THE PRICE OF WASHINGTON'S
By Yossef Bodansky
If very senior Islamist terrorist leaders are to be believed, the Clinton Administration is willing to tolerate the overthrow of the Mubarak Government in Egypt and the establishment of an Islamist State in its stead as an acceptable price for reducing the terrorist threat to US forces in Bosnia-Herzegovina. This trade-off was recently raised in discussions between the Egyptian terrorist leader Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri and an Arab-American known to have been both an emissary of the CIA and the US Government in the 1980s. Egypt's President Husni Mubarak is convinced this information is accurate and has already undertaken major steps to address the challenge. Moreover, to-date, the independent sources that provided this information have proven highly reliable and forthcoming.
In the first half of November 1997, Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of the Jihad Organization and the Vanguard of Conquest terrorist organizations, met a man called Abu-Umar al-Amriki [al-Amriki means the American] at a camp near Peshawar on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. High-level Islamist leaders insist that in this meeting Abu-Umar al-Amriki made al-Zawahiri an offer: The US will not interfere with nor intervene to prevent the Islamists' rise to power in Egypt if the Islamist Mujahedin currently in Bosnia-Herzegovina [B-H] refrain from attacking the US forces. Moreover, Abu-Umar al-Amriki promised a donation of $50 million (from undefined sources) to Islamist charities in Egypt and elsewhere.
This was not the first meeting between Abu-Umar al-Amriki and al-Zawahiri. Back in the 1980s, Abu-Umar al-Amriki was openly acting as an emissary for the CIA with various Arab Islamist militant/terrorist movements then operating under the wings of the Afghan Jihad. In the late 1980s, in one of his meetings with al-Zawahiri, Abu-Umar al-Amriki suggested that al-Zawahiri would "need $50 million to rule Egypt." At the time, al-Zawahiri interpreted this assertion as a hint that Washington would tolerate his rise to power if he could raise this money.
Thus, the mention of the magic figure -- $50 million -- by Abu-Umar al-Amriki in the November 1997 meeting has been interpreted by al-Zawahiri and the entire Islamist leadership, including Shaykh Usamah bin Ladin, as a reaffirmation of the discussions with the CIA in the late 1980s. The Islamist leaders are convinced that in November 1997, Abu-Umar al-Amriki was speaking for the CIA -- that is the uppermost echelons of the Clinton Administration.
Meanwhile, the US has reasons to worry about al-Zawahiri's plans and intentions. While the Clinton Administration is making a strenuous effort to convince Congress and the American people of the need to keep US forces in Bosnia beyond the June 1998 deadline, a drastic reversal of a position explicitly promised to Congress, the US-sponsored government in Sarajevo is actively preparing for a military confrontation in order to regain control over the Republika Srpska by force, using weapons and training provided by the US under the "Train and Equip" program. One of the scenarios contemplated by Sarajevo since the Fall of 1997 envisions the use of Islamist terrorism against the Americans in order to expedite the withdrawal of the US forces in case the Clinton Administration refuses to support the Bosnian Muslim military surge.
Terrorist forces answering to Ayman al-Zawahiri are among the best prepared and best trained for this mission. Back in the Spring of 1996, al-Zawahiri's people already constituted the most credible threat of spectacular and highly lethal terrorist strikes against the US components of what was then I-FOR. A warning issued at the time specified suicide bombing as the likely form of attack.
The warning was issued by an Egyptian Islamist using the nom de guerre Salim al-Kurshani -- a veteran of the Mujahedin units who married a Bosnian woman and who now legally lives in B-H. Al-Kurshani introduces himself as the commander of a Jihadist organization called the Islamic Group -- Military Branch in Bosnia. However, he issued the warning in the name of a new group called the Bosnian Islamic Jihad. The all-Islamic versions of both names are also used by Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Al-Kurshani stressed the centrality of martyrdom to his forces and stressed his strikes would be most effective because I-FOR had no defense against such operations. "I have a message for NATO forces in Bosnia," he warned: "We shall send suicide bombers to punish the United States and I-FOR for their occupation of an Islamic land."
In his statement, al-Kurshani clarified his own, and his organization's, affiliation with the Egyptian Islamist terrorist elite, particularly the forward headquarters in Sofia, Bulgaria, under the command of Ayman al-Zawahiri. Indeed, the Islamist terrorist forces under al-Zawahiri's command were activated throughout the Balkans in early April 1996. Back in early 1996, confident in his ability to maintain secure and solid lines of communications to the Islamist terrorist forces in B-H, al-Zawahiri ordered the deployment of key experts capable of planning, overseeing and leading major spectacular terrorist strikes against such objectives as US/I-FOR facilities. The arrival of 40 Egyptian expert terrorists was the first major forward deployment for this purpose.
This terrorist deployment, and their Iranian shield and command support, are still in place in B-H. Meanwhile, in late October 1997, the Vanguard of Conquest and the Jihad Group -- both under the command of Ayman al-Zawahiri -- issued a major communique that declared a forthcoming terroristic Jihad. "The Islamic Jihad against America's world dominance, the international influence of the Jews, and the US occupation of Muslim lands will continue," the communique declared. This was not an idle warning for on November 17, 1997, Zawahiri's forces carried out the carnage in Luxor -- killing well over 60 innocent Western tourists.
The November 1997 meeting between Ayman al-Zawahiri and Abu-Umar al-Amriki took place before the Luxor slaughter. Washington did not need a reminder to be convinced of al-Zawahiri's capabilities and resolve.
Yet, even though the Islamist leadership, including both al-Zawahiri and bin Ladin, are convinced that the offer made by Abu-Umar al-Amriki was genuine and legitimate -- that is, on behalf of the Clinton Administration -- the Islamists continue their preparations for a fateful confrontation with the US.
In early December 1997, the Jihad Group, led by al-Zawahiri, determined in a special bulletin that a fateful confrontation between the US and militant Islam, in which the Jihad intends to "offer martyrs", is both inevitable and imminent. "A conflict between the Muslim Ummah [nation] and the United States is unavoidable; in fact we have no other option but to confront atheism and its ringleader, the United States, which is confronting us everywhere. With Allah's help, we know the United States well," the Jihad bulletin notes, "we also know its weaknesses." The bulletin stresses that "the most vulnerable spot of the United States and Israel is to send them the bodies of their sons." Therefore, the Jihad declares, "we should throw in their faces the flesh of their sons, minced and grilled. The United States must pay the price; it must pay dearly."
The bulletin stresses that al-Zawahiri's Jihad has no doubt about the ultimate objective of the forthcoming confrontation. "The Americans themselves admitted half of the truth when they said that the United States' first enemy is Islamic extremism, but they hid the other half, namely that the United States' destruction will -- InshAllah -- be at the hands of Muslims."
Thus, by early January 1998, it is not clear how convincing Abu-Umar al-Amriki will prove to have been. The Islamist leadership, particularly al-Zawahiri and bin Ladin, are convinced that Abu-Umar al-Amriki in fact delivered the Clinton Administration's acquiescence to the rise of Islamist regimes in Egypt and, for that matter, elsewhere in the Middle East. Yet, the latest Jihad bulletin seems to suggest that the US request for al-Zawahiri not to strike out is not being heeded to. But then, Abu-Umar al-Amriki was talking only about al-Zawahiri's not striking out against the US forces in B-H. Nothing was said about transferring the Islamist Jihad to other "fronts": Egypt, Israel, or the heart of America, for that matter.
Meanwhile, Cairo began learning about the Abu-Umar al-Amriki episode by mid December 1997. Egyptian officials confirmed they had known about him and his role as an emissary for the CIA since the 1980s. Therefore, as far as President Husni Mubarak and his immediate advisers are concerned, the evidence they have has been determined to be sufficiently reliable to act upon.
Indeed, there is already a sense of urgency in Cairo. Cairo knows that it is the conviction of the Egyptian Islamists and their key sponsors -- Iran and Sudan -- that only the massive US support for, and American bolstering of, President Mubarak have so far prevented the Islamists from the establishment of an Islamist state in Egypt. Official Cairo knows that the mere appearance of a withdrawal of US support from Mubarak is sure to embolden the Egyptian Islamists and their sponsoring states to markedly escalate their struggle, and Cairo already has troubles withstanding the ongoing Islamist terrorism and subversion.
Little wonder that Egyptian media has already begun preparing the public for a drastic change in policy vis-a-vis the US, Israel and Sudan -- the latter being the primary sponsor of Islamist terrorism against Egypt, the safe-haven from where they strike out into Egypt. For years, Sudan's spiritual leader, Hassan al-Turabi, has been Mubarak's arch-nemesis.
In early December 1997, within days after the first reports of the meeting between al-Zawahiri and Abu-Umar al-Amriki first surfaced, the Egyptian government-owned newspaper al-Jumhuriyah published a story that began as follows: "A security source has revealed fresh information on the way foreign parties exploit terrorist elements. The information indicates the existence of mutual benefits between terrorist elements inside and outside Egypt in destabilizing the country and crippling its economy. The source said that an official of one Western security organ had a meeting with Ayman al-Zawahiri, leader of the al-Jihad Organization, at a camp in Peshawar on Pakistan's border with Afghanistan." The story then went on to recount the meetings held between al-Zawahiri and Abu-Umar al-Amriki "who acts as a go-between for the CIA" back in the 1980s, during the war in Afghanistan. However, the story served as a notice to those who know more that official Cairo also knows more about the subject, particularly most recent developments.
A most significant development started unfolding a month later. In early January 1998, Egyptian media began discussing emerging CIA plots against Egypt. The opposition paper al-Sha'b, that is well connected to, and identifies with, the nationalist sector within the defense establishment, published a long survey of American-Israeli conspiracy run by the CIA. The paper observes that the new US Ambassador to Egypt, who is Jewish, "has come to Cairo to implement US plans hostile to Egypt. Meanwhile, President Bill Clinton's administration has started to carry out an organized plan to besiege Egypt on all fronts that can threaten Egypt's national security." The paper provides a long list of anti-Egyptian, as well as anti-Sudanese, political and military activities it attributes to a joint CIA-Mossad conspiracy against Cairo. Among the choice items mentioned is the CIA's central role in the conspiracy to deprive Egypt's rights to Umm-Rashrash (the southern Negev and Eilat) -- Egypt's official casus belli since August 1997.
In another article, al-Sha'b sets the logic for the sudden improvement of relations between Cairo and Turabi's Sudan. The paper notes that Egyptian intelligence has recently acquired critical information that sheds new light on key crises that determined Cairo's relations with Khartoum. Cairo now knows of the "involvement of the CIA and the Mossad in planning the assassination attempt on President Mubarak in Addis Ababa" in 1995, not only in order to kill the President, but also "to pin the accusation against Sudan, in an attempt to spark an immediate war between the two countries." Egyptian intelligence is also "examining the link between this attempt [on Mubarak] and the recent massacre in Luxor." Egyptian intelligence has uncovered that the CIA and the Mossad "have succeeded in indirectly recruiting some Arab Afghans and provided the financial and military backing needed for Mubarak's assassination attempt and the Luxor massacre." Significantly, the terrorist commander of both the 1995 attempt on Mubarak's life and the 1997 carnage in Luxor was Turabi's protege Ayman al-Zawahiri -- a point not lost on Mubarak's Cairo.
Meanwhile, al-Sha'b explained that taken together the evidence of the ongoing CIA-Mossad conspiracies against Egypt and their past duplicity in trying to implicate brotherly Sudan in their own crimes against Mubarak warrants a profound reexamination of Egypt's strategic priorities. "The evidence made available to the Egyptian [intelligence] agencies have resulted in a strategic change in Egypt's stance vis-a-vis Sudan," al-Sha'b reports. The new policy has already caused "President Mubarak's announcement that Sudan does not sponsor terrorism," and Dr. Hassan al-Turabi's statement that "he has nothing to do with the attempt to assassinate Mubarak," al-Sha'b explained. "In both cases, the conspiracy sought to divide the Arab and Islamic ranks. The high-level Egyptian-Sudanese contacts show that both sides are serious about exposing the role of the CIA and the Mossad in conspiring against Egypt and Sudan and containing the consequences caused by this conspiracy over the past years."
Meanwhile, Cairo moved swiftly in more than just propaganda. Mubarak's Egypt has thus embarked on a crash program to improve relations with Turabi's Sudan -- the primary and direct sponsor of any Islamist onslaught on the Mubarak Government.
In early January 1998, "a high-powered Egyptian security delegation" traveled to Khartoum on a mission aimed to reverse the hostility of recent years. The Egyptian delegation was received by Sudan's President Umar Hassan al-Bashir and his deputy Major General Muhammad Salih al-Zubayr.
Indeed, President Mubarak instructed his senior security officials to approach Khartoum at the highest level and engage in intense talks aimed at improving relations. The Egyptian delegation was specifically instructed not to raise such delicate issues as Khartoum's sponsorship of the 1995 attempt on Mubarak's life or Sudan's sheltering of Islamist terrorists wanted by Egypt. Instead, in the words of Mustafa Usman Ismail, Sudan's state minister for foreign affairs who is the head of the Sudanese negotiations team, both sides embarked on "intensive activities" to revive mutual relations as soon as possible. Ismail anticipated that the President of Sudan, al-Bashir, would soon make a formal visit to Cairo in order to openly demonstrate the new era of close relations. This development alone does not bode well for the US interests in the volatile Middle East.
High-level Egyptian sources stress that their delegation has already produced a breakthrough in relations with Sudan, resulting in "tangible and positive improvement" in their bilateral relations.
Ultimately, the Abu-Umar al-Amriki and al-Zawahiri meeting episode has had such a devastating impact on Mubarak's Cairo because its ramifications confirm what President Mubarak wants to believe.
Back in early 1996, Mubarak gave up on the US ability to determine the shape of the Middle East. By mid 1996, the Egyptian Armed Forces began active preparations for a possible war with Israel. In the Spring of 1997, Mubarak raised the issue of Umm-Rashrash as a casus belli for Egypt in a closed forum of his high command. In the Summer, during Mubarak's brief and dramatic visit to Damascus, Egypt joined a regional military alliance led by Iran and comprised of Syria, Iraq and the PLO. A few days later, Cairo leaked out the Umm-Rashrash issue. Meanwhile, the anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli virulence of the Egyptian media have been reaching new heights -- hardly an environment conducive for the furthering of a "peace process".
However, two factors were missing in Mubarak's scenario: (1) A reason for the cessation of Islamist terrorism and subversion -- a source of strong pressure on Mubarak; and (2) a formal excuse enabling Cairo to break its close relations with Washington. Now, the Abu-Umar al-Amriki and al-Zawahiri meeting episode, the veracity of which President Mubarak believes, has provided the key to both issues. Cairo now has the "proof" of US-inspired conspiracy against President Mubarak -- a legitimate excuse for a crisis in bilateral relations -- and a motive for revisiting Egypt's relations with Sudan in order to nip in the bud any design Turabi might have for empowering his protege al-Zawahiri in Cairo. This episode thus contributed to the reaffirmation of Mubarak's growing conviction that Egypt's future lies with joining the Iran-led strategic alliance and the ensuing conflict with Israel. This course of events will not only ensure the enduring of Egypt's prominent role in the Arab and Muslim world, but will secure Mubarak's own survival at the helm.
In the meantime, the specter of a wave of Islamist terrorism led by bin Ladin, al-Zawahiri, and their supporters, against the US and its allies, as well as the realignment of forces in the Middle East to the detriment of US strategic interests, and the growing likelihood of major crises and war in this region -- all emerge as the actual price for Washington's desperate effort to prevent the violent collapse of the Dayton Accords in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Finally, there is no doubt that the November 1997 meeting between Abu-Umar al-Amriki and al-Zawahiri took place. There is no doubt that as diverse leaders as bin Ladin, Mubarak and Turabi are convinced that Abu-Umar al-Amriki spoke for the CIA and the Clinton Administration. Ultimately, whether Abu-Umar al-Amriki indeed spoke on Washington's behalf, or for another party, is irrelevant -- for the strategic price has already been paid.
Security Zones Defined
During Wednesday's Cabinet session, the ministers were asked to approve a list of "security zones" that Israel would hold onto in a permanent peace agreement with the Palestinians. While the ministers did not define exactly what areas would remain under Israeli control, they did previously indicate two possible plans to keep either half or nearly two-thirds of the land.
The Israeli government today released a comprehensive document linking withdrawal to PA compliance. The unclear definitions of withdrawal is seen as a negotiating tactic for Prime Minister Netanyahu when he visits Washington on January 20th.[I&G News, 1/14/97]
Yossef Bodansky joined the Freeman Center For Strategic Studies as its World Terrorism Analyst in 1994. He is the author of six books (Target America, Terror, Crisis in Korea, Offensive in the Balkans, Some Call It Peace and Arafat's Peace Process), as well as several book chapters, entries for the lnternational Military and Defense Encyclopedia, and numerous articles in several periodicals and specialized journals, including Global Affairs, Jane's Defence Weekly, Defense & Foreign Affairs: Strategic Policy, Nativ and Business Week. He has also lectured widely to professional audiences in the defense, intelligence and security fields in the United States, Europe, Latin America and Asia. Since 1988, Bodansky has been the Director of the Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare at the US House of Representatives.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the members of the Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare, the U.S. Congress, or any other branch of the U.S. Government.