by Gary North
A story surfaced this week regarding Ariel Sharon's creation of assassination squads that will be sent into allied foreign countries in search of enemies of the State of Israel. That such clandestine units operate internationally comes as no surprise. Many governments are thought to employ them. Indeed, the public accepts this fact as a way of life. But, officially, Israel has not previously acknowledged the existence of such units. The story was reported by UPI.
Israel is embarking upon a more aggressive approach to the war on terror that will include staging targeted killings in the United States and other friendly countries, former Israeli intelligence officials told United Press International.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has forbidden the practice until now, these sources said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The Israeli statements were confirmed by more than a half dozen former and currently serving U.S. foreign policy and intelligence officials in interviews with United Press International.
But an official at the Israeli Embassy in Washington told UPI: "That is rubbish. It is completely untrue. Israel and the United States have such a close and co-operative intelligence relationship, especially in the field of counter-terrorism, that the assertion is ludicrous."
So, the question arises, is the story true? It is the kind of politically sensitive story that a wire service would not run if it had not been checked. If anything, the story may be designed to put Muslim terrorists on notice. It gets an official disclaimer, which is enough to let the report sink into oblivion, but then, when the assassinations multiply, the targeted groups conclude that the story was true. I keep thinking of George Wallace's slogan, "Send them a message."
Will they send back a message?
WHO GETS BLAMED?
If the story is true, then the West is about to experience an escalation of terrorism. Assassinations of suspected terrorists will be blamed on anti-terror squads. But whose? It will become more difficult for President Bush to evade suspicion for such acts, whether he or a subordinate arranged the assassinations or not. His "dead or alive" statement regarding Osama bin Laden could blow back.
The problem with terrorist warfare and counter-terrorist warfare is the inability of the public to know who is responsible for any event unless someone admits it publicly, and even then no one is sure.
We see this theme on "The West Wing." At the end of last season's show, the President of the United States authorized the assassination of a Muslim nation's chief of security, who supposedly had planned a foiled attack on the Golden Gate Bridge. In what has become a standard shtick for the main character, President Bartlett initially resisted launching the death squad, all in the name of morality, but then he capitulated to his advisors. Bartlett initially talks ethics, but he invariably sells out to expediency before the show is over. The viewers' challenge is to guess what reason he will use as his excuse.
What is interesting in the light of the recent story about Israeli assassination squads is that on the show, Israel has been blamed for the suspected assassination, when in fact the U.S. did it. A Muslim terrorist then retaliated by using a missile to shoot down an Israeli airliner. The advisor who recommended the assassination briefly suffered guilt from the knowledge that an Israeli friend who was on the airliner was killed because of what he had recommended to the President. But, on "The West Wing," guilt never lasts for more than a part of any episode. Politics heals everything by the next installment.
BRINGING THE WAR BACK HOME
America surely appears to be preparing for an invasion of Iraq. Any invasion would violate UN's 1974 protocol: an unprovoked attack for the purpose of replacing a foreign ruler.
Reaffirming the duty of States not to use armed force to deprive peoples of their right to self-determination, freedom and independence, or to disrupt territorial Integrity, . . .
Reaffirming also that the territory of a State shall not be violated by being the object, even temporarily, of military occupation or of other measures of force taken by another State in contravention of the Charter, and that it shall not be the object of acquisition by another State resulting from such measures or the threat thereof,
After an invasion, the Muslim world from that point on will regard the United States as an aggressor against Islam. This nation has been regarded by Muslims as the chief accomplice of the State of Israel, but an offensive war in Iraq will change this. We will become the front-runner in the jihad sweepstakes. Now comes the UPI story.
With the appointment of Meir Dagan, the new director of Israel's Mossad secret intelligence service, Sharon is preparing "a huge budget" increase for the spy agency as part of "a tougher stance in fighting global jihad (or holy war)," one Israeli official said.
Since Sharon became Israeli prime minister, Tel Aviv has mainly limited its practice of targeted killings to the West Bank and Gaza because "no one wanted such operations on their territory," a former Israeli intelligence official said.
Another former Israeli government official said that under Sharon, "diplomatic constraints have prevented the Mossad from carrying out ‘preventive operations' (targeted killings) on the soil of friendly countries until now."
He said Sharon is "reversing that policy, even if it risks complications to Israel's bilateral relations."
A former Israeli military intelligence source agreed: "What Sharon wants is a much more extensive and tough approach to global terrorism, and this includes greater operational maneuverability."
In analyzing this story, we readers must make guesses. The Israeli government has not confirmed it. It is possible that a series of rumors has led UPI reporters to a misperception. But the timing, from America's standpoint, could not be worse. Just as the United States is escalating military pressure in the Middle East, Sharon has escalated pressure inside the borders of allied nations. The war on terrorism is the justification in both instances.
Meanwhile, Al Qaeda is forgotten by the American public. The U.S. government's interpretation of events ever since bin Laden got away has been to blame Saddam Hussein for being in some unstated way responsible for backing Al Qaeda, despite the fact that it is public knowledge that Pakistan's equivalent of the CIA was the source of bin Laden's funding in Afghanistan. He was their boy, and they were ours. Now the war against terrorism is spreading far beyond Afghanistan.
A congressional staff member with deep knowledge of intelligence matters said, "I don't know on what basis we would be able to protest Israel's actions." He referred to the recent killing of Qaed Salim Sinan al Harethi, a top al Qaida leader, in Yemen by a remotely controlled CIA drone.
"That was done on the soil of a friendly ally," the staffer said.
Assassination attempts don't always work as planned. Then the blowback process begins.
Phil Stoddard, former director of the Middle East Institute, cited a botched plot to kill Ali Hassan Salemeh, the mastermind of the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre. The 1974 attempt severely embarrassed Mossad when the Israeli hit team mistakenly assassinated a Moroccan waiter in Lillehammer, Norway.
Salemeh, later a CIA asset, was killed in Beirut, Lebanon, in 1976 by a car bomb placed by an Israeli assassination team, former U.S. intelligence officials said.
The Mossad will supervise the new program, according to the UPI story.
Dagan, the new hard-driving director of Mossad, will implement the new changes, former Israeli government officials said.
Dagan, nicknamed "the gun," was Sharon's adviser on counter-terrorism during the government of Netanyahu in 1996, former Israeli government officials say. A former military man, Dagan has also undertaken extremely sensitive diplomatic missions for several of Israel's prime ministers, former Israeli government sources said.
Former Israel Defense Forces Lt. Col. Gal Luft, who served under Dagan, described him as an "extremely creative individual — creative to the point of recklessness."
Presumably, the spirit of secrecy will prevail on all sides. The civilian populations of both the United States and Israel are now the targets of Muslim terrorists. So far, Islamic terrorists have not targeted national leaders. The attempt on Karzai's life last fall was an exception, but the plot failed. It was not well-thought-out.
Historically, national leaders have left alone other national leaders during wartime. This is because tit-for-tat retaliation is the obvious response. Armies have slaughtered each other, but leaders have not been assassinated. The attempt on Hitler's life in 1944 was made by Germans, not by a British or American spy.
But we are now facing a new battlefield. The Muslim world has no military means of inflicting meaningful damage on Western military forces. While our government is officially in a sweat about nuclear weapons or sophisticated biological weapons, the technology of biological terrorism is becoming ever less expensive. As prices fall, technology spreads to NGO's (non-government organizations). When desperate, a cadre of religiously motivated men, who see that their political leaders are powerless to defend traditional Islam against aggression by the West, will accept the challenge to inflict revenge. There is a pool of eligible adult recruits that is well over 100,000,000. They are scattered all over the Middle East and Asia.
I think anyone who has given thought to the technology of retaliation knows that terrorism and counter-terrorism can up the ante at will. The constant suicide bombings inside the boundaries of Israel are a reminder to everyone: "Nobody is safe, no matter what the police do."
The escalation bothers me. Terrorism feeds on counter-terrorism, at least up to a point. At some point, which the tyrannical Czar Alexander III crossed after Alexander II was assassinated, the government can crush a domestic terrorist movement. But, sooner or later, a weaker, less ruthless leader ascends to the throne. Louis XVI and Nicholas II are classic examples. Then the repressed anger manifests itself in acts of violence.
The United States is on the edge of a major escalation. Its target is a moral monster, but is he a threat to the U.S.? This threat, the Administration has not proven. If the Administration knows where the radiating gun is, why not tell Blix?
North Korea is proving to everyone in the Muslim world that if you've actually got weapons of mass destruction, you can thumb your nose at America. This lesson will not be lost on the terrorists. They don't have weapons of mass destruction . . . yet. But biological weapons are cheap to produce. Once deployed, they can create terror in whole populations. The chilling words, "If a terrorist is willing to die. . . ," point to what we civilians know, but what our political leaders dare not articulate. We cannot be protected.
To attack a nation in lieu of attacking the terrorist underground is futile. There are too many recruits. Martyrs increase the supply of recruits. If the UPI story is true, we are facing an escalation of attacks on individuals. But attacks on individuals call forth tit-for-tat responses.
Now that the war on terrorism is escalating on two fronts, military and clandestine, the threat is that the response of the underground will be to escalate. But the weapons of that underground war are more likely to be aimed at leaders if the terrorists perceive that any retaliation by the U.S. will be directed at leaders of compromised Islamic client states.
When it becomes clear to Al Qaeda that the Middle East's Muslim states have become operational client states of the United States, the traditional restraints on high-level assassination will be removed. This is my fear. If the U.S. removes Saddam Hussein and brings the Saudi princes into line, Al Qaeda will no longer worry about retaliation on Muslim heads of state. In fact, such retaliation will be welcomed.
The West is not used to dealing with underground terrorists. Our leaders are used to dealing with nation-states that can be defeated on geographical battlefields. But the battlefields of the terrorists are selected at their discretion.
A swift military victory in Iraq, if coupled with assassination squads from the West, is a formula for long-term warfare. I don't think the West's voters perceive this threat. The West's military tactics rely on our military forces' ability to hammer foreign troops with high technology and then sending in occupying troops, such as the 37,000 who are still on the Korean border. Our enemies have only rarely been religiously motivated. They are usually identifiable either racially or geographically.
But what if our enemies are dispersed across many borders? What if they are united by the lust of revenge against the West because of the West's perceived embodiment of two hated religions? That would change the nature of the war.
We are about to roll into uncharted territory. The official rule is correct: "Things are easier to get into than out of."
January 20, 2003
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