US, Britain, Egypt and Israel Are Lost for Answers to Mounting al Qaeda Offensive

Al Qaeda’s first coordinated bomb attacks on London’s public transport which shocked Britain on July 7 were mounted at the same time as the G8 summit in Scotland. The death toll rose to 56 with 700 wounded and an unknown number of victims still missing. The Islamists not only directed their destructive urge against London, but addressed a graphic threat to the 20 leaders of the world’s industrialized nations headed by US president George W. Bush who were meeting at Gleneagles. Since the failed September 11 2001 attempt to bomb the White House, this was the closest al Qaeda terrorists had come to key Western leaders gathered in one place.
Yet, strangely enough, all those leaders lined up to consign the attack to the British arena, as though it came from problems in British-Muslim relations rather than being an assault on the West.
The string of bombings at Egypt’s Red Sea resort of Sharm al Sheikh July 23, two days after the second round of London bombings, also coincided with the Middle East trip of the US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice to Jerusalem and Ramallah. (She popped over to Beirut in between.)
Here too there was method in al Qaeda’s timing.
The distance between London and Gleneagles is comparable to the distance between Rice’s Jerusalem hotel and the Egyptian Red Sea resort. Al Qaeda chose its moment to devastate the Sharm paradise when the US, Britain, Egypt and Israel were immersed in an intense effort to clear away obstacles to Ariel Sharon’s evacuation of Israelis from the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank, and make sure it will be free of Palestinian terrorist violence.
By hitting Sharm al Sheikh, Osama bin Laden hammered home to Egyptian, British, American and Israeli leaders: We are now sitting on your doorstep. Get Sharon’s plan off the ground and you will find us entrenched on the map of Sinai next door to the Gaza Strip. In October 2004, we landed in northern Sinai, blowing up the Taba Hilton on the Egyptian-Israeli border and other resorts and killing 34 people including 13 Israelis. Now we have arrived at the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula, Sharm al-Sheikh. The Gaza Strip is our next destination. Just as our fighting men reached Iraq from all over the Middle East and the Muslim world, nothing will stop us pouring into the Gaza Strip from Egypt the moment Israel hands the border crossing over to the Egyptians and the Palestinians. We will then be in forward bases for fighting Israel, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority just as we fight the Americans in Iraq.
Al Qaeda makes no secret of its plans. It is looking forward to the free ride to its first Mediterranean base afforded by the Israeli prime minister’s much-praised evacuation-disengagement plan, which goes into effect from mid-August. The terrorist group will also win a springboard to Israel and Europe across the water.
Yet the only controversy in Israel over the pros and cons of the pull-back operation is confined to the domestic, political plane, the dispute between so-called “right” and “left”. Even the arguments put forward by its most avid opponents lack strategic depth.
Washington and London, aside from certain anti-terror experts, are blind to the fact that by exiting from Gaza, Israel will open the Mediterranean basin to al Qaeda’s spreading campaign of terror. They are pushing Israel and the Palestinians as hard as they can to make sure that Gaza’s handover takes place. Rice arrived post-haste to make sure the revival of Hamas suicide attacks would not delay the operation and that the Israeli government stays squarely on course for the home run.
American and British spokesman keep on reiterating that Israel’s first evacuation of complete communities will, as day follows night, cool the flames of Middle East terrorism – Palestinian and Iraqi alike. They insist that the more land Israeli cedes – on the West Bank too – the faster terrorist violence will disappear.
The facts on the ground in London, Baghdad and Egypt in a single week fly in the face of this theory. As the date of the pull-back draws near, the flames of Islamic violence climb higher. This should be no surprise to any Western or Israeli decision-makers following al Qaeda’s broadcast messages. The group claiming the Sharm el-Sheikh bombings, for instance calls itself the Abdullah Azzam Brigades of Egypt and the Levant (Syria and Lebanon). It is named for the Palestinian terror ideologue who was Osama bin Laden’s early mentor in 1986-1987.
The name is a pointer to the Palestinian link and the countries targeted. The timing of the attack rounds off the picture of al Qaeda’s motivation. Al Qaeda has never concealed its long term operational strategy. But its operational plans have been hidden well enough to miss being thwarted by the counter-terror agencies.
In the article in the opposite column, DEBKA-Net-Weekly and debkafile‘s terrorism experts offer new information on how al Qaeda is getting organized for action in the Middle East. The world Islamist organization is now active not only in Sinai south of Israel, but also in Jordan across from the Jewish state’s heartland, in the north in the Levant and among the Palestinians who live cheek to jowl with Israelis.
Israeli officials are so busy second-guessing Hamas and trying to decide whether the radical Muslim group will shoot or hold its fire during the pull-backs that no one thinks of asking what will happen after it is over, when Al Qaeda’s bombers move over from Iraq – and from Sinai – to join forces with the Hamas and likeminded Palestinian terror groups sworn to destroy Israel – the Jihad Islami, and the radical Palestinian fronts.
The blueprints drawn up in Washington, Jerusalem, Cairo and London, for securing the evacuations and their aftermath provide American, British and Egyptian assistance for setting up Palestinian intelligence and security bodies untainted by terrorism.
This plan looks impressive – until it is examined in the light of the latest events in London and Egypt.
It may be recalled that five years ago, debkafile‘s analysts predicted in its first editions that a Palestinian-Israel war would erupt by the end of that year, 2001.
Four and a half years ago, the first issues of DEBKA-Net-Weekly warned that Osama bin Laden was preparing an attack in America and named New York’s Twin Towers.
Two years ago, just before the US-led invasion of Iraq, we reported that Saddam Hussein, his sons and the Baath leadership were preparing a vicious guerrilla campaign against American forces.
Now, in July 2005, debkafile‘s counter-terror analysts believe that, as soon as the last Israeli leaves the Gaza Strip towards the end of the year, and the northern West Bank in early 2006, al Qaeda’s networks will move in.

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