London’s Terror Thursday establishes three realities beyond the shadow of a doubt: (1) the West is losing the “war on terrorism,” (2) in our present strategic mode, we are essentially defenseless against al-Qaeda’s offensive I agree with Michael Scheuer, the former chief of the CIA’s Osama bin Laden unit and author of Imperial Hubris, who said on National Public Radio that this is undoubtedly al-Qaeda’s grisly work, and (3) there are more than two sides in this war.
With the G-8 meeting being held in Scotland, security measures in the United Kingdom were at an all-time high and yet, despite that, al-Qaeda pulled off a fairly complex operation, involving four separate bombings, three underground trains and one bus, which was peeled away from its chassis like an opened can of beans, as one witness described it. Indeed, the London attacks have opened up a very big can of worms for Blair’s government, and in Washington too, where they’re realizing that the “fly trap” tactic they’ve been employing in Iraq has backfired rather badly.
If the Brits couldn’t prevent such a sophisticated and highly coordinated attack at a time like this when the meeting of the G-8 had British security on high alert then one can only conclude, along with Scheuer, that the terrorists held back, and could have caused far more damage and taken many more lives if they so chose. Perhaps that thought is meant to sink into the British consciousness. The terrorists’ message is clear enough: your government can’t protect you. This much seems beyond dispute.
The second message may be gleaned from the statement of responsibility for the attacks, which appeared on a jihadist Web site that has been utilized by al-Qaeda on previous occasions to make announcements. Here is screenshot of the message posted shortly after the attacks, and here is a translation, courtesy of Wikipedia:
“In the name of God, the merciful, the compassionate, may be upon the cheerful one and undaunted fighter, Prophet Muhammed, God’s peace be upon him.
“Nation of Islam and Arab nation: Rejoice for it is time to take revenge against the British Zionist crusader government in retaliation for the massacres Britain is committing in Iraq and Afghanistan. The heroic mujahideen have carried out a blessed raid in London. Britain is now burning with fear, terror and panic in its northern, southern, eastern, and western quarters.
“We have repeatedly warned the British government and people. We have fulfilled our promise and carried out our blessed military raid in Britain after our mujahideen exerted strenuous efforts over a long period of time to ensure the success of the raid.
“We continue to warn the governments of Denmaark and all the crusader governments that they will be punished in the same way if they do not withdraw their troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. He who warns is excused.
“God says: ‘You who believe: If ye will aid (the cause of) God, He will aid you, and plant your feet firmly.'”
Bin Laden’s message to Muslims is that the West, far from being invulnerable, can be defeated. His primary target remains the U.S., not Britain or any of the other countries mentioned in the claim of responsibility, and his chief objective is to get us out of the Middle East. The jihadist mindset is eerily similar to that of our own leaders, and their neoconservative amen corner, who continue to advance the proposition that we must fight “the terrorists” in the streets of Baghdad so we don’t have to do battle in the streets of London, Rome, and New York City. Bush declares that “we are going on the offensive,” but, as I pointed out only last week, so are they:
“The President gloats that ‘we’re on the offense’ and explicitly justifies this on the grounds that we have to go after them before they go after us. Yet why it is impossible for them to attack the U.S. [Ed: or the UK] anyway, even while fighting American troops in Iraq, no one seems to know.”
For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction: while the Islamists cannot begin to bring the sort of firepower that we wield in Iraq to bear in the streets of London, they can, over time, create conditions where a stiff upper lip is not enough. At that point or, hopefully, well before then the Brits, and indeed all of us in the West, are going to have to make a cold calculation of the costs and the benefits of invading the Middle East. Is it worth the high price we must pay, or is it time to come up with a strategy a bit more sophisticated than shaking the tree in which the hornets’ nest sits in the hope that it will eventually fall to the ground?
If the answer is yes, it is worth it, then we must be prepared to do what the War Party has been urging since 9/11: abolishing for the duration many of the freedoms we now enjoy and signing on to a foreign policy of perpetual war against much of the Muslim world. Aside from taxing ourselves into penury and instituting a military draft, this means basically shutting down the relatively free society we have been living in and replacing it with a garrison state, one in which freedom of movement, of privacy, of the right to not be tracked by the government 24/7 goes the way of the horse-and-buggy, spats, and the music of Tommy Dorsey.
To answer “no,” however, is to take the path of what the War Party derides as “appeasement” in spite of the reality that our present policy is an invaluable aid to bin Laden and his cohorts. Against the tidal wave of emotion a good deal of it cheap histrionics the advocates of a rational foreign policy will have to fight an uphill battle, at least for the moment. However, when the dust clears, and common sense sets in, the backlash against the Blair government is sure to rise up: after all, the Israelis claimed at least at one point that the Brits warned them of the attack “minutes” in advance. The British authorities, for their part, deny any such warning as the Israelis are now doing, at least offically.
The first Associated Press story about a warning received by former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu said this:
“British police told the Israeli Embassy in London minutes before Thursday’s explosions that they had received warnings of possible terror attacks in the city, a senior Israeli official said. Israeli Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had planned to attend an economic conference in a hotel over the subway stop where one of the blasts occurred, and the warning prompted him to stay in his hotel room instead, government officials said.
“Just before the blasts, Scotland Yard called the security officer at the Israeli Embassy to say they had received warnings of possible attacks, the official said. He did not say whether British police made any link to the economic conference. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the nature of his position.”
In subsequent versions of the same story, all references to the call from Scotland Yard have been scrubbed, and we are told that Netanyahu received the warning after the blasts. This instant revisionism was duly noted by the blogosphere. It took them a while to get their story straight and I’m not talking about the Associated Press.
So when did Netanyahu receive his warning and who warned whom? Stratfor.com circulated an interesting analysis shortly after the first stories began to come out: Although several news reports had Netanyahu on his way to the conference, Stratfor avers that he simply stayed put. Also noted is Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom’s denial that Scotland Yard informed the Israeli Embassy of the attacks in advance, with the Brits echoing this “clarification,” but Stratfor has the supposed scoop:
“Contrary to original claims that Israel was warned ‘minutes before’ the first attack, unconfirmed rumors in intelligence circles indicate that the Israeli government actually warned London of the attacks ‘a couple of days’ previous. Israel has apparently given other warnings about possible attacks that turned out to be aborted operations. The British government did not want to disrupt the G-8 summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, or call off visits by foreign dignitaries to London, hoping this would be another false alarm.
“The British government sat on this information for days and failed to respond. Though the Israeli government is playing along publicly, it may not stay quiet for long. This is sure to apply pressure on Blair very soon for his failure to deter this major terrorist attack.”
I would also point out that Stratfor, with its passion for reiterating the obvious, stated in its summary that “there has been massive confusion” over the warning confusion generated by whom, and to what purpose, is best left to the fertile imaginations of my readers.
The Stratfor piece puts the best spin on this story, at least from the Israeli point of view. If word that Netanyahu had a warning got out, then the best way to salvage it and even score a few brownie points in the process is to float the story that the warning was received not minutes but days before the attacks, and that the recipient of those warnings was not Netanyahu but the British government. Taking the focus off the eternal “war on terrorism,” and trying to solve the problems of world poverty and global warming, the British government deliberately downplayed the threat, even ignored it in spite of Israel’s best efforts.
And if you believe that, there’s a bridge in Brooklyn you may be interested in purchasing.
Netanyahu was no doubt a target of the bomb plot why else would the terrorists bomb an underground station directly below the hotel where the investment conference was going to take place? If Israeli intelligence knew about the attacks days in advance, and only thought to let Netanyahu in on the secret “minutes” before the bombs went off well, that’s a little hard to believe, now isn’t it? (Oh, wait maybe not.)
I don’t believe that Scotland Yard knew diddly-squat about the terror plot, either days or minutes before the bombs exploded, although what seems beyond dispute is that Netanyahu was warned beforehand. The question is, who warned him?
My longtime readers know that the question of how much the Israelis knew about 9/11 before those planes ploughed into the World Trade Center, and how they knew it, has been taken up in this space on many previous occasions. My short book, The Terror Enigma: 9/11 and the Israeli Connection, shows that Israel wasn’t behind the 9/11 attacks, as many in the Arab world allege, but that they did have some knowledge that a terrorist attack was about to take place on American soil and somehow neglected to tell us about it. A controversial thesis, to be sure, and one that has caused me no small amount of trouble, perhaps understandably so. I would submit, however, that in this instance, too, the same pattern seems to be repeating itself and that this goes a long way toward vindicating the thesis initially presented by Fox News reporter Carl Cameron in a four-part series broadcast in December 2001, and elaborated on by me in The Terror Enigma.
When you think about it, the idea that Netanyahu may have had advance warning of the attacks isn’t all that improbable. Israel, after all, depends for its survival on the ability of its intelligence services to track Osama bin Laden and his allies worldwide. However, the decision to share that intelligence with Israel’s ostensible allies in the “war on terrorism” cannot be taken for granted; and surely the choice not to do so, in the case of both New York and London, can be easily understood in terms of Israeli interests.
Who benefits from the London attacks, aside from the obvious candidate, which is bin Laden? With the “coalition of the willing” showing signs of going wobbly, and the recent announcement that Britain was withdrawing a good portion of its forces from Iraq, the political momentum in Britain (and the United States), which was going against the Iraq war, is suddenly reversed. Politicians are doing their best Churchill imitations, and the questions arising in the U.S. Congress and the media are swamped by an emotional tidal wave of pro-war sentiment. The scandals that plague the War Party both in Britain and the U.S. are eclipsed, and suddenly, with the prospect of suicide bombers in the streets of London and perhaps New York Martin Peretz’s battle-cry uttered in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 is taken up once again: “We are all Israelis now.” (Although, for good tactical reasons, Ariel Sharon is telling his diplomats not to say this too loudly.)
Who benefits? Who loses? And who knew? Surely Netanyahu knew, either “days” or “minutes” before the blasts shattered all hope that the War Party might yet be defeated and it wasn’t Scotland Yard that tipped him off. In any case, the key question that must be asked, and answered, before the lesson of London’s Terror Thursday can be fully assimilated and learned, is this: What did Bibi know, and when did he know it?