Russian, Israeli hands tied in war on terror

US President George W. Bush made a point of calling on Russian president Vladimir Putin directly after the NATO summit in Prague, to solicit his support for direct US military action against Iraq. However, Putin, who received his American visitor with pomp at the grand 18th century Catherine Palace near St. Petersburg, was not mollified by Bush’s reassurances about Russian interests in post-Saddam Iraq. Instead, he took the US President to task over the way the global war on terror was being handled, brushing aside the capture of al Qaeda’s Gulf operations chief, Abd al-Rahim al Nashiri, as marginal to the issue.
To underscore his point, Putin asked some tough questions.
Where had Osama bin Laden taken refuge? he asked rhetorically, adding in a pointed dig at Saudi Arabia: “We should not forget about those who finance terrorism.”
Putin went on to question if Pakistani President Musharraf had done enough to stabilize the area, noting: “What can happen with armies, arms, weapons that exist in Pakistan, including weapons of mass destruction?”
What Putin was saying was that while America’s mind was on Iraq, the terrorists against whom they had solemnly declared war together after September 11, 2001,were getting away.
The allusion to the Saudis as financiers of al Qaeda (Read separate article: Saudi Interior Minister’s fund enriches al Qaeda’s war chest) was not lost on Bush; nor the suggestion that the Pakistan ruler is secretly promoting Islamic terrorist operations in Kashmir. Russian intelligence, like many other undercover agencies, including that of Israel, do not rule out the possibility of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, military strength and weapons falling into the hands of al Qaeda in certain circumstances. Putin’s query, translated in terms of the concerns in Jerusalem, would be: What if Saddam Hussein hands over weapons of mass destruction to al Qaeda or the Palestinians?
The Russian leader’s blunt words to Bush were undoubtedly aimed at making his war in Chechnya more acceptable to the West. He is also worried about the damaging effect of the Iraqi war to the frail Russian economy. At the same time, Putin put his finger on a disturbing point: The roots of terror are being allowed to flourish, especially in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, while America focuses on fighting Saddam Hussein – instead of coming to grips with both menaces.
In recent weeks, debkafile and DEBKA-Net-Weekly have exposed certain developments in this regard:
1. In January 2002, al Qaeda fighting contingents, mostly Saudis and Yemenis, were rescued from Afghan War arenas by an airlift financed by Riyadh and carried out by Pakistan. The violent fundamentalist fugitives, allowed to return home, have become a thorn in the side of Saudi security. Osama bin Laden’s arrival in the Empty Quarter of the Arabian Peninsula, with his key staff, two months ago, has boosted their influence and the strength of their support.
2. No progress has been made in efforts to stem the flow of Saudi cash oiling al Qaeda wheels in the Middle East, the Balkans, Chechnya, Pakistan, Central Asia and the Far East.
3. Signs are proliferating of collaboration among the terror machines of Iraqi military intelligence, al Qaeda, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, the Lebanese Shiite Hizballah and Palestinian Authority security bodies. Yasser Arafat’s key conduit to these groups runs primarily through the Gaza Strip “Preventive Security” organization headed by Muhamed Dahlan and his deputy, Rashid Abu Shbak.
debkafile‘s military sources report that the surprise raid Israeli troops carried out on this organization’s command, training and manufacturing facility in Gaza City, on Sunday, November 16, yielded a major haul of documentary evidence exposing Palestinian operational relations with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and al Qaeda going back seven years. Dahlan was recently appointed Arafat’s “national security adviser” under the “reforms” executed in the Palestinian authority. The documents uncovered in Gaza attest to his longstanding personal ties with Islamic radical cells in Bosnia. In fact, he appears to have consigned Palestinian instructors to train Bosnians and Kosovars in terrorist tactics.
None of these dangers have been relegated to the past. They point to the threats in store for the Middle East before, during and after America’s removal of Saddam Hussein and its installment of a pro-US regime in Baghdad. Overthrowing the Iraqi ruler and disarming his country is Washington’s primary goal. But achieving it will not break up the new military-terror menace taking shape in the region and made up of dedicated anti-Western Iranian, Saudi, Palestinian and Lebanese Shiite elements. Saddam Hussein with his back to the wall may well hand over unconventional weapons to these elements, rather than letting them fall into the hands of UN arms inspectors or an invading US army, thereby boosting their mischief-making capabilities immeasurably. By holding off determined military action against rampant terrorism outside Iraq, focusing on and growing in Saudi Arabia, Israel, Lebanon and Pakistan – so as not to detract from the anti-Saddam assault – the Bush administration is storing up fresh trouble for tomorrow, if not sooner.
In Afghanistan, the Taliban and al Qaeda were put to flight at the end of 2001 and early 2002, only to regroup in new bases in Pakistan, Yemen and Saudi Arabia. Saddam could well take a leaf out of their book and continue the war against America outside his country in conjunction with friendly terrorist groups.
The Bush administration’s insistence on holding off the war on terror in order to promote the war on Iraq places in doubt all its gains thus far in the global offensive against terror and threatens the recurrence of the bane with redoubled ferocity and more powerful weapons.
In these circumstances, Israel’s Sharon government may well be advised to reverse its tactics. At present, Washington is translating its economic and strategic support for Israel by holding it back from all-out military action against Arafat for as long as the Iraqi war is in the offing. The inference is that once that campaign is underway, Sharon may go ahead and settle Israel’s long and bloody score with the Palestinian arch terrorist, who is meanwhile exploiting Israeli military inhibitions to intensify his campaign of terror.
By taking the US president to task on the shortcomings of the US anti-terror war, the Russian may have articulated a notion valid for Ariel Sharon too. After the Iraq war is out of the way, it may be too late to administer the coup de grace to Arafat. He could well follow in the footsteps of Bin Laden – and even possibly Saddam – and fight on from some hideout until his next comeback.

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