem. They then turned their attention to Syria, where in hand-to-hand combat, they captured the strategic Golan Heights. They were now only a couple of hours from Damascus.

The June '67 war, also known as the Six Day War, gave birth to the first wave of terrorism. It was mostly Palestinian and it was mostly aimed at Israel and Jewish groups, and was in fact, quite localized.

The United States suffered some economic setbacks when a number of American firms found themselves on the Arab boycott list. Products such as Coca Cola, Ford motor cars and Elizabeth Arden beauty products were banned in the Arab world, but overall, the United States was not greatly affected.

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The first wave of terrorism led Israel to retaliate, mostly against Jordan, seeing the Palestine Liberation Organization was largely based in that country. The fedayeen found they could easily sneak across the border, carry out raids against kibbutzes or army outposts, and then just as easily sneak back into Jordan.

Eventually, this led to a bloody confrontation between the Palestinians and the Jordanians -- in clashes that became known as Black September -- and the PLO, Yasser Arafat and all the leaders of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, etc. were evicted, or rather forced to flee. They found their way to Lebanon, where they set about to regroup.

And still, no political solution was sought.

Then came the 1973 October War, or the Yom Kippur War, when Egypt and Syria launched sneak attacks on Israel.

That war signaled the beginning of a major turning point in the Middle East. This was when the Arabs realized Israel could be attacked but not defeated, and when Israel realized that it could. That war spawned the realization that peace was the only solution. It also gave birth to the first Camp David accords, which led to a peace treaty between Egypt and Israel.

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But the 1973 war also gave rise to the second and deadlier wave of terrorism. This time the attacks spilled over into Europe, and thanks to the support of left-wing revolutionary groups in Europe, which at the time were quite active, the Palestinians found they had natural allies with whom they shared a philosophy.

Palestinian groups, particularly the PFLP headed by George Habbash, joined up with groups such as the Red Army faction in Japan and the Red Brigades in Italy, the Baader-Mienhoff Gang in West Germany, French Corsican separatists, Basques, the Irish Republican Army, and so on. There was a wonderfully vast network for them to tap into.

It offered the Palestinian fighters safe houses across Europe and access to a treasure trove of false documents that allowed them to slip across Europe's porous borders. In return, the Palestinians offered the Euro-revolutionaries training facilities and safe havens in the Middle East, away from the reaches of Western police forces and intelligence networks.

This wave of terror was far more serious than the first. It included attacks in Europe, airline hijackings, targeting killings of politicians, and so on. While the United States became a more frequent target, still, the American mainland felt safe and isolated.

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After Sept. 11, 2001, Bush said, "we felt protected by the vast oceans." Of course, as we found out, the oceans proved to be no deterrent.

Then came the crux; the attempt of Soviet expansion: the invasion of Afghanistan, which the Soviets hoped to include into their sphere of influence, and that would eventually allow them access to a warm-water port in the Arabian Gulf, something they desperately needed.

That was when it all started to turn sour. The United States, in its attempt to fight the Soviets, allied themselves with people like Osama bin Laden. The United States, mainly the CIA, provided the Afghan mujahedin with arms and resources. Bin Laden was an ally long before he became a foe, just as the Israeli Mossad helped found Hamas, hoping it would undermine the PLO's authority in the Palestinian territories. That, too, backfired.

At the end of the conflict, the United States, only too happy to pull out, did so quickly, without trying to settle the Afghan issue politically. And we all know today, what a mess that became.

The very short attention span of American foreign policy is one of its basic problems and always comes back to haunt it. Because it always falls short of going all the way and finding lasting solutions, the United States later suffers the repercussions.

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That was the case in Afghanistan after the Soviets' departure, as it was the case in the Arab-Israeli dispute, as it was during Desert Storm. Same as in Lebanon after the 1983 attack on the U.S. Marines.

The third wave of terror began with the rise of Islamism -- a totally new form of terror and a far more dangerous one. We have already seen what it was capable of doing. Well before Sept. 11, 2001, bin Laden and his acolytes had already declared holy war on America and the West.

Why this new war? Two reasons really. First, and officially, because American troops took up positions in Saudi Arabia during the 1990-91 Gulf War. In their eyes, to have "infidels" stationed in the land of the two mosques was an insult and an affront to Islam.

But the second reason is because the Islamists' ultimate aim calls for removing America -- a potential roadblock, an obstruction in their overall plans to establish an Islamic emirate, or caliphate, much along the lines of what they had in the Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, but one that would stretch from the Arabian peninsula to Europe and even beyond, which would engulf the Americas, eventually.

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Documents discovered in various houses and caves once occupied by bin Laden and some of his closest associates in Afghanistan after the demise of the Taliban back up this belief.

Based on piles of such documents, Roland Jacquard -- a French expert who advises the U.N. Security Council and the European Union, who is also chairman of the International Center of Terrorism -- wrote a fascinating book called "Al-Qaida's Secret Archives," where he states:

"If the lunatics of Allah one day acquire the capability to produce biological, nuclear or chemical weapons on a mass scale, it is humanity as a whole that would be in peril.

"The organization believes it has been granted a divine mission: to draw the entire world into a jihad, by basing itself on regional religious conflicts and using the clash of civilization to their advantage, with the final goal of installing an Islamic emirate from Islamabad to Los Angeles, while passing through Asia and Europe."

Bin Laden has trained thousands of followers who have infiltrated back into Saudi Arabia. His hope is to topple the monarchy, which he sees as corrupt, and which it largely is, and replace it with a sympathetic leader, much as Mullah Omar was in Kabul.

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Now imagine what that would mean? What al-Qaida could accomplish with control of the vast oil riches of Saudi Arabia? And once in control of Saudi oil, toppling the rest of the region's sheikdoms would be a simple domino effect. But even more frightening is what it could do with the nuclear military capability that Pakistan possesses.

There have already been six attempts on the life of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf by fundamentalists. Think about that for a moment, if you will, which in my view is a far greater and more present danger than Iraq ever was. While Iraq's much-debated weapons of mass destruction are still to be found, we know for a fact where Pakistan's nukes are located. And so do the Islamists.

The reason bin Laden declared war on the United States was because it stood in his way, and because it gave him an excuse to do so. Much as the United States' pro-Israeli foreign policy gives him fodder for recruiting followers throughout the Middle East and the Islamic world.

Which is why many Mideast observers will tell you that solving the Israeli-Palestinian issue is the key to the area's stability. Take that away, and you take away about 90 percent of the area's problems. Or rather you take away a good reason for anti-American militancy.

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In a book written by Ayman al-Zawahiri, titled, "Cavaliers under the Banner of the Prophet," the Egyptian doctor and No. 2 to bin Laden, writes: "We must elevate the Palestinian cause from second place to first place. Because our religious arguments are very difficult for the masses to comprehend."

So what does that mean? It simply means that, clearly, al-Qaida plans to use the Palestinian cause to their benefit. They want to recruit and reap some of the Arab anger that exists because of the situation in the Palestinian territories, and now in Iraq, and funnel it towards their own fanatical religious ends.

This might well explain the president's newly found obsession in attempting to solve the Middle East conflict.

If only those opposed to the implementation of the "road map" would realize the dangers involved.


(Claude Salhani is a senior editor with United Press International.)

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