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IUK: Fisk - This loose conjecture is unlikely to cut much ice ...
By Robert Fisk
6/10/2001 1:44 pm Sat
Robert Fisk: This loose conjecture is unlikely to cut much
ice with the Arab nations
05 October 2001
The Americans are finding it a hard sell in the Middle East, and the
British Government's document "proving" Osama bin Laden's
responsibility for the 11 September atrocities is unlikely to rally the
Arab world to the West's "war on terrorism". Only nine of the 70
points in the document relate to the attacks on the World Trade
Centre and the Pentagon, and these often rely on conjecture
rather than evidence. Claiming that "an operation on the scale of
the 11 September attacks would have been approved by Osama
bin Laden himself" (point 63) is not going to cut much ice in Saudi
Arabia or other Gulf states.
In Riyadh, the US Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, admitted
the Saudis were worried about the "secondary effects" of a "war
on terror" - shorthand for the fear of the House of Saud that their
regime may be overthrown if America bombs Afghanistan and kills
Mr bin Laden. Mr Rumsfeld's remarks show just how frightened the
Saudis are of associating themselves with President Bush's war.
"We had a very substantive and interesting and thoughtful
discussion about the nature of the problem and the complexities of
the problem, and the importance of dealing with it in a way that
recognises secondary effects that could occur," he said after his
talks with King Fahd and Crown Prince Abdullah. Which doesn't
sound like wholehearted support for the US.
Events are now moving at such speed that for many Arab nations,
the details, or lack of details, of Mr bin Laden's involvement in the
11 September hijackings may appear almost irrelevant. The
destruction of a charter flight from Tel Aviv and the loss of all its
passengers over the Black Sea may exacerbate the conflict in the
Middle East. Most Arab leaders regard Mr bin Laden as a threat to
their own stability, let alone America's, and would be happy to
accept our "evidence" of his guilt. But they are unlikely to
convince their people of this.
Newspapers in the Gulf and in Egypt, Mr Rumsfeld's next
destination, are almost uniformly anti-American, repeatedly
demanding an end to the "double standards" of the US, its
unconditional support for Israel and its refusal to understand the
Arab struggle against "Israeli terrorism". Editorial writers are likely
to be less than enthusiastic about a document which uses
evidence of Mr bin Laden's involvement in earlier bombings to
imply his guilt for the crimes against humanity on 11 September.
Arabs studying the British document may be amused to learn that
Mr bin Laden runs a holding company called Wadi al Aqiq, which
translates as "Valley of the Brown Gem", and Al Themar Al
Mubaraka, "The Blessed Fruit", and intrigued by the information
that an American warship was attacked by apparent suicide
bombers several months before the bombing of the USS Cole in
Aden harbour. They will be less impressed by the statement that
"on 3 and 4 October, operatives of al-Qa'ida participated in the
attack on US military personnel serving in Somalia as part of the
operation "Restore Hope". The Americans were in fact attacking
the presumed base of a Somali warlord when their helicopters were
shot down by gunmen, including some of Mr bin Laden's men.
But as usual in the Arab world, what the people think and what the
kings and presidents believe are not necessarily the same thing.
Any Gulf emir reading Mr bin Laden's words about "cleansing" the
Gulf of Americans will realise that the kings and sultans who
invited the Americans are among those Mr bin Laden wants
"cleansed". The British Government may feel that Mr bin Laden's
remark about "Satan's US troops and the devil's supporters allying
with them" refers "unquestionably" to the United Kingdom, but the
Saudi royal family knows that the "devil's supporters" undoubtedly
alludes to them.
America has meanwhile been expressing its anger at the only free
Arab television station, the al-Jazeera channel transmitting from
Qatar. The State Department, which only a year ago was praising
the station as a bastion of free speech in the Middle East, has now
asked the Qatari government to "rein in" al-Jazeera because it is
allegedly inciting anti-American sentiments. Al-Jazeera, which
interviewed the US Secretary of State Colin Powell only a week
ago, just happens to be the only Arab station with correspondents
in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.
But muzzling Qatari television is not going to change the bleak
prospects of Arab co-operation in Mr Bush's war. With the Gulf
largely unhelpful and Egypt anxious to avoid its own social
explosion, the Americans appear to be looking north, to the former
Soviet Muslim republics, for real military assistance in an Afghan