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Shackled Warrior – Israel and the Global Jihad

June 4, 2008
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Nine days after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, President George W. Bush stood before a joint session of Congress and announced, “Our war on terror begins with al-Qaeda, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated.” At the time, with so many momentous events seemingly happening at once, the full strategic significance of that comment went largely unnoted. The president of the United States had just declared war. It was clear that the US would soon respond in a massive way to the attacks on its soil.

Shackled by a Limited Definition
But for many in Israel, the meaning of that statement was as immediately clear as it was harsh. A year before, the Palestinians had begun their terror war against Israel. By limiting the definition of the enemies of the free world to terrorist groups “with global reach,” President Bush was explicitly removing Palestinian terrorists from the enemy camp. Correspondingly, Israel was not included in the camp of allies.

Many commentators have rightly criticized the Bush administration’s decision to name the war the War on Terror. After all, terror is not an enemy. It is a tool of war. To limit the aims of the war to the eradication of the suicide bomber or the roadside bomb means that the actual enemy which wields these weapons in order to advance its nefarious aims is never addressed.

While it is rarely acknowledged by Western leaders, the identity of the enemy is not hidden from view. The forces of jihad―whether comprised of state actors or non-state actors―are the enemy in this war. Consequently, anything that advances jihad’s aim of Islamic domination is antithetical to the interests of the free world. Anything that harms that cause advances the interests of human liberty and freedom. Given that terror is but a tool of war for the jihadists, countering terrorism, while necessary, is not sufficient to win the war.

By declaring that the war is against terror organizations of global reach, the US hurt the cause of freedom twice. First, it denied itself the ability to acknowledge and understand the enemy that uses terror against it. Second, by limiting the scope of the fight to global terror groups, it divested itself of the ability to see and understand the relationships between local jihadist groups and the larger global arena. When jihadists in Pakistan or Gaza or the Philippines or Nigeria call for the establishment of a caliphate [area where Islam rules] in their neighborhood, is it reasonable to dismiss them as mere local political forces in the event that a direct link cannot be made between them and Osama bin Laden?

The US has not been alone in failing to accept the significance of jihad and Israel’s unique importance to the forces of jihad worldwide. Israel, too, has ignored these basic realities. Israeli leaders, from Shimon Peres to Ehud Olmert, have argued that if the Palestinian war against Israel is a jihad―a religious war―then that means that there is no way to peacefully resolve the Palestinian conflict with Israel. Since they wish to peacefully resolve the Palestinian conflict with Israel, as far as they are concerned, the Palestinian war against Israel cannot be a jihad.

Shackled by Denial

Sadly, despite the best efforts of both the Bush administration and successive Israeli governments to dictate for their enemies who they can and cannot be and what they can and cannot stand for, American and Israeli arguments have failed to convince the jihadists. For them, the Palestinian jihad against Israel, the only non-Islamic enclave from the Mediterranean Sea to India, is a central front in the global jihad. It is a strange predicament when the two nations most directly targeted by the enemies of civilization refuse to acknowledge their enemies’ identity, ideology, doctrine, or goals. It is tragic when, as a result of their denial of the fact that their enemies are common ones, they deny themselves also a true understanding of their own alliance.

And, of course, in spite of their double denial of the nature of the war being waged against them, the US and Israel are still far ahead of much of the rest of the world in coming to grips with reality, just by recognizing that there is a war to begin with. Much of the world, and particularly Western European nations―but also Russia and China―have, for various reasons, refused even to acknowledge that a war is going on.

President Bush addresses a joint session of Congress on September 20, 2001

When the jihadists struck America on September 11, 2001, I was at my home in Israel writing a retrospective article on the failed Israel–PLO peace process, which had begun eight years earlier on September 13, 1993 and collapsed the year before on September 28, 2000, when the Palestinians began their jihad against Israel. After watching the second hijacked airliner fly into the World Trade Center, I called my editor at the Hebrew Makor Rishon newspaper where I worked at the time. I told him that my article would come in later than expected as I had to write a completely different article about a completely different war. But even as I said those words, it was clear to me that it was the same war. The same regimes and private financiers were bankrolling both the Palestinians and Osama bin Laden. The Palestinians and al-Qaeda subscribed to the same religious authorities. Just as the Palestinians cheered for al-Qaeda on September 11, 2001, so al-Qaeda cheers daily for Palestinian jihadists.

Over the years, I have observed this war from a variety of vantage points. I have observed it as an Israeli citizen, whose neighbors and friends have been murdered and wounded in buses and cafes. I have observed it as a combat reporter, accompanying American forces in the invasion and liberation of Iraq from Saddam Hussein’s tyrannical regime. I have observed it as a researcher in the Israeli military, watching officers attempting to find ways to fight a war whose nature they are instructed to ignore. I have watched it as a member of a think tank in Washington, attempting to formulate policies for contending with a global web of jihadists whose existence governmental policymakers in the US and throughout the world studiously avoid acknowledging. And I have watched it as a newspaper columnist charged with placing the events of the day within wider social and strategic contexts.

Shackled like Samson

Palestinian women are dressed with explosive vests, and kindergarten children are in military uniform. The sign reads, “The jihad is our program of action.” As the years have passed, I have repeatedly been struck by the double chains that shackle Israel and the free world in contending with the war being waged against us. We blind ourselves by refusing to recognize the nature of the war. And once blinded, we deny ourselves the tools necessary to fight to victory.

Over the years, the image of Samson, the biblical judge—the unwilling, shackled, and ultimately blinded warrior—has often entered my mind. Samson wished to be seduced by his enemies and ignore his responsibilities to his people and to his God. And when he fought, although mighty, he was manacled, and so his fight hurt him as well and ultimately led to his own demise. How different his life might have been, and how different the fate of the Children of Israel might have looked, had he not been so inclined towards denial! Samson’s fate was eminently avoidable. The Philistine women in his life were not particularly skilled in guile. But it was his willful blindness and self-absorption at the end of the day that made it essential for him to sacrifice himself in an effort to destroy his people’s enemies.

It is my sincere belief that his fate need not—and will not be—shared by either Israel or the free world. We have the ability to win without being destroyed. But to do so, we must accept the reality of war. And we must love ourselves and respect our enemies.

By Caroline B. Glick

Photo Credit: www.terrorism-info.org.il

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