14 September: US President George W. Bush and his top military and intelligence advisers are clearly convinced by the evidence in their hands that America faces an existential peril. One piece of evidence is revealed in the case of the “Palermo Senator” container vessel, detained and searched at sea for four days after radiation traces were detected in its hold on September 9. The fact that the search came up empty does not obviate the danger. It ties in with the solid intelligence the FBI is holding that 40 al Qaeda men are heading for the United States by ship. No one knows what ship, what arms they bear – conventional, chemical, biological or chemical – or where they are programmed to strike.
The fear of unconventional weapons of terror stealing into America is only one element of the sense of encompassing peril in store. A nightmarish standoff of the type familiar to movie thriller fans has certainly entered the minds of Washington’s decision-makers. It goes something like this: One morning, a spokesman of the ruling Iraqi Baath Revolutionary Council issues a statement: Iraqi secret agents are in place at two or three key centers in America – or strategic locations in America, Britain and Israel – armed with suitcases containing nuclear devices or deadly viruses, smallpox, anthrax etc. Then comes the ultimatum: Bush is given 12 or 24 hours to go public before the UN General Assembly and revoke his war plans for Iraq, or else an irreversible order goes out to the agents to release the suitcases’ deadly contents. An American pre-emptive blitz of Iraq cities would have the same consequence.
That is only a scenario. However, hard intelligence data reaching Washington raises the distinct possibility of Iraqi agents, or Iraq-trained Palestinian terrorists, being concealed somewhere on the West Bank or hiding in an Israeli Arab community, armed with exactly such suitcases. Their penetration and concealment will have been facilitated by Yasser Arafat and his Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades. This danger, raised more than once in DEBKAfile, accounts for the as yet unpublished Israeli government decision to begin inoculating the entire Israeli population against smallpox in early October.
It also explains the chief of staff Lt. Gen. Moshe Yaalon’s statements that Palestinian terror is a hazard to Israel’s survival. These assertions have brought down on the general’s head a full-blown assault by Israeli left-wing political groups. The chorus of protest comes from factions that initiated and carried through the 1973 Oslo Peace Accords with Yasser Arafat. They are echoed by a supporting caste of media pundits.
The contrast is stark. The Bush administration fully acknowledges that America is in grave existential peril, even without facing a potential Iraqi military invasion of New York, while Israel’s chief of staff is slammed for the crime of articulating the same warning. His detractors find nothing threatening in the Palestinian terror that has blighted Israel for two years, nor from the Hizballah whose avowed objective is to destroy Israel. Above all, they blind themselves to the danger posed by the alliance between Saddam Hussein and Yasser Arafat and their collaboration in the deployment of weapons of mass destruction that threaten Israel as much as America. Even as Israel marks the 29th anniversary of the Yom Kippur war that placed Israel’s survival in dire peril, some of the most vocal Israeli politicians, writers and academics display all the symptoms of amnesia and denial.
17 September: Iraq’s offer to unconditionally re-admit the UN arms inspectors thrown out four years ago has forged cracks in the UN Security Council, but not deflected the Bush administration’s determination to remove the regime the US president called “barbaric” when he addressed a fund-raiser in Nashville, Tennessee, Tuesday, September 17.
In New York, meanwhile, Colin Powell demanded a new resolution to lay out in full the conditions for the inspectors’ return and force Iraq to comply with the promises it has broken in 11 years, or face the consequences; Igor Ivanov, backed up by France and China, dismissed the need for any more resolutions, urging the council to focus on getting the arms inspectors back into Iraq quickly.
Their posture gives Washington a rough ride to UN endorsement of military action, but does not faze President Bush. He will simply hark back to his earlier promise to go it alone, if necessary. Some of the waverers were impressed enough then to begin to form up behind him. Saudi Arabia explicitly consented to the use of its bases for a UN-mandated attack on Baghdad, a notable gesture given that the Saudis spoke also for Egypt. France, the leading European waverer, might also have come aboard. But Baghdad’s “inspectors exercise” yanked all three back as Saddam calculated, without however deflecting the Americans.
Notwithstanding the poor psychological profiles often painted for him, Saddam Hussein is a realist. He is also deeply influenced by Muslim military thinking which holds that, when a Muslim general runs into an unbroken wall of resistance that he cannot overcome, it is his duty to beat a tactical retreat until he sees a crack. This he did when he ran into the unbroken wall of the George Bush’s determination, also buying time enough to hide his forbidden weapons and equipment – either in the country or across the border, before the inspectors return.
When the heat dies down, he can go back to full production of weapons of mass destruction, just as he did the moment he saw the backs of the arms inspectors in 1998.
The Iraqi dictator also believes he is wise to the Bush administration’s weaknesses. The US president vowed to destroy Osama Bin Laden, al Qaeda and the Taliban. Bin Laden has dropped out of sight, removing himself like a good Muslim general from the range of a determined enemy, but al Qaeda and the Taliban are far from finished. In June, Bush declared the Palestinian people deserve a new leadership in place of Arafat and his cronies. Yet four months later, after the Israeli armed forces severely crippled the Palestinian terror infrastructure, Arafat and his henchmen continue to sit in state in Ramallah. Saddam therefore hopes against hope that he too will survive the mighty American war machine if he acts prudently.
But Bush has in the meantime gained backing from the US Congress and the authority to press forward with the military campaign already begun. The Russians, like the Saudis and French, know this as well as Saddam. They are therefore not seriously intent on holding the Americans back, but rather trying to get them over a barrel on the post-war share-out of the spoils of victory. The name of this game is oil.
17 September: Sunday, September 15, the Macedonian voter overwhelmingly returned to power the former Social Democrat prime minister Branko Crvenkovski, dumping the ruling coalition led by the nationalist VMRO minister Ljubco Georgievski and partner, the moderate Democratic Party of Albanians. Both were widely accused of corruption.
The socialists, who governed the country from 1992 to 1998, are expected to invite the newly-elected Albanian Public Democratic Party to share power. This was mandated in the Western-brokered Ohrid peace accord, that last year halted the ethnic Albanian rebellion insurrection on the brink of civil war. The new ethnic Albanian face in Macedonian politics is Ali Ahmeti, formerly a key commander of the National Liberation Army (NLA) that led the rebellion. In the predominantly Albanian city of Tetovo, Ahmeti’s supporters danced and fired guns in the air to celebrate his victory. Ethnic Albanians are Muslims and account for roughly one-quarter of the population.
DEBKAfile‘s Balkans expert comments:
The voter turnout was low – no more than 50 percent, a reflection of the majority Macedonians’ disbelief in their ability of their politicians, elected or deposed, to heal this tiny landlocked Balkan nation’s afflictions. Two million Macedonians scarcely hope that any administration rising in Skopje can eradicate the country’s festering ill of organized crime, dominated by the Albanian mafia and Islamic extremists, which feeds on ethnic, religious and communal strife and does not conceal its ambition to establish a Greater Albania.
Neither Macedonian police officers nor international peacekeepers dare venture into parts of Tetovo and most of the villages strung along the country’s western frontier. Both are powerless to stem the almost daily shooting attacks on – and abductions of – Macedonians, even in the capital Skopje.
Violence is also rife in the Albanian-dominated areas where rival ethnic Albanian factions wage turf wars. The PDP party that guerrilla leader-turned politician Ahmeti established for the election is challenged by Arben Xhaferi’s Democratic Party of Albania. A showdown between the two – both leading lights of the NLA (an offshoot of the Kosovo Liberation Front, hence the group’s acronym of KLA/NLA) – is inevitable now that the election is over. Already, a wave of reciprocal liquidations has begun. More than one gangster has been gunned down in his favorite outdoor haunt by a speeding motor cyclist.
Untold profits are at stake: control over the most lucrative dope smuggling route in Europe – the Balkans Golden Triangle. Albanian liberation fighters battling in the hills of Macedonia and southern Serbia have been identified by international law enforcement agencies as the paramilitary wing of the Albania mafia which traffics in drugs, women, stolen luxury cars and other contraband to Europe, Russia, Africa and across the Atlantic.
German and Scandinavian police say Kosovo Albanians are their countries’ leading suppliers of heroin and other drugs. In Italy, police say Albanian gangsters are the leading importers of prostitutes from Eastern Europe and Russia.
The Albanian mafia is estimated to control at least 80 percent of the heroin entering Western Europe, and 40 percent of the drug sold in Europe and North America
Unrest in Macedonia and Kosovo is a positive boon for these criminal activities.
Huge sums of money flowing from Kosovar-Macedonian Albanian control of the Central European drug market fund terrorist activities in Tetovo and Kosovo. They finance the purchase of the latest weaponry and have long funded an international industry promoting ethnic Albanian victimhood over that of any other member of the Balkans’ ethnic rainbow.
Beside its links to crime, the KLA/NLA has opened the door of Macedonia to Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda and Islamic elements from the Middle East, a presence that poses a potential threat of extremist Muslim penetration to other parts of former Yugoslavia and their European neighbors.