Sunday, May 3, 2009

President Obama: You’ve Paid for the Report, Now Read It

President Obama: You’ve Paid for the Report, Now Read It

By Barry Rubin

The U.S. State Department has produced some excellent analysis in its “Country Reports on Terrorism 2008” study just released. Now the only problem is to ensure the Obama administration reads and absorbs the contents.

What can this report teach U.S. policymakers?

Regarding Iran, their government has massive evidence of its continuing role as “the most significant state sponsor of terrorism.” Why is Iran doing this? According to the State Department, “To advance its key national security and foreign policy interests, which include regime survival, regional dominance, opposition to Arab-Israeli peace, and countering Western influence, particularly in the Middle East.” That’s right, and it’s not going to change, especially one Iran has nuclear weapons.

Not only does Tehran use the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (the institution most supportive of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad) “to clandestinely cultivate and support” Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hizballah; plus radical Islamist groups in Afghanistan, the Balkans, and in Iraq against U.S. forces.

Here's one example of Iranian activity: "In 2008, Iran provided more than $200 million in funding to Lebanese Hizballah and trained over 3,000 Hizballah fighters at camps in Iran." So when someone says that Hizballah functions as an arm of Iranian strategy, U.S. analysts know that this is true.

And by the way, who can the United States depend on to project its interests in the region in a similar manner?

As for Syria, events highlighted its “ties to the world's most notorious terrorists,” including the death of Hizballah Operations Chief Imad Mugniyah, killed while under Syrian government protection. “Among other atrocities, Mugniyah was wanted for the 1983 bombings of the Marine barracks and U.S. Embassy in Beirut, which killed over 350.” Moreover, as the report shows, Syria has been tightening its alliance with Iran and continued financing terrorism.

While U.S. efforts reduced their numbers, terrorists destabilizing Iraq continued coming in “predominantly through Syria,” and “receiving weapons and training from Iran.”

Here’s the bottom line: Not only do Syria and Iran believe that destabilizing the region, bullying or controlling their neighbors, and expelling U.S. influence is in their interest but they’re also directly involved in trying to kill Americans.

What about Hizballah, the Lebanese Shia terrorist group? The report has no illusions:

Hizballah “receives training, weapons, and explosives, as well as political, diplomatic, and organizational aid from Iran, and diplomatic, political, and logistical support from Syria....The group generally follows the religious guidance of...Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Hizballah is closely allied with Iran and often acts at its behest, though it also acts independently....The group has helped Syria advance its political objectives in the region.”

It has been involved, “In numerous anti-U.S. and anti-Israeli terrorist attacks,” including, “The suicide truck bombings of the U.S. Embassy and U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983, and the U.S. Embassy annex in Beirut in 1984, and the 1985 hijacking of TWA flight 847, during which a U.S. Navy diver was murdered.”

Now, “Hizballah has provided training to select Iraqi Shia militants, including the construction and use of shaped charge IEDs that can penetrate heavily-armored vehicles....”

So Hizballah is an ally of Iran and Syria, involved in killing and kidnapping Americans. Should U.S. policy, then, not actively oppose Hizballah taking over Lebanon? And if Hizballah is part of the Lebanese government after the June elections shouldn’t the United States reject dealings and stop all aid to that regime?

Incidentally, in a recent speech to the Middle East Institute, Syria's ambassador to the United States Imad Moustapha, said that his country was proud to support Hamas and Hizballah and that every country in the world--including the United States should do so. If Syria is proud to support an organization that U.S. intelligence information shows killed and kidnapped Americans and even now is waging war on the United States in Iraq, what does that say for the prospects of U.S-Syrian cooperation? 

Regarding Israel, the report says that in response to, “regular and indiscriminate rocket attacks on Israel from Gaza.” Citing Israeli figures, the report notes, “Palestinian terrorist groups fired approximately 1,750 rockets and 1,528 mortars into Israel in 2008,” double the previous year’s total. “On December 18, HAMAS leadership announced the end of the ceasefire” during which it had ceaselessly been firing at Israel. Thereafter rockets of longer range and in larger quantities were shot at Israel, disrupting life in the country’s south. And this was the reason why Israel had no choice but to launch a major military operation in the Gaza Strip.

In looking at other terrorist threats, the report lists positive and negative developments. On the plus side, al-Qaida has “lost ground” in general and especially in Iraq (“significant defections, lost key mobilization areas, suffered disruption of support infrastructure and funding....”).

But, on the minus side, al-Qaida is trying to launch operations in North Africa, its local affiliate is waging war in Somalia, and the group operates freely in Pakistan areas across the border from Afghanistan.  By the way, the report significantly understates Pakistan's role as a sponsor of terrorism. The Taliban’s threat is also increasing. Europe, too, is becoming an area of serious concern as radicalization continues there among “immigrant populations, youth and alienated minorities....” I think that means Muslims. “Terrorists and extremists [are] manipulating the grievances of alienated youth or immigrant populations, and then cynically exploiting those grievances to subvert legitimate authority and create unrest.”

By the way, one shortcoming of the report was its understating Pakistan’s involvement in anti-Indian terrorism and the links between Pakistani officials and the Taliban.

How, according to the report, should terrorism be fought in the West? “Treat immigrant and youth populations not as a threat to be defended against, but as a target of enemy subversion to be protected and supported.” There’s a brief but interesting brief discussion on how to do this.

On one hand, “community leaders [must] take responsibility for the actions of members within their communities and act to counteract extremist propaganda and subversion.” That seems to suggest that Muslim leaders who insist their communities have nothing to do with extremism, violence, and hate-mongering actually combat these things rather than spend all their energy attacking anyone who suggests otherwise.

The other is that government must find partners in “credible organizations/people who can do what governments cannot.” That’s fine. But are they talking about working with true moderates or being fooled by the local affiliates and cheerleaders for Iran, Syria, Hizballah, Hamas, or the Muslim Brotherhood?

I hope, though I doubt, that Obama and others in the administration will read this report. I can’t think of any more effective way for challenging the idea that apologies or dialogues with the sponsors and perpetrators of terrorism is going to change their behavior.

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