Jewish World Review April 29, 2002 / 17 Iyar, 5762

Jack Kelly

Jack Kelly
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Islamic 'smarts'


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | Do Islamic fascists have rocks in their heads as well as hearts of stone? A terrorist attack that didn't happen while Secretary of State Colin Powell was on his peace mission, and one that did in Tunisia while he was on his way suggest this may be so.

Debkafile, a private intelligence service based in Israel, reported that Israeli security foiled a plot to kill Powell April 11th. Two hours before Powell's plane arrived at Ben Gurion airport, Israeli undercover cops stopped a Palestinian ambulance on the road that Powell's motorcade was to take from the airport to Jerusalem. Beneath the corpse in the ambulance there was a large supply of explosives and a suicide bomber's belt.

According to Debkafile, the two Palestinians in the ambulance admitted they were planning to kill Powell. The ambulance itself was rigged with explosives, which were to be detonated when Powell's car drove by. The other suicide bomber would be hiding in the bushes, waiting for a crowd of officials and relief workers to come to the site of the explosion. He would then leap into the crowd and blow himself up.

On April 11, a tanker truck drove into the side of a synagogue in Tunisia. The blast killed 16 people, most of them German tourists. A group linked to Al Qaeda claimed responsibility for the attack.

One wonders what the terrorists were hoping to accomplish.

Consider first the attempt on Powell's life. Since no neighboring Arab country is willing to take on the 1,000-lb gorilla the Israeli Defense Forces have become, Yasser Arafat's best hope for ending the Israeli incursion is intensifying American pressure on Israel to withdraw. One needn't know much about American politics to know that Powell is the senior U.S. official most favorably disposed toward the Palestinians. The murder of his Secretary of State would be likely to dispel whatever lingering affection President Bush has for Arafat's cause.

Consider now the attack on the Tunisian synagogue. The handful of Jews remaining in Tunisia pose no threat whatever to the ambitions of Islamic militants. Like most Muslims, Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine ben Ali has little fondness for Jews. But he does have a fondness for German tourists. So does German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who largely has sided with the Palestinians in the current conflict. Schroeder is trailing a conservative opponent in his bid for re-election. The Tunis attack doesn't help him at all. And if Edmund Stoiber wins, he'll be more friendly to the United States and to Israel than Schroeder has been.

Pathetic and counterproductive though it was, the Tunisian synagogue bombing was the most significant offensive action taken by groups linked to Al Qaeda since Sept. 11. This raises the question: Is Osama bin Laden still alive?

And the further question: Does it matter very much whether he is or not?

U.S. intelligence about bin Laden is based chiefly upon "traffic analysis" of intercepted electronic communications. Both those who think he is dead and those who think he is not base their suppositions on what they haven't heard. No communications from bin Laden to subordinates have been intercepted for four months, leading some to conclude he is dead. But we've also intercepted no "Gee, what do we do now?" communiques from Al Qaeda lieutenants.

The bin Laden tapes recently aired by al-Jazeera tv strengthen the "bin Laden is dead" camp. The bin Laden portions of these spliced-together extravaganzas appear to have been made in early December. No one seems to have heard from him since.

Al Qaeda could be planning massive strikes against U.S. interests. President Bush warned of this in his speech at VMI. But if targets have been selected and terror cells and weapons put in place, it's hard to figure why they haven't acted yet. Attention spans in the Middle East are short. The bad guys aren't winning. They need a triumph soon.

It could be that strikes were planned, but were frustrated by heightened vigilance. It could also be that bin Laden didn't think far enough ahead while planning the Sept. 11 attacks. Given the "thought" behind the attempt on Powell's life and the Tunisian bombing, this last possibility cannot be dismissed. We may be farther ahead in the war on terror than we realize.



Comment on JWR contributor Jack Kelly's column by clicking here.

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© 2002, Jack Kelly