Monday, September 27, 2004

The Road To Damascus

Just after Izz El-Deen Al-Sheikh Khalil climbed into his white Mitsubishi in Damascus a bomb planted in the vehicle exploded, ending his career. Khalil was member of the military wing of Hamas living in the Syrian capital. The Syrian government blamed Israel for the attack, characterizing it as "an Israeli act of state terrorism in the heart of Damascus". Israel responded coyly, neither confirming nor denying their involvement in Khalil's death. But the strangest reaction of all was from Hamas.

The Izz el-Deen al-Kassam Brigades, Hamas' armed wing, vowed to avenge Al-Sheikh Khalil by attacking Israeli targets overseas, the group said in a statement issued in the Gaza Strip. "We have allowed hundreds of thousands of Zionists to travel and move in capitals around the world in order not to be the party that shifts the struggle overseas. But the Zionist enemy has done so and should bear the consequences of its actions," said the statement, a copy of which was faxed to the pan-Arab news channel Al-Jazeera, which broadcast the message.

"We announce an escalation in the fight between us and the Zionist enemy," Hamas spokesman Sami Zuhari said speaking on Al-Jazeera.

But another Hamas spokesperson, Osama Hamdan, denied the al-Jazeera report, saying Hamas would not change its strategy of striking at Israeli targets only within Israel and the Palestinian territories. "Our policy was and remains to conduct our struggle inside the Zionist entity," Hamdan said, speaking from Beirut.

Experts believe the retraction came about because Hamas does not want to be seen as another al-Qaida.

Hamas' hesitation is evidence that the cellular structure of militant Islamism, meant to provide immunity against counterintelligence is also exacting a high strategic price. The decentralized command and control structure which freed cells to choose their own targets also allowed them to make their own enemies. And make enemies they did. Attacking the United States, seizing the Indian Parlaiment House, blowing up discos in Bali, smashing trains in Madrid and beheading people of every nationality has had the practical effect of multiplying the  foes of radical Islam and enabled President Bush to build a global coalition against it. While it has arrogated to itself the power to ignore every civilized limit, Islamic terrorism itself is ironically dependent on their maintenance. Assymetric warfare relies on being able to do what your enemy is forbidden. Terrorism, being militarily weak, relied upon legal restraints, inviolate borders and traditional respect for noncombatants and holy places to provide the shelter that concrete could not. Khalil lived in an unguarded compound in Damascus, in an ordinary residential neighborhood, free to plot the deaths of Jewish civilians. His armor was neither Kevlar nor steel but the certainty -- until now -- that Israel would not attack him across an "international" border. Hama's eagerness to limit the response to Israel proper betrays a growing fear that borders no longer provide sanctuaries. In the weeks following the masscre of schoolchildren in Beslan, the Russian strongman Vladmir Putin announced his intention to strike pre-emptively at terrorist targets all over the world.

17 Sept 2004 -- Russian President Vladimir Putin is warning of preemptive strikes on terrorists. His announcement came shortly after prominent Chechen warlord, Shamil Basayev, claimed responsibility for the bloody school siege in Beslan two weeks ago. More than 320 hostages were killed in the siege. Russian President Vladimir Putin's comments are the highest-level warning that Russia might launch pre-emptive strikes on terrorists.

Speaking in Moscow on Friday, the Russian leader said serious preparation to act preventively against terrorists is under way. If taken, the measures would be in strict accordance with the law and norms of the constitution and rely on international law, he said. Mr. Putin didn't specify whether attacks would happen at home or abroad.

The reader may judge for himself how respectful Russia might be of "international law". But both Putin's warning and the Israeli carbomb attack in Damascus are a warning that Golda Meir may have been wrong. She once said, "there will be no peace in the Middle East until the Palestinians love their children more than they hate the Jews". She forgot the alternative which Putin may even now be thinking of. 'that there will be peace in the Middle East when every Arab school is as secure as Belslan; and the Kaaba as inviolate as any synagogue in Jersualem.' America must win this war before it is too late -- for Islam.