With the memory of the Gulf War still fresh in his mind, is it any wonder that ever since September 11, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has been actively pursuing the formation of a grand coalition against terrorism that will include Arab states, maybe even Yasser Arafat and Syria's dictator, Bashar Assad, but will exclude Israel - just like the one that former U.S. president George Bush Snr. so successfully put together over ten years ago?
But as should have been clear from the beginning, this coalition is not going to be anything like the previous one: at best, it is going to be a virtual coalition, of little use in America's war against terrorism that was declared by President George W. Bush Jr. There is the ever-present danger of trying to fight the last war, even when the next one is going to be entirely different.
During the Gulf War, Arab states felt themselves threatened by Saddam Hussein's plans of aggression. The Saudis thought they would be next in line after Iraq had digested Kuwait; Syria's dictator, Hafez Assad, had a long standing feud with Saddam Hussein; and Egypt's Hosni Mubarak had reason to fear Iraq's hegemony over the Arab World if Saddam Hussein went unpunished for his aggression against Kuwait. At the time, these countries were natural supporters of the U.S. plan to free Kuwait; and Saudi Arabia served as the essential staging ground for General Schwartzkopf's forces.
Today, the leaders of these countries are much more concerned with growing domestic support for Osama bin Laden in the streets of their cities than with any imminent threat to their regimes posed by the wanted terrorist. The attempt to induce Iran, a country with a long record of state-sponsored terrorism, to join the war against terror can only tarnish the moral image of the coalition Powell is trying to stitch together.
These countries are all unlikely members of a coalition to bring bin Laden to heel. The same can be said for Arafat, whose acts of terror have served as an example to bin Laden's hijackers and whose followers in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip have been seen celebrating the destruction of New York's Twin Towers.
While the U.S. is seeking allies for its campaign against bin Laden's terrorist network, the latter already has his allies lined up. Bin Laden will not need to make any extensive diplomatic efforts to secure the aid and support of the Iranian-sponsored and Syrian-backed Hezbollah, the various Palestinian terrorist organizations headquartered in Damascus, the Palestinian Hamas and Islamic Jihad operating in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, and also the Algerian GIA.
The Iraqis, despite having had denied any complicity in the terrorist attack on the United States, have advertised their jubilation with the result, while the Iranians have already disdainfully rejected invitations to join the coalition against terrorism. It is not too farfetched to assume that the governments of these countries, or their secret services, will provide support for bin Laden in the months to come.
Any of these groups can be counted on to attempt to retaliate against the United States after it has struck effective blows against bin Laden and his gang of terrorists.
Although the attention of the United States at present seems to be focused on bin Laden's hideouts in the mountains of Afghanistan, and on the Taliban who are providing him with a safe haven, sooner or later, his allies will have to be scrutinized and neutralized. "First things first" is usually a pretty good strategy, but on occasion, a broad frontal offensive is required. Focusing solely on bin Laden may turn out to be an inadequate response to the threat of terrorism leveled against the democracies of the world.
Much of the job will undoubtedly have to be done by the United States. In this war, it will enjoy the support of many of the world's democracies. Some of this support will be no more than half hearted; while some countries will attempt to secure immunity from terrorism by making deals with the terrorists themselves. When the going gets rough, the United States will be left with only its true friends at its side; and one of these will be Israel.
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