Text size

The tape that Osama bin Laden made available to Al-Jazeera television station encapsulates his entire doctrine of terror - after you have demonstrated your capability, you can make do with broadcasting recorded statements or transmitting threats, and people will take you seriously.

Heathrow Airport in London was ringed by armored vehicles, rolls of duct tape were snapped off the shelves in the United States, and for the administration the tape served as proof of the ties between Iraq and bin Laden and sharply ratcheted up the pretext for war.

However, it is difficult to ignore the fact that no one in Washington reacted to the fact that bin Laden is continuing to send reminders that he is still alive and that the change of regime in Afghanistan did not mark an end to the war on terrorism.

Bin Laden and his organization pose the genuine concrete threat to world security, and invoking bin Laden as grounds for a war against Iraq in fact constitutes additional reinforcement of his status. Bin Laden has become not only the most wanted terrorist in the world; he is also a symbol.

It is possible only to join him, cooperate with him, give him assistance - but is impossible to replace him as the symbol of evil and of the overriding threat. Therefore, of all the accusations the United States is making against Iraq, the weakest is the one that relates to the ties between Iraq and bin Laden.

It is damaging to the American cause, because it also weakens all the other arguments. It plays into the hands of those who are opposed to Saddam's removal and presents the failure of the United States to capture bin Laden as proof of another expected failure in Iraq. Despite the aspiration of adding Saddam Hussein to bin Laden in order to create a thick bloc of evil, the two are almost polar opposites.

One is a fanatic Muslim, anti-Western, seeking the establishment of a worldwide Islamic empire; the other is secular, is fond of the pleasures of the West and, though making use of religious symbols, detests religion and its clerics. Both share a common denominator - each of them, for his own reasons, abhors the United States.

Bin Laden loathes what America symbolizes culturally and religiously, and as a threat to Islam. Saddam sees it as political threat that makes use of military force. Indeed, whereas bin Laden sees no way in which it might be possible to live in peace with the United States, Saddam has maintained excellent relations with American administrations in the past and does not rule out such ties in the future.

The two have good reason to cooperate, and they may have cooperated in the past or been in contact. However, circumstantial evidence can be of use in the theoretical real, but not where war is concerned and especially not if the administration is seeking to persuade its friends in the world that war is justified.

This is because when Saddam is added to bin Laden, an illusion is created that with one blow the world's evils can be eradicated - terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, radical Islam and despotism wherever it may be. Two symbols for the price of one. The point, though, is that weapons of mass destruction in the possession of a state and a terrorist attack are two different species of threat that require different types of struggle.

The war on terrorism - as was made clear by the warnings that reached the world's capitals last week, along with the upgrading of the alert level in the United States to "orange" - often requires cooperation with shadowy regimes, even at the price of ignoring their tyranny, their undermining of human rights and even their possession of dangerous weapons. Thus, the U.S. administration agreed to cooperate with Sudan and with Yemen, adopted a compromise with Libya, continued to maintain friendly relations with Pakistan, which has nuclear weapons, and showed a willingness to conduct negotiations with North Korea.

The explanation apparently lies in the awareness that national regimes, irrespective of their nature, will be ready to do battle against terrorist organizations as long as they view them as a threat to themselves. This is the area in which there is a convergence of interests between the United States and these regimes.

Iraq, even if it gave medical treatment to an Al-Qaida operative, is not a terrorist threat. It is more liable to become such a threat if it disintegrates into gangs, tribes and organizations following its conquest and occupation by the United States.