The War on Terror
the world has always known terrorism in various forms (and today has
many non-Moslem terrorist groups), the current wave of Islamist
terrorism can be traced to the establishment of Israel and, even more
recently, to the failure of the Six-Day War of 1967 to wrest
Palestinian lands from Israeli control.
*Until that point, efforts to destroy Israel and to create a
Palestinian state had largely been undertaken through conventional
warfare and diplomacy. These were motivated by political, ethnic,
and religious motives. However, when all of Israel’s neighbours
could not defeat her in 1967, some Palestinians chose to follow Yasser
Arafat, who had long been an advocate of guerrilla warfare.
*The Palestinian Liberation Organisation had been founded in 1964, but
largely as a political pressure group. It had been supported in
large part by President Gamal Nasser of Egypt, and therefore had
Pan-Arab tendencies. After the Six-Day War, however, Arafat
became increasingly powerful, and in 1969 he became president of the
PLO (and would remain so until his death in 2004).
*Under Arafat, the PLO (and various associate groups) began to practise
terrorism with the ultimate goal of destroying Israel’s international
support and eventually overthrowing it. More short-term goals
sometimes included negotiating for the release of various political
prisoners or demanding large sums of money.
*In 1972 at the Munich Summer Olympics, eleven Israeli athletes were
taken hostage by a group associated with the PLO (Black
September). They demanded the release of 234 Palestinians jailed
in Israel and 2 more held in Germany. Israel refused to
negotiate, although they did offer to send in special forces to
help the German government (which refused, and used its own ill-trained
border guards in a failed rescue mission). In the end, all the
hostages were killed, along with 5 of the 8 terrorists and 1 German
policeman. Two of the other terrorists were later killed by
Israeli secret agents (Mossad), and the other is in hiding in Africa.
*One popular tactic of the PLO (and other terrorists) was the
highjacking of airplanes, and then holding the passengers hostage until
ransoms were paid or prisoners were released. In some cases the
terrorists were successful, in others local police or military forces
killed them when they tried to land. In one of the most famous
highjacking incidents, members of the PLF actually seized a cruise
ship, the Achille Lauro, in 1985 in response to recent Israeli attacks
against PLO headquarters. While holding the ship hostage, the
four highjackers killed one American passenger, apparently because he
was Jewish. Eventually the highjackers were allowed to leave the
ship, and were placed on an Egyptian airliner, which was forced to land
in Italy by the US. The four men were arrested, but three
eventually were released from prison. One of these was captured
by the US military in Iraq in 2003, and he died in US custody in 2004.
*The PLO was also responsible for the first (1987-1993) and second
(2000-2005) Intifada in attempts to win their own state by open warfare
in Israel. Militarily they were failures, as about 10
Palestinians died for every Israeli, but Israel’s ruthless crushing of
the PLO and other Palestinians made some Americans and American
sympathetic to the Palestinians for the first time.
*1980 saw the creation of what is perhaps the world’s major terrorist
organisation today, al-Quaeda (‘the foundation’ or ‘the base’).
In 1980, Osama bin Laden helped to found a mujahidin group in
Afghanistan to fight the USSR that would eventually evolve into
al-Quaeda. In 1988, bin Ladin would formally create al-Quaeda,
and many of the mujahidin with whom he had fought would join him.
The CIA helped train many mujahidin groups, although because bin Ladin
and his group were mostly Arabs in a non-Arab country, they did not get
as much CIA support as others did.
*After the Soviet Union left Afghanistan in 1989, al-Quaeda turned its
attention elsewhere, and began to focus more on outright terrorism,
rather than guerrilla warfare. In the 1990s, al-Quaeda operated
in Sudan, and later in Bosnia, which was seen as an opportunity to
fight another religious war to defend Islam.
*Al-Quaeda is a pan-Islamic group (with a diverse range of ethnicities)
and has several goals. They hope to reduce the influence of the
West on the Islamic world, and to resist western power. They
would like to destroy Israel as a state. They also hope to
overthrow most existing Middle Eastern governments because they are
seen as not being Islamic enough—even the royal family of Saudi Arabia
is not good enough for bin Ladin (because they work with the USA (even
letting them build military bases on Arabian soil—in the land of the
two cities) and because he feels that some of their religion is
hypocritical). They would like to create one government for all
the Moslem world under one Caliph, something even many Moslem people
and governments do not want, because it would mean giving up much of
their own power.
*About 1996, bin Ladin returned to Afghanistan, where he worked with
another former mujahidin group, the Taliban, to set up a fundamentalist
Islamic state in Afghanistan. In return, Afghanistan supported
al-Quaeda and its terrorist activities.
*In 1998, bin Ladin issued a fatwa, a religious decree (despite not
having the religious authority to do so) requiring all Moslems to kill
Americans. This was done under the name of the 'International
Islamic Front for Jihad Against the Jews and Crusaders.'
*In 2001 bin Ladin and al-Quaeda apparently planned and executed the
September 11th attacks on the United States, killing 2,986 people
(there is some debate if bin Ladin was actually involved, and he has
denied it publicly). In response, the USA announced its intention
to invade Afghanistan, although the Taliban twice offered to turn Osama
bin Ladin over to a third party if the USA would leave them alone.
*The war in Afghanistan was quick and successful, although the
occupation has been difficult, and many local warlords remain powerful
(and often fund their activities through the opium trade).
*In 2003, the US government was concerned that Iraq had aided or was
aiding al-Quaeda and other terrorist groups. Throughout the
1970s, 80s, and 90s, many Middle Eastern countries had training camps
for terrorists, or actively sponsored terror. Libya and Syria
were especially well-known for that, but Iraq had been involved
somewhat as well. However, Osama bin Ladin hated Saddam Hussein
for being a secular leader and supporting secular, Baathist
pan-Arabism. When Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990, bin Laden
offered his help to Saudi Arabia (until the UN and USA came in to help).
*Since the US invasion of Iraq, however, al-Quaeda has become
increasingly involved in the area, which some view as a failure of US
policy, but others see as a blessing in disguise—as long as al-Quaeda
is busy in Iraq, they won’t have the resources to launch major attacks
elsewhere, although there have been some attacks elsewhere since,
notably in Madrid in 2004 and London in 2005.
*The successful overthrow of Saddam Hussein has also been thought to
have helped spark the Cedar and Tulip Revolutions, and to have
encouraged a decrease in PLO violence and Libya’s decision to abandon
its weapons and terror programmes.
*Besides the PLO and al-Quaeda, there are several other famous terrorist organisations.
*The PLO has competition in the Levant from Hamas, a group determined
to create a fundamentalist Islamic state in all of what is now Israel,
the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip, and does not recognise Israel’s
right to exist (it considers it a Zionist conspiracy). Even the
PLO admitted that Israel was a sovereign state in 1988 (although it
disputes its borders).
*Hezbollah was formed in 1982 in Lebanon to fight the Israeli
occupiers, and is both a political and military group. While the
military wing of the party is involved in terrorism and guerrilla
warfare, the political party supports candidates for public office and
even supports hospitals, schools, and other charitable and civic works.
*There are several groups calling themselves the ‘Islamic Jihad,’ all
of which are opposed to Israel and, usually, the USA. The two
most famous groups with this name are those based in Syria (which
bombed the US Marine Corps barracks in Beirut during the Lebanese Civil
War) and Palestine. There are also groups with this name in Yemen
*Two of the major issues in both legitimate political friction between
the Middle East and the West and in Islamist terrorism are the
disparity in wealth between the regions and the growing influence of
Western, particularly American, culture in the Middle East—sometimes
known as Coca-Colonisation.
*The issue of wealth and the power the Middle East has (and does not have) is most obvious in the case of oil.
*In 1973, Egypt and Syria (and later Jordan and Iraq) made war on
Israel to try to get back the Golan Heights and the Sinai Peninsula,
lost in the Six-Day War of 1967. The war was largely a draw, but
the US (and some other countries supported Israel), and in retaliation,
OPEC cut off the supply of oil to those nations. The price of oil
immediately quadrupled. In the USA, oil was rationed, the speed
limit was lowered, and daylight savings time was extended. This
still did not stop many places from running out of oil, or the entire
world from falling into a deep recession—Japan responded by moving away
from oil-intensive industries and into electronics. According to
recently-revealed documents, the USA even considered invading Saudi
Arabia or Kuwait to force them to sell their oil. End the end,
though, the embargo hurt OPEC, although it hurt some countries more
*Oil has made the Middle East wealthy and powerful, but its value is
declining. As countries in the Middle East have industrialised
and modernised, their populations have expanded tremendously. Oil
production has not expanded in the same degree. Therefore, the
amount of money available to the average citizen is much less: in
1980, the GDP per capita was $25,000, a tidy sum then or now. By
1999 it was $7,000 per capita, although it has since risen to $12,000.
*As the region sees its influence decline—especially as the young have
difficulty finding employment--while the West continues to boom, more
and more Middle Easterners grow resentful, and turn to violence to
solve their problems.
*Even today, the majority of Moslems, both laymen and scholars, reject
terrorism (especially suicide bombing, as Islam is opposed to suicide),
saying it is contrary to the teachings of Islam. Many prominent
Islamic leaders have condemned various terrorist leaders, especially
those who take it upon themselves to issue fatwas. Nonetheless,
terrorism remains a world-wide problem, and the War against it, while
worth fighting, is probably not truly possible to win.