America’s War Coalition Flip Flops
24 September: DEBKAfile’s expertsoffer a short guide to the maneuvers surrounding America’s attempts to build an international bloc of supporters for its war against terrorism.
First-line backers: Britain, Canada, Australia, Germany, France, Russia, Turkey and Pakistan.
Second-line Support (nations rendering military, intelligence, logistic and medical aid and rear bases to the first-line members): Israel, Uzbekistan, Tadjikistan, India.
Where Are the Arab Nations?
As the hours slip by, the Arab nations are increasing the distance between themselves and President Bush’s war on terrorism, for a variety of reasons:
Saudi Arabia: Saudi Arabia’s denial of support is the bitterest setback Washington suffered since deciding on its military operation, forcing the Bush administration to put its planned assault on Baghdad on hold. Suddenly, the Americans had to cast about for new forward bases in place of the new combined air operations command center at Prince Sultan Air Base near Riyadh, which was to have been the central command post for directing air attacks from bases around the region in the Gulf and Southwest Asian regions.
The Saudis feared an US offensive against Iraq, launched from a base on their soil, would expose their cities to strikes by Iraqi missiles bearing chemical, biological and even possibly nuclear warheads. As the Gulf linchpin, the Saudis forced Arab Emirates, such as Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman who were willing to join forces with the United States, to follow their lead and back out of the US-led alliance. America is to be allowed to maintain military forces in their territory and carry on staff functions – but not to launch attacks.
Egypt: President Hosni Mubarak has from the first objected to the war coalition being led by the United States and demanded it be placed under the aegis of the United Nations. This was a pretext. Mubarak’s rationale for staying out of the war alliance is simple: He knows that at some point in the campaign, Egypt, like other Arab nations, will be handed a list of domestic radical Islamic terrorist groups – led by the Egyptian Jihad Islami, Osama Bin Laden’s senior partner – to which will be attached an American demand to terminate their operations. This Mubarak cannot afford to do, because any such move would unite all of Egypt’s teeming Islamic militant groups and sects in active opposition to his regime.
Syria: Syria has the same problem as Egypt. The United States has already handed President Bashar Assad an ultimatum to be met if Syria wants to be removed from the list of states sponsoring terrorism. Before anything else, he must sever his economic and military ties with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq - which is deemed a terrorist state – and with the Lebanese Shiite Hizballah. In the second stage, Syria will be asked to extradite to the United States Hizballah leaders and operations chiefs, as well as activists of the Palestinian radical and Islamic groups - the Fronts, the Hamas and the Jihad Islami - while outlawing those groups.
Feeling his back was to the wall, Assad hurried over to Egypt and Saudi Arabia over the weekend to demand their support for defying Washington’s demands.
Palestinians: Yasser Arafat understands he is cornered. He knows perfectly well that the groups he activates in his campaign against Israel – the Palestinian Authority’s “Preventive Security” services, his own Fatah-Tanzim, Force 17, the Jihad Islami and the Hamas, qualify as terrorist organizations by US standards and therefore targets to be crushed. Arafat hoped that with the help of Israeli foreign minister Shimon Peres, he could sanitize his terrorist groups without halting their war against Israel; once Washington accepted the Palestinian Authority as a partner in its coalition, those groups would be safe.
The Saudi withdrawal upset Arafat’s applecart. Now, he dare not line up with Washington in the opposite camp to the Saudi-Egyptian-Syrian grouping. His tactics for survival entail a low-key terror campaign against Israeli targets that is careful to fall short of provoking a strong US or Israeli response, while leaving him squarely within the inter-Arab consensus.
Iran: The dual problem with the rulers of Tehran is their active sponsorship of one of the most powerful, effective and zealous terrorist groups in the Middle East, the Hizballah, plus the fact that Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, personally runs what the Iranians call intelligence agencies, but which the Americans regard as terrorist groups, pure and simple.
One of Khamenei’s key “intelligence” aides is also one of America’s deadliest enemies, the notorious Hizballah hostage-taker of Lebanon in the eighties, Imad Mughniyeh.
For the moment, it suits American diplomacy and the goals of secretary of state Colin Powell to put a good face on the process of co-opting Arab partners and Iran to the anti-terrorist coalition. After all, no one wants to burn America’s bridges to the Arab world and the Persian Gulf. A useful device for preserving this facade is to lean on Israel to meet the Palestinians halfway. This is no more than a charade, because the Bush administration has little time to spare for this local conflict when it is deep in the first skirmishes of a world war.
Indeed, Washington was quick to replace the Arabs and the Gulf Emirs with Russia and the former Soviet republics of Central Asia, marginalizing the Middle East and its complexities.
This region will recover its importance when the Americans recover from the Saudi blow and decide to turn back to dealing with Baghdad. The decision by President Bush on this may be no more than a week, ten days off, but in making it, he will be influenced – not by what happens between Israelis and Palestinians, but by the progress of the combat in Afghanistan