Anti-Terror Leaders Restrain Each Other Instead of the Terrorists

The White House has said it hopes the postponed visit by Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon in response to the latest spiral of Palestinian terror will take place within days. President George W. Bush clearly wants to see Sharon as soon as possible.
debkafile‘s Washington and Jerusalem sources explain Israel’s postponement and US urgency by a certain conflict of immediate goals: Bush is in trouble with his global war on terror following al Qaeda’s deadly strikes in Riyadh and Casablanca. He thinks Sharon’s visit to Washington can help allay some of the pressure on him. However, Sharon is also in trouble with his counter-terror war against Yasser Arafat and prefers to stay at home.
The US president is up against the perennial key problem of Saudi resistance to fully co-opting American investigators to a terrorist inquiry. Regarding the bombing attacks on three residential compounds in Riyadh a week ago, Saudi interior minister Prince Nayef announced the capture of four suspects on Sunday, May 18. But earlier, he greeted the 60 FBI and CIA officers sent to the kingdom to help in the investigation by relegating them to the status of observers:
“They are not investigators,” he told the local paper Saturday, May 17. “They will not probe anything… The officers came to inspect the incidents only.” He specified that even then, they would only have access to sites “belonging to American companies. They will not take part in the investigation.”
The Saudi interior minister went on to point an implicit finger of blame outside the kingdom. Every intelligence agency knows exactly where the terrorists came from, he remarked. While US administration officials have said some of the al Qaeda planners of the Riyadh attacks may be in Iran, debkafile‘s sources report that the prince’s dig was interpreted in Washington as referring to Pakistan. The Saudi minister’s unasked question came through loud and clear. Since you have such good relations with Colonel Pervez Musharref, why were you not forewarned? And if you were, why didn’t you act? Where is your intelligence?
debkafile‘s intelligence and counter-terror sources report that Prince Nayef’s stance reflects the acute pressure under which Saudi leaders are laboring – particularly after the string of suicide terror attacks in Casablanca on Friday, May 16 and subsequent revelations. The revelations are emerging from the questioning in Morocco of the single member of the 14-man suicide team that committed the attacks. We have obtained access to some of them:
1. The team was given its mission by Ayman Zuwahri’s Egyptian Islamic Jihad, the most dangerous operational arm of al Qaeda.
2. One of the suicides was identified as Egyptian, a second was a reserve officer of the Abu Dhabi armed forces.
3. The team reached the Moroccan port of Tangiers several months ago – without its trail being picked up – in two groups; one from Italy, the second from Belgium, some of them wending their way from Egypt, Sudan and Yemen. They were hosted by the radical Moroccan Assirat al-Moustaquim (Followers of the Straight Path) who also supplied them with weapons and explosives.
4. The targets selected were two-edged: In addition to the classical al Qaeda aim for Jewish and Israeli locations – the Casablanca Jewish community center, a Jewish-owned restaurant, the old Jewish cemetery and a hotel frequented by Israelis – Osama bin Laden was implicitly striking at the Saudi royal presence in the kingdom of Morocco, where almost every prince of any importance – from Crown Prince Abdullah down – maintains a palace and harem for frequent recreational visits. Members of the two royal houses are also joined by business ties accompanied by the inevitable court intrigue.
Four days after striking at the heart of the Saudi capital, Al Qaeda was telling Saudi royals that their Moroccan retreats were safe no longer, notwithstanding the substantial American military and intelligence presence in the North African kingdom. Nayef had no difficulty in grasping that Osama bin Laden and Ayman Zuwahri had issued the Saudi dynasty with public death warrants.
According to debkafile‘s exclusive sources, just as Washington sent a team of investigators to Riyadh, the Saudis sent their ambassador in Washington, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, to Rabat by special flight to joint the interrogation of the al Qaeda captive.
President Bush, having declared that the war on terror goes on, must follow through. Behind Washington’s public criticism of Riyadh for lack of cooperation in investigating the attack, there are no signs of American progress in the global war on terror; nothing certainly appears to hamper the multi-tentacled al Qaeda from carrying out elaborate operations requiring long planning. Just the reverse. The terrorists have grabbed the initiative while the Saudis instead of joining Bush’s campaign to destroy them are restricting America’s freedom of action.
Whereas the US president needs to satisfy Americans and the world that he is seriously pursuing his declared war on terror – before, after and despite the Iraq War, Saudi rulers to survive must prove the very opposite to their home front. They must persuade Saudis as well as Arab and Muslim opinion that they are not collaborating with Washington – certainly not to harm fellow Muslims. Saudi princes are falling over themselves to demonstrate they are not challenging such groups as al Qaeda and, in fact, are working hard to hinder US efforts to combat fundamentalist violence.
It is at this tricky juncture that Sharon visit to the White House comes into focus.
The US president has made two solemn public commitments: To pursue the war on terror and to work for his vision of a Palestinian-Israel peace based on two states.
It just so happens that the war on terror is partly stalled and the Middle East road map formulated by the Quartet has fallen by the wayside. At the long-awaited landmark encounter between the Israeli and Palestinian prime ministers Saturday night, May 17, Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) sounded utterly defeated. Forget about the road map, he said in effect, we are helpless to fight terror now and at any time soon. Internal security minister, Mohamed Dahlan, was even more blunt: In the Gaza Strip, he said, the Hamas has put up more roadblocks than the Palestinian government and the two leading Palestinian organizations, the Fatah and the Hamas, are dedicated to bringing down the Abu Mazen government. They are capable of getting tens if not thousands of protesters out on the streets. “We don’t have the military or police to disperse this sort of mob.”
Furthermore, debkafile‘s Palestinian sources report that Arafat has virtually shut all Palestinian media, radio, television, agencies, to Abu Mazen and his government’s announcements. They have no way of getting their communications into circulation.
The two pillars set up by the US president, his secretary of state Colin Powel and the Israeli prime minister to support a process of accommodation between the Palestinians and Israel are bending low under the tornado force of Palestinian suicidal terror, instead of fighting it. It is common knowledge that the attacks are instigated from the West Bank town of Ramallah just north of Jerusalem. From his headquarters there, Arafat retains control of the bulk of Palestinian security forces; from there he looses his terror gangs. Abu Mazen and Dahlan make no bones about being neither willing nor able to take on the forbidding task of fighting Arafat’s legions in which Hamas has been integrated. They have passed the buck back to Sharon.
However, just as Crown Prince Abdullah ties President Bush’s hands in the fight against terror, so too does Bush bind those of Sharon. The US president’s immediate priority is to show that his efforts have achieved good progress in at least one major international conflict, i.e. the Palestinian-Israeli dispute. A fresh round of bloodletting and crisis in that arena would defeat that goal. He needs the Israeli prime minister in the White House to clarify this point.
However, Sharon like Bush and Abdullah, is laboring under the pressure of an upsurge of terrorist attacks. It is aimed at Israelis from two directions: Arafat and his three-legged terror legion made up of the al Aqsa Martyrs (Suicides) Brigades, the Hamas and Jihad Islami, and al Qaeda cells planted in and around Israel. Last weekend, Israelis were being killed by Palestinian suicides at the rate of one every two hours and, in Casablanca, Jewish targets were struck by al Qaeda.
In these circumstances, it is hard to see Sharon standing up to Israeli and international Jewish condemnation and acceding to the US president’s request for pacific gestures in the form of concessions to the Palestinians. Such concessions would mean easing up on Israel’s preventive and counteractive war on terror.
The Israeli prime minister was not averse to putting off his talk with the US president in the White House, originally set for Tuesday, May 20, and using the few days’ respite to restore the tight blockade on movement in and out of Palestinian areas lifted to mark Powell’s visit last week and his own first interview with Abu Mazen. He also stepped up the clandestine war to spike further Palestinian attacks.
On the ground, there is no separation between the never-ending fight to quell Palestinian violence and the pursuit of peace just as long as the Palestinians choose the opposite way to the Bush vision and opt for violence. But instead of focusing on putting down terror, Bush, Abdullah and Sharon are all busy tying each other hands to protect their standing at home, thereby leaving Osama bin Laden and Yasser Arafat free to strike. No one should therefore be surprised to see both terror masters thriving and expanding their suicide offensives.

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