Analysis / Jerusalem-on-Thames
"Whilst the U.K. has faced a variety of terrorist threats in the past, a unique combination of factors - namely the global reach, capability, resilience, sophistication, ambition and lack of restraint of Al-Qaida and associated groups from around the world - place the current threat on a scale not previously encountered."
The above words were not written by a security analyst but by an official from Britain's security service, MI-5, on the service's official Web site. The citizens of Britain were warned, in a routine manner, to be prepared for simultaneous Qaida-style terror attacks, in the form of suicide bombings or remote-detonated devices; the public transportation system, particularly the Underground, was named as a likely target. MI-5 experts even took the trouble to explain to the British public the difference between the controlled-deadliness of the IRA and the indiscriminate cruelty of the followers of Osama bin-Laden.
The terror attacks in London yesterday reflect, therefore, a resounding failure on the part of the British intelligence community: It functions on the basis of a constant alert, but was unable to come up with a specific warning that would have led to the exposure and foiling of the plot.
Serial attacks such as those yesterday require precise planning, the deployment of underground cells, the recruitment of activists (and suicide bombers too, so it appears), the acquisition of explosives and the constructing of devices, transportation arrangements and more - and all under the nose of MI-5, the Metropolitan Police, MI-6 and Military Intelligence.
The British security failure will keep commissions of inquiry busy. And the failure will be even more stinging if Tony Blair was relying on solid information when he said, just three hours after the blasts, that the attacks were intended to coincide directly with the G-8 summit.
Last month, a high-ranking Israeli Military Intelligence officer, an expert in Islamic Jihad, was asked what his colleagues in the West have been asking themselves: Why hasn't there been a mega-attack against an American target since September 11, 2001? Or more precisely: Is the reason for the lack of such an attack an Al-Qaida decision to concentrate efforts on easier targets, or is it a sign of the weakness of the organization, which had only one trump card to play and nothing with which to follow up?
No one, admits the intelligence officer, knows the answer; but one can assume that two partial reasons include the diversion of attention to Iraq, and Al-Qaida's organizational weakness. The U.S. stronghold in Iraq is a magnet for terror - terror that is being channeled toward Baghdad and not Boston.
The antiquated description of Al-Qaida as something of a spread-out but controlled network of franchises, the McDonald's of terror, was perhaps a little exaggerated, the Israeli intelligence official said; if this corporation has a central management, it has had a hard time maintaining contact with the extensions.
When confirmed information about the London attacks is accumulated, we will see just how correct this assumption was, because Al-Qaida may have found within itself just enough strength to put together one select unit for special assignments, away from the British cells under surveillance, and make do with one or two quality attacks each year - Madrid, Istanbul, London.
The July 2005 "blitz" on the banks of the Thames, worse than anything that has befallen Israel's cities, found London at the center of international and European attention (the G-8 summit, the presidency of the EU and the hosting of the 2012 Olympics), and also in the well-known situation of being the elderly and weak sister of a strong United States. American secrets that are kept from all strangers are revealed to the British, the Canadians and the Australians; and if they are really, really confidential - to the British only.
Blair didn't need yesterday's attacks to realize that the lessons learned by Bush on September 11 remain valid: The war against the global jihad cannot be won by means of defense and security only. It is a war to the bitter end that requires the West to go from country to country, territory to territory, quarter to quarter to eradicate terror and those who sponsor it. This, among other things, is more bad news for Syria, Hezbollah, Iran and Hamas.
Bush, Blair and bin-Laden (with all due respect to Ariel Sharon, Mahmoud Abbas, Ayatollah Khamenei and Vladimir Putin) are the central figures of the first and decisive decade of the 21st century - a decade that saw the fading of the illusion that turning a blind eye will eliminate the danger.