: Jerusalem Post column, August 13, 1998 by Barry Rubin


By Barry Rubin

The bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania are not only a terrible human tragedy but also a public relations' disaster for the perpetrators and anyone sharing their basic ideology. If someone is going to round up the usual suspects, however, it is necessary to determine the possibilities. As usual in trying to solve crimes, the key factors in focusing an investigation are determining who had the motive and opportunity to commit them.

A knee-jerk reaction, to assume they are protesting Israeli policies, is used by some to imply that the violence is ultimately all Israel's fault. Actually, though, statements favoring or explaining the attacks showed how wide a range of conflicts is involved regarding both U.S. policy and Middle East politics. These included such issues as: Arab and Moslem prisoners held in US jails and extradition of Islamic radicals; U.S. support for Israel, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia; U.S. hostility toward Iraq and Iran; and the presence of American forces in the Gulf.

Of course, these obstacles can be surmounted, as with Robert Fisk's August 9 article in The Independent (London): "America's broken promises and its blind support for Israel are provoking furyb in its oil-rich best ally in the Middle East."

The horrible attacks also offer a chance to ask who would want to stage terrorist attacks against American targets in the future and why they would do so. Who actually did it can only be determined by the evidence. Deterring future attacks requires

considering the possibilities.

These forces fall into two distinctive categories: sponsors and implementors. To carry out attacks requiring long-distance travel, smuggling of equipment, and technological sophistication requires the funding and aid of a sponsor. Up to now, these sponsors have usually been states.

1. Iran has been the world's most active sponsor of terrorism, ranging from attacks on Israeli and Jewish targets in Argentina, through supporting groups in the Middle East, and attacking American installations in Saudi Arabia. The radical/moderate battle within the country has given terrorism an unusual twist. On the pessimistic side, Bahrain's Crown Prince Sheik Hammad Ben-Isa was quoted as joking: "In Iran you have three people in charge. [Spiritual Guide Ali] Khamenei is in charge of religion and terrorism. [Former President Ali Akbar Hashemi] Rafsanjani is in charge of business and terrorism. And [President Muhammad] Khatemi is in charge of internal politics, moderation and terrorism."

Seriously, though, the hardliners have a vested interest in committing spectacular acts of terrorism in order to wreck Khatemi's efforts to promote detente with the West. Similar deeds have been timed to hurt Iran-Europe relations. A similar political situation lay behind the seizure of the U.S. embassy and the holding of American hostages back in the 1979-1981 era.

2. Libya has often been the most reckless perpetrator of terrorism. It still bears a grudge on the U.S. bombing of over a decade ago, as well as the continuing international sanctions. Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi has often operated in Africa and has a number of small, mercenary groups (including Abu Nidal) he can turn to for the actual implementation, though Libyan officials have operated directly as terrorists abroad.

3. Iraq has few terrorist assets nowadays but is quite angry about its defeat at the hands of the United States in 1991, as well as the ongoing UN-mandated sanctions. President Saddam Hussein has made it clear that he is determined to end sanctions this year at any price, and periodically creates crises to further this end.

4. Syria has generally been the most successful user of terrorism to gain its objectives in Lebanon and elsewhere. While it has not made full use of them in recent years, Syria has a longer list of terrorist assets than any other country, including Palestinian, Lebanese, and Kurdish groups.

5. Sudan, ruled by a radical Islamic regime, is the Lebanon of the 1990s when it comes to training bases and safe havens for terrorists.

6. Osama bin Laden is a new phenomenon and has emerged--perhaps temporarily--as the leading candidate for responsibility in the east African bombings. A multi-millionaire from his family's

Saudi construction company, he lived in Sudan and now Pakistan. In the process of becoming a sort of villain from a James Bond film, bin Laden has put together his own set of extremists from a number of countries.

While he is undoubtedly no fan of Israel, this country ranks rather low on his list of priorities. His real obsession is to overthrow the Saudi royal family, whose association with the United States has tightened further due to the Iraqi threat. (But, as seen above, those so inclined will find ways to prove Saudi internal politics, modernization stresses, and fears about Iraq and Iran are simply manifestations of Israel's existence.)

There are, of course, a wide variety of revolutionary groups determined to destroy the Arab-Israeli peace process (Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, anti-Arafat groups backed by Syria) or to make Islamic revolution in Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and other countries. The east African attacks may have been carried out by people from one or more of these groups. But it is doubtful if any of these organizations initiated or financed the assault.