There Is Not Much Good News These Days

*There is not much good news these days, so the ruling of the Belgian supreme court that Ariel Sharon can be tried there for war crimes is most welcome. An Israeli commission already found Sharon at least partially responsible for the massacres at the Palestinian camps of Sabra and Shatila in Lebanon in 1982. Accusations usually concentrate on this incident, in which he deliberately handed over unarmed Palestinian populations to the far rightwing Phalangist militiamen, who promptly mowed them down with machine gun fire. Photos show women and children lying awkwardly on the ground. But the entire 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon was a war crime. It killed 18,000 people, 9,000 of them innocent noncombatants; and there was no legitimate reason for the invasion. Sharon just wanted to reshape Lebanese politics, the way his disciples in the Bush administration now want to reshape Iraqi politics. We’ll see if the American Likudniks have more luck than Sharon himself did. His invasion failed to crush the Palestinians and ultimately stirred the Lebanese Shiites to turn fundamentalist and attack the Israelis with a new technique: suicide bombings. Then last year Sharon ordered Israeli pilots to fire rockets at an apartment building in which a Hamas terrorist was thought to be present. Over a dozen innocent civilians were killed, including a little baby. You can’t just fire rockets into people’s apartments! Terrorism wrought on Israelis by Hamas is a horrible thing, but this sort of reprisal tactic is never justified. Sharon should stand trial for this alone (so should the pilot). The Israelis have launched a vicious verbal attack on Belgium and are trying to get the US to pressure the government to back down. But, if Pinochet can be arrested in Europe, why not Sharon? Pinochet killed many more people, but a war crime is a war crime.

*What seems striking to me about Bin Laden’s list of governments ripe for overthrow [in his recent message] is that it excludes both Egypt and Algeria. I am sure the exclusion is only a matter of prioritizing; He hasn’t given up altogether.

Bin Laden began supporting the radical Islamists in Algeria soon after the Algerian army stepped in to cancel the results of the 1991 elections that gave FIS (the Islamic Salvation Front) a majority in parliament.. The radical Islamists broke off from FIS subsequently and formed the Armed Islamic Group under Mourad Sid Ahmed (a returnee from Afghanistan with strong links to Bin Laden). Sid Ahmed and other “Afghan Arabs” had returned to Algeria after 1989, and insisted on wearing Afghan clothing in the streets of Algiers. The Armed Islamic Group has mainly carried out terrorism in Algeria, where it has killed over 100 foreign nationals, and has killed many more locals in the rural areas. Ahmad Ressam, the Millennium Plot bomber who was caught at the US-Canadian border in 2000 with explosives in his truck headed for the LA airport, was an example of the GIA/ al-Qaeda nexis.

The civil war between the army and the Islamists in Algeria has, as everyone here knows, resulted in more than 100,000 deaths, and GIA (Armed Islamic Group) leaders have been killed in large numbers. Antar az-Zouari was killed by security forces just a few months ago.

In Egypt, as well, there was a huge fight between the regime and the radical Islamists in the 1990s, in which the Mubarak regime imprisoned an estimated 20,000 – 30,000 and killed some 1500 in street battles. The once-radical leadership of the al-Jama`a al-Islamiyya and al-Jihad al-Islami in Tura prison renounced violence in 1998, and all but about 12,000 of the detainees have been released.

My guess is that Bin Laden has dropped Egypt and Algeria because the Islamists there have been devastated, and most likely the “Afghan Arabs” who were part of his network are dead or exiled. Indeed, the September 11 attacks were launched against the US partially because of frustration that it had succeeded in shoring up the Egyptian and Algerian governments, and Bin Laden hoped to push America out of the Middle East by making such support seem costly. (This was a miscalculation on his part, since in actuality the US is moving into the Middle East big time instead).

Bin Laden is therefore suggesting that his followers concentrate on overthrowing regimes that are more fragile than those of Egypt and Algeria, where the radical Islamists have not met with such devastating setbacks yet.

This pragmatism is in part driven by Bin Laden’s urgent need for another regime friendly to al-Qaeda, given the fall of the Taliban and the loss of the support of the Pakistani Interservices Intelligence (which is being purged of pro-Taliban officers). I think he is saying that his followers should stop beating their heads against the wall in Egypt and Algeria and concentrate their efforts on regimes that are potentially more vulnerable.

*In addition to Irene Gendzier’s forthcoming article, there is a good summary of the evidence for US supply to Iraq of significant materials and precursors for its weapons of mass destruction by William Blum in a 1998 issue of the Progressive at:

One Reagan administration official was quoted as saying that the US had been determined to “do whatever was necessary” to save Iraq from Khomeini.

Some key information in this regard was unearthed by a Senate investigation of the early 1990s, which published its report in 1994

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