A leak to the media, however, forced the feds to go public before the trap could be fully sprung, at least according to Newsweek‘s Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball.
Several aspects of this case are extremely odd, starting with the ethnic “diversity” of the players.
Hemant Lakhani, a.k.a. Hemad, a.k.a. Hekyat Beginning with his exact name, we get conflicting accounts of just who and what this guy is. By some accounts he’s an “international arms dealer,” yet his neighbors described him as “Mr. Average” and were shocked when the cops beat down the doors of the Lakhanis’ home in the predominantly Jewish neighborhood of Hendon, a north London suburb. The Guardian and others characterize the 68-year-old Indian-born British national as an amateur in the arms trade, whose last known profession was as a garment trader and the manager of a West End clothing store. Julian Borger disdains him as “a blusterer, rather too anxious to impress on his contact that he is a ‘serious businessman’ capable of getting hold of ‘high-class stuff.'”
Yet in the same newspaper we read:
“A source close to British intelligence yesterday described Mr. Lakhani as a ‘known arms dealer’ who was thought to conduct most of his business offshore. He put ‘feelers’ out and ‘clearly knew who he was selling the missile to,’ the source added, making the point that Mr. Lakhani would not have been involved in a ‘blind deal.'”
The internet turns up sparse evidence of Lakhani or what he does for a living.
Yehuda Abraham If Lakhani’s neighbors were somewhat surprised to see his house swarming with police, Yahuda Abraham’s family and friends are even more mystified. What possible connection could this 76-year-old pillar of the Orthodox Jewish community in New York City have to do with international terrorism? Mr. Abraham is described by the New York Times as “a slight, stooped 76-year-old gem dealer, with a house in Queens, an office in New York’s diamond district and shops around the world.” Pretty much the last person you might expect to be involved in a scheme to sell SAMs to Al Qaeda. And yet:
“One night last October, prosecutors say, a client entered Mr. Abraham’s 12th-floor Midtown office and handed him $30,000 in hundred dollar bills, an odd, if believable transaction in the world of international gem dealers. Mr. Abraham, by the government’s account, counted out every note, then gave the client his business card. But this was not a jewelry sale, prosecutors allege. It was a secretive deal, with a code number and a cash commission, in which Mr. Abraham agreed to transfer the client’s money to a bank account in Europe, out of the sight of federal regulators.”
The code number, which was used to identify the FBI agent posing as a “client,” consisted of the serial number of a $1 bill in Abraham’s possession, It was like something out of a James Bond movie: hardly the sort of elaborate precaution an ordinary criminal would take.
Abraham’s family is predictably indignant, and his colleagues in the diamond trade are baffled. Says one:
“‘For a Jew to do something like that, I cannot believe it or understand it,’ said a 49-year-old jewelry wholesaler whose shop is on 47th Street. ‘He’s a prominent member of our community. To do something like that is crazy.'”
But we are living in crazy times, an era that might even be termed the Bizarro Age, like the Bronze Age. So it is not only possible it is altogether all too probable that what the FBI says has some basis in fact:
“Mr. Abraham was the money man, a shadowy figure who facilitated the work of terrorists by giving them the means to finance their actions the purchase of the missiles through an informal money transfer system, known as hawala, which is common in the Middle East and a preferred method of finance for terrorists.”
The third member of this disparate trio, Moinuddeen Ahmed Hameed, is even more shadowy than the others: described as a “Malaysian resident,” he turned up on the scene the week before the final transaction was to occur, apparently to launder the proceeds. The Washington Post reports:
“Hameed, who is charged with operating an unlicensed money-transmitting business, was allegedly brought into the deal only this week to handle a scheduled down payment of $500,000 on the purchase of 50 more missiles, officials said.”
Hameed is described in some news accounts as an employee of Abraham’s Ambuy International, a.k.a. Ambuy Gem Corp., probably the only Jewish-owned company to boast of offices in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Both Hameed and Abraham are charged with operating an illegal money-laundering scheme, which could get them a mere 5 years and a $250,000 fine. As Abraham’s lawyer was quick to point out:
Lakhani is the only one who has actually been charged with aiding and abetting terrorism, but can you imagine what would have happened if any Saudis had been involved?
With far less evidence, the government of Saudi Arabia has been tried and convicted in the court of bipartisan public opinion of financing through the hawala system a worldwide terrorist conspiracy, including the 9/11 terrorist attacks. We are supposed to believe that it’s “us” against “them,” that, as George W. Bush put it, “you’re either with the terrorists, or you’re with us.” But who is “them” and who be “us”?
I am struck by what Lakhani said to the FBI informant as they planned in a hotel room looking out on Newark International Airport. Planes winged their way into the horizon while Lakhani declaimed:
Surely this threat was directed at the American people, in general. ln a more specifically political sense, however, the one American who would be dealt a terrific blow by another successful terrorist operation on American soil would be George W. Bush. But who would want to bring down the economy, and this President, aside from the usual Islamic fundamentalist suspects?
It is interesting that, in all the news accounts of the recorded conversations between Lakhani and the informant, the former never endorses the Islamist ideals of Bin Laden. He merely expresses approval for bringing down the U.S. a notch or two: Lakhani disdains Americans as “bastards,” who deserved what they got.
Abraham’s central role in all this, as the chief financier of the terror deal, makes it hard to believe that he was merely acting as a purely functional go-between, and was motivated by greed. The actual amount of money involved in the attempted transaction never amounted to more than half a million, with a small commission for Abraham, hardly enough to justify the high risks.
We are at war. 9/11 made that plain enough. But the problem with the “war on terrorism” from the beginning has been the elusive nature of the enemy. We’re supposed to believe it’s the Muslim world, personified by Osama bin Laden, versus America, Israel, and parts of the West (not including France). The 28 blank pages of the recent congressional report on 9/11 have provided ample opportunity for conspiracy theorists like Dore Gold to put Riyadh at the center of the terrorist web, and we constantly hear that 15 out of 19 hijackers were Saudis.
So let’s take a look at the nationality of the latest terrorist operatives, and extrapolate similarly. Let’s see: we have an Indian of British nationality, who may or may not be a Hindu, depending on which version of his name is correct; a Malaysian, presumably a Muslim, and an American of Jewish ethnicity. It would it be too politically incorrect to note that two out of three of the conspirators might be said to embody the Indo-Israeli alliance. (Correction: make that three out of three, since it turns out that Hameed is an Indian citizen.) So I shall refrain from doing so, except to note that ethno-religious analysis of that sort is allowed only when it applies to Saudis.
Both Israel and India have their increasingly bitter grievances against the U.S. The former is being pressured to accept a peace settlement that high-placed extremists in the government find unacceptable, and the latter on account of American support for Pakistan’s heroic General Musharraf, a moderate Muslim who risked his position, and his life, to side with the Americans against terrorism.
If the intelligence agencies of either nation were involved, albeit peripherally and in a “rogue” manner, with the activities of the Lakhani-Abraham terror ring, it would hardly be surprising. The Lavon Affair, in which Israeli agents masquerading as Muslim fanatics bombed American interests in Egypt, is infamous throughout the Arab world, and largely unknown in the West. More recently, the spate of stories that the Israelis had some foreknowledge of the events leading up to 9/11, yet failed to inform us, points to the dark side of our relations with our closest ally.
We don’t know enough, yet, to come to any definite conclusions about this case, but one thing is for sure: the exclusively Muslim-Arab face of terrorism is changed forever.
NOTE IN THE MARGIN
Why, we just love Israel, and would love it even more if only its leaders and supporters would commit war crimes on their own dime, without American aid and without continually hectoring us for more. Look, nobody really cares about Israel, per se: the problem is the effect that nation’s knee-jerk supporters have on the American political process and the way their shrill cries distort and degrade the national debate on U.S. policy in the Middle East. For one thing, as Mercer’s screed shows, the sort of attacks engaged in by the Amen Corner are completely out of bounds, to wit:
“I understand that libertarians like Sheldon Richman (and the Holocaust-denying Institute for Historical Review) believe, mistakenly, that all “the land” belongs to the Arabs. No doubt, American libertarians speak with the authority that comes from having the finest fathers a nation could wish for. How can Israel’s humble, evidently uninspiring ideological beginnings compare (cynicism alert) with founders who fought for their freedom and their land?”
To understand how these people operate, you have to understand that the whole purpose of the above paragraph is to put Richman, a distinguished libertarian scholar, and the nutball Institute for Hysterical Review, in the same ballpark, as if they were allies. That is an outrageous lie. One might as well say that both La Mercer and the terroristic followers of the late Meir Kahane share a common belief in Israel’s legitimacy.
Ilana, I’d like you to meet David Frum: you two have a lot in common. Already you’re making beautiful music together: and just think what it will do for your career as an intellectual street-walker, that is.
According to Mercer, the Wall of Separation is just a “defensive” measure, and the Palestinians are compared to “pygmies,” savages who can be safely closed off from the Israeli economy because the Israelis’ “natural trading partners” are the U.S. and the EU. One might as well say that Brooklyn’s “natural trading partners” are Manhattan and Long Island, and so an impassable wall dividing it from the Bronx would be an economic winner. The supposedly ongoing “privatization” of Israel’s socialist economy is understandably delayed because of those evil Palestinians. How convenient.
And it is “laughable,” says Mercer, that the end of U.S. aid would have to mean any significant problem for the Israelis, who would supposedly be better off without being on the American dole. But where do you suppose all those helicopter gunships so effective at cutting down Palestinian teen-agers in their tracks, as they throw stones at their tormentors come from? What about all those “loan guarantees” and the billions that make it possible for Israel to reign as the region’s military powerhouse, surpassing even the military capacity of the U.S.?
If Israel had to pay the full price of all that might, it would have collapsed economically long ago. The diversion of resources into military hardware and preparations for war would have impoverished a nation already teetering on the edge of bankruptcy.
Mercer makes much of ancient Israeli land claims likening their denial to “holocaust denial” but nowhere does this great “libertarian” mention the land stolen, not decades ago, but as recently as a few months and weeks ago by the builders of the Wall. In building this monstrous symbol of a nation’s arrogance, Israeli planners deliberately cut off Palestinian lands from their owners and in effect expropriated them. What does the great upholder of property rights over at WorldNutDaily have to say about that?
Nothing, nada, zilch.
In the article she critiques, I gave specific examples of such instances, so she can’t claim not to know what I’m referring to. She hides behind the anti-immigration stance taken by some libertarians to justify the odious Wall, but this drops the context of the wall’s construction: they are building it in the midst of negotiations on Israel’s proper border with the Palestinian state. Mercer’s U.S.-Mexico analogy would work only if America was at war with Mexico, the two called a truce, commencing negotiations, and the U.S. started building a gigantic wall pushing the border over to the Mexican side of the Rio Grande. The Mexicans would protest and rightly so.
Israel has always proved to be a difficult issue for libertarians, in part because of Ayn Rand’s nutty affinity for a nation founded by socialist mystics. In her eyes, Israel was a symbol of “modernity” against Palestinian-Arab “savagery.” The idea that the Arabs were dressed in silk and mapping the heavens while Europeans were still lurking about in animal skins, baying at the moon, was beyond her ken. She might have picked up her friend Rose Wilder Lane’s excellent book, The Discovery of Freedom, published in the same year as her own breakthrough novel, The Fountainhead (1943) to discover the facts. But since Rand came to many of her views by means of simply introspecting, without reference to written works other than her own and Mickey Spillane’s, that never occurred.
In any case, the alacrity with which so many libertarians defend Israel’s every atrocity is, historically, an unfortunate aberration. Ayn Rand once said that “Love is exception-making.” In this case, Mercer makes an exception for Israel when it comes to upholding property rights and abiding by the ordinary rules of human decency.