April 25, 2010

Book Review: ‘This Time We Went Too Far: Truth & Consequences of the Gaza Invasion’

Norman Finkelstein begins his new book—This Time We Went Too Far: Truth & Consequences of the Gaza Invasion—debunking the oft-repeated claim that Israel waged Operation Cast Lead in order to stop Hamas from firing rockets into Israeli cities. If Israel's goal had been to stop the the rockets, Finkelstein writes, then it wouldn't have broken the Egyptian-brokered ceasefire with Hamas. (Israel did this on November 4, 2008, when a group of Israeli soldiers entered Gaza and killed six Palestinian militants. Until then, Hamas had been abiding by the ceasefire agreement and had even worked to stop rogue groups from firing rockets.) Moreover, if Israel's goal had been stopping the rockets, then, instead of opting for war, it would have agreed to renew the ceasefire agreement in early December.

So why then did Israel wage its December 2008-January 2009 assault on Gaza? More than anything else, Finkelstein writes that Israel, still embarrassed by its poor performance in the 2006 Lebanon War, sought to restore its deterrence capacity. In order to accomplish this, it felt the need to utterly devastate Gaza, dealing a heavy blow to, not just militants, but also civilians and civilian infrastructure. In doing this it hoped to so badly intimidate Arabs, in both Gaza and the entire region, that they would “not even conceive of challenging Israel’s freedom to carry on as it pleased, however ruthlessly and recklessly.”

To demonstrate that Israel targeted the civilian population and its infrastructure, Finkelstein first describes the level of destruction resulting from the invasion: “Beyond the civilian casualties, Israel destroyed or damaged 58,000 homes (6,300 were completely destroyed or sustained severe damage), 280 schools and kindergartens (18 schools were completely destroyed and six university buildings were razed to the ground), 1,500 factories and workshops, several buildings housing Palestinian and foreign media (two journalists were killed while working, four others were also killed), water and sewage installations, 80 percent of agricultural crops, and nearly one-fifth of cultivated land.”

Israel also destroyed 30 mosques, one of the Gaza’s three flour mills, and a chicken farm that supplied one-tenth of the Strip’s eggs. Noting that the destruction of the chicken farm resulted in the death of 65,000 chickens, he writes: “After the invasion was over Israel alleged that the death and destruction appeared indefensible only because ‘there is a limit to the amount of intelligence it can share with commissions of inquiry without compromising operational capabilities and intelligence sources.’ If the world only knew what was in those chickens….”

Finkelstein proceeds to point to statements by Israeli officials who claimed that Israel used “sophisticated precision weapons” during the conflict, that it possessed an “intelligence gathering capacity” that “remained extremely effective,” that “99 percent of the firing that was carried out [by the Air Force] hit targets accurately,” and that it only struck one building in error. “In other words,” Finkelstein writes, “Israel was able to pinpoint its targets on the ground and, by its own admission, could and did hit these designated targets with pinpoint accuracy. It thus cannot be said that the criminal wreckage resulted from mishap or from a break in the chain of command. What happened in Gaza was meant to happen—by everyone from the soldiers in the field who executed the orders to the officers who gave the orders to the politicians who approved the orders.”

Lest his readers have any lingering doubts, Finkelstein continues to pour on the evidence. In one heavily footnoted chapter after another, he details how numerous IDF soldiers confessed to seeing their fellow soldiers commit war crimes, how Israel continually hampered the efforts of relief organizations, and how it targeted minarets, “which, being too narrow for snipers to ascend, had no military value.” He also devotes a chapter to the allegation that Hamas used civilians as human shields, noting that this claim is based solely on the tortured confessions of Palestinian detainees and has been contradicted by the investigations of numerous human rights organizations. Pointing to an Amnesty International report, he then notes that Israeli soldiers, on the other hand, “used civilians, including children, as ‘human shields,’ endangering their lives by forcing them to remain in or near houses which they took over and used as military positions. Some were forced to carry out dangerous tasks such as inspecting properties or objects suspected of being booby-trapped” (Amnesty’s words).

Much of This Time We Went Too Far is simply a distillation of what has already been made known by the Goldstone Commission, human rights organizations, and numerous Israeli soldiers. But this is precisely the book’s strength; by condensing this information, Finkelstein has provided activists with an incredibly potent weapon for peace. Making use of such documents as the 550-page Goldstone Report can be a daunting task, but Finkelstein has done the work for us, giving us an accessible, 143-page analysis of the invasion.

April 19, 2010

What to do about Iran

Even President Obama doesn’t seem all that confident that more sanctions will cause Iran to abandon its nuclear program. As he told George Stephanopoulos in a recent interview, there’s no guarantee that sanctions are “automatically going to change Iranian behavior…I mean, the history of the Iranian regime, like the North Korean regime is that…you apply international pressure on these countries, sometimes they choose to change behavior, sometimes they don’t.”[1]

Why then does Obama continue pushing for sanctions? More than likely, it all comes down to politics. Because pushing for sanctions makes Obama appear tough, not tough enough to appease the most militant conservatives, but tough enough to prevent many voters from thinking him a wimp. And God forbid voters think our president a wimp.

So it looks like Obama will continue down this path and impose another set of sanctions on Iran. If the past is any indicator of the future, more sanctions won’t halt the regime’s uranium enrichment program. Needless to say, this doesn’t bode well for those living in the Middle East, or anywhere for that matter. For even if Iran isn’t currently developing nuclear weapons, the more adept it becomes at enriching uranium, the greater the possibility that it will one day produce such weapons.

So what do I suggest? What do I think the president should do to stop Iran from furthering its nuclear program?

First, I think he needs to examine Iran’s motives. Assuming that it does in fact want nuclear weapons (and I think the evidence suggests that, at the very least, it wants to achieve a nuclear breakout capability), Iran clearly has no intention of using such weapons against Israel.[2] For Iran’s leaders undoubtedly know that undertaking such an action would result in their own country’s annihilation, and there’s no reason to believe that these men have a death wish.[3] As Fareed Zakaria writes, the crazy mullah hypothesis “isn’t and never was an accurate description of Iran’s canny (and ruthlessly pragmatic) clerical elite.”[4]

So why then would Iran want nuclear weapons or at least a breakout capability? As George Perkovich has argued, the most likely answer is that the nation’s leaders “intuit that the bomb will keep all outside powers, including Israel and the U.S., from thinking they can dictate to Iran or invade it. Nuclear weapons capability also will demonstrate the brilliance and technical prowess of the great Persian civilization. In particular, Shia Iranians may feel that the bomb would demonstrate and reinsure their general superiority over their mostly Sunni Arab rivals.”[5] Ray Takeyh has reached a similar conclusion and writes that America’s dealings with North Korea have probably helped convince Iran “that a presumed nuclear capability may not only avert a preemptive American strike but generate its own set of economic rewards and future security guarantees.”[6]

In other words, Iran’s leaders aren’t fundamentally different than other world leaders. As men guided by self-interest, they most likely want nuclear weapons in order to preserve their own existence and prestige. Because of this, it seems clear that the best way to get Iran to abandon its nuclear program, or at least to implement the IAEA’s Additional Protocols,[7] is to adopt what Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett refer to as the “grand bargain” approach. Such an approach would require the US to abandon its current sanctions regime and instead seek rapprochement with Iran. The Leveretts note, “This was the model that the Nixon administration applied to relations with China during the early 1970s. President Nixon and his advisers recognized and forthrightly acknowledged that a quarter century of U.S. efforts to isolate, weaken, and press China had not served America’s strategic interests, in Asia or globally. In an act of extraordinary statesmanship, Nixon redefined America’s China policy so that it would serve those interests.”[8]

Such a grand bargain would entail granting Iran security guarantees, promises that neither we nor Israel would invade the nation or work to overthrow its regime. It would also involve ending our current sanctions against the country, restoring normal diplomatic relations, and seeking to foster trade and other forms of peaceful interaction between citizens of the two nations. In return, Iran would be asked to abandon its nuclear program or at least become more transparent and implement the IAEA’s Additional Protocols. Iran would also agree to undertake such additional actions as ending its support for such groups as Hezbollah and Hamas.

Two main arguments have been given against the idea of such a rapprochement. First, some have claimed that any type of US overture to the ruling regime would betray Iran’s democracy-minded reformists. In response to this, it should be pointed out that there’s no evidence to suggest that current US policy is helping the reformists. Mir Hossein Mousavi and other reformist leaders have strongly voiced their opposition to American sanctions. According to Mousavi, additional sanctions “would not affect the government but would impose many hardships upon the people, who suffer enough as a result of the calamity of their insane rulers.”[9]

Far from helping the reform movement, James Dobbins of the RAND Corporation argues that more sanctions could actually help to “rally domestic support” for the existing regime.[10] Indeed, it seems clear that three decades of American-led sanctions have only reinforced the regime’s characterization of the United States as an evil imperialist power and inflamed anti-American sentiment. According to a June 2009 poll, only 29% of Iranians hold a favorable view of the United States,[11] and according to a February 2010 poll, a full 87% of Iranians are satisfied with their current “system of government.”[12]

The second argument that has been given against those favoring a grand bargain approach is that such thinking is naïve, that Iran is run by a bunch of uncompromising mullahs who would rather die than make peace with the “Great Satan.” But past events have shown that this is clearly not the case. As detailed in the 2009 BBC documentary Iran and the West, between 2001 and 2003, Tehran made three different attempts to improve relations with the United States, only to be rebuffed each time.[13]

The first attempt occurred shortly after 9/11 when a member of Iran’s UN delegation sent a message to the US government. According to Hillary Mann Leverett, who at the time served as head of the State Department’s Iran Section, “He [the Iranian diplomat] said that Iran was prepared to work unconditionally with the United States in the war on terror, that if they could work with us on this issue it had the potential to fundamentally transform US-Iranian relations.” The State Department favored starting up a dialogue with Iran, but according to Richard Haass, who headed policy planning for the State Department, “We couldn’t get support from the NSC, from the Pentagon, from the Vice President’s office. And in every case we ran up against this belief in regime change.” A few months later, President Bush further damaged US-Iranian relations by delivering his famous “axis of evil” speech.

But Iran wasn’t ready to give up. As the US prepared to invade Iraq, Iranian President Mohammad Khatami offered to “provide America with intelligence and advice to help get rid of Saddam Hussein.” British Foreign Minister Secretary Jack Straw conveyed the offer to the US. Again, the Bush administration said it wasn’t interested. After the invasion, the Iranians sent another message to the US, this one through a Swiss diplomat. This time, Iran proposed a roadmap for the normalization of relations between the two countries and indicated that all issues were on the table. After reading the memo, Leverett believed it was “incredibly significant and groundbreaking” and felt the US needed to “call them on it” and sit down and talk. Yet the Bush administration not only refused to talk to the Iranians but even reprimanded the Swiss diplomat for conveying the message.[14]

Of course, none of this guarantees that a US attempt at reconciliation would immediately be accepted. The BBC documentary also describes a time in 2006 when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad rejected an overture by Condoleeza Rice. But the above events, as well as more recent statements made by Ahmadinejad,[15] show that there are at least good reasons for believing that such an approach has a good chance of eventually succeeding. It certainly has a better chance than Obama’s current dead-end strategy of sanctions and isolation.

[1] “Transcript: George Stephanopoulos Interviews President Obama,” Good Morning America (9 April 2010).

[2] Juan Cole, “Does Iran really want the bomb?Salon.com (7 October 2009).

[3] See “Does Mahmoud Ahmadinejad Want to Nuke Israel?” (15 December 2009).

[4] Fareed Zakaria, “Why Iran’s dictators can be deterred,” Washington Post (22 February 2010).

[5] George Perkovich, Dealing with Iran’s Nuclear Challenge, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (28 April 2003), p. 4.

[6] Ray Takeyh, “Iran’s Nuclear Calculations,” World Policy Journal (Summer 2003, vol. 20, issue 2), p. 23.

[7] Theodore Hirsch, “The IAEA Additional Protocol: What It Is and Why It Matters,” The Nonproliferation Review (Fall-Winter 2004).

[8] Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett, “The Grand Bargain,” Washington Monthly (August/September/October 2008).

[9] Thomas Erdbrink, “Iranian Opposition Warns Against Stricter Sanctions,” Washington Post (1 October 2009).

[10] James Dobbins, Iran Sanctions: Options, Opportunities, and Consequences (RAND Corporation: Santa Monica, CA, 2009), p. 2.

[11] “Poll: Obama Not Helping U.S. Image In Iran,” Associated Press (8 June 2009).

[12] “Analysis of Multiple Polls Finds Little Evidence Iranian Public Sees Government as Illegitimate,” WorldPublicOpinion.org (3 February 2010).

[13] Iran and the West: Episode 3, Nuclear Confrontation, produced by Norma Percy, distributed by BBC, originally aired 21 February 2009. The documentary can be viewed on YouTube.

[14] Andrew Moravcsik, “Déjà Vu All Over Again,” Newsweek (15 May 2006).

[15] For example, shortly after Iran and the West began nuclear negotiations in October 2009, Ahmadinejad stated, “I think these negotiations were a step forward and I hope we proceed with the same trend so we will have constructive cooperation to resolve all outstanding global issues” and “In these negotiations we witnessed better behaviour than in the past from some countries and we noticed that the logic of respect and justice is being established gradually. These talks are good basis for continuation of the negotiations.” “Iran’s Ahmadinejad calls Geneva talks a ‘step forward’,” Channel News Asia (7 October 2009). Also see my post, “Has Obama really ‘bent over backwards’ for Iran?” (17 February 2010).

April 12, 2010

Newsflash: You can’t trust the military

If nothing else, I hope the recent WikiLeaks bombshell helps people to understand that they can’t trust the military. I realize this is asking a lot. After all, we’re a nation that adores the military. Only half of us approve of President Obama, only one-tenth approve of Congress, but most of us—more than four-fifths of Americans, according to a November Rasmussen poll—have a favorable view of the military.[1]

The incident in question involved a US Apache helicopter gunning down a crowd of Iraqis in August 2007. A few hours after the attack,

The American military said…American troops were conducting a raid when they were hit by small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades. The American troops called in reinforcements and attack helicopters. In the ensuing fight, the statement said, the two Reuters employees and nine insurgents were killed.

“There is no question that coalition forces were clearly engaged in combat operations against a hostile force,” said Lt. Col. Scott Bleichwehl, a spokesman for the multinational forces in Baghdad.[2]

But the WikiLeaks video, taken from the helicopter’s gun-site, shows that the military’s story was completely false. Far from being “a hostile force,” the video shows a group of Iraqis standing on a Baghdad street corner, talking to the Reuters employees. Although it appears that one person in the crowd is armed, the others clearly aren’t, and yet the Apache indiscriminately guns-down everyone standing there. We then see a blue van pull up to the scene. An unarmed man gets out of the van and begins helping one of the survivors, only to have the Apache start firing on him, subsequently killing him and wounding two children, who were waiting inside the van.[3]

Such duplicity from the military is hardly rare. In a fairly well-known case occurring in August 2008, US forces bombed a memorial service in Afghanistan’s Herat Province. American officials initially claimed that the strike had killed 30 insurgents and no civilians.[4] After an investigation by the Afghan government concluded that 90 civilians had been killed, the US revised its findings, claiming that 5 of the 30 victims were civilians. Soon thereafter, an Afghan Human Rights Commission “found that 88 people had been killed, including 20 women,” and then a UN investigation “found convincing evidence, based on the testimony of eyewitnesses, and others, that some 90 civilians were killed, including 60 children, 15 women and 15 men.” After all this, the US stated that perhaps as many as 7 civilians, but certainly no more than that, had been killed. [5] It was only after an Afghan doctor released an eight-minute cell phone video which was taken shortly after the bombings and revealed scores of dead bodies in the targeted area that the Pentagon agreed to reopen its investigation.[6]

Similar examples (although usually involving fewer casualties) occur on a regular basis. In fact, just hours before WikiLeaks released its video of the Baghdad slaying, The Times of London reported that the US military had finally been forced to take responsibility for the February 12 killing of three Afghan women. Although the military “had initially claimed that the women had been dead for several hours when the assault force discovered their bodies,” an investigation by the Afghan government concluded that “US special forces soldiers dug bullets out of their victims’ bodies” and then “washed the wounds with alcohol before lying to their superiors about what happened.” Though finally taking responsibility for the women’s deaths, NATO “continued to deny that there had been a cover-up and said that its legal investigation, which is ongoing, had found no evidence of inappropriate conduct.”[7]

Needless to say, lying about civilian deaths is a deliberate military policy. For US commanders realize that they cannot defeat the insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan if they don’t win over the local populations, convincing them that we’re there to help them, and it’s hard to convince people that we’re there to help them when they keep reading in the news that we’re killing their countrymen.[8] So we lie. We lie, and we lie, and we lie. In the face of overwhelming evidence, we continue lying. Only if the evidence gets to be too overwhelming, so overwhelming that even we, the world’s greatest liars, realize we can no longer convince anyone of our lies, do we concede that “mistakes were made.” It’s only then that we tell the locals how “extremely saddened” we are “by the tragic loss of innocent lives,”[9] all while reminding them that we’re fighting with “the protection of the Afghan [or Iraqi] people in mind.”[10]

It’s important to keep all this in mind when we’re reading something like this from the Associated Press:

More than 40 insurgents were killed Saturday as hundreds of coalition troops, many dropped by helicopter, wrested a town from the Taliban and U.S. forces battled militants across the south, officials said.[11]

Or something like this from the New York Times:

American and Afghan forces backed by airstrikes engaged in a “fierce firefight” with Taliban insurgents in a remote and mountainous region of eastern Afghanistan on Thursday, killing at least 29 militants in an effort to capture one of their leaders, according to a joint military statement.[12]

Or something like this from Reuters:

A missile fired by a pilotless U.S. drone aircraft on Friday killed at least three militants traveling in a car in Pakistan's North Waziristan region on the Afghan border, security officials said.[13]

It’s clear that we’re killing many militants overseas. But it’s also clear that we’re killing many civilians, many more civilians than the military is willing to admit. And for this reason, we’d be foolish not to scrutinize every statement coming from our leaders.


[1]“Daily Presidential Tracking Poll,” Rasmussen Reports (11 April 2010); “Congressional Performance,” Rasmussen Reports (22 March 2010); “81% View U.S. Military Favorably This Veterans Day,” Rasmussen Reports (11 November 2009).

[2] Alissa J. Rubin, “2 Iraqi Journalists Killed as U.S. Forces Clash With Militias,” New York Times (13 July 2007).

[3] “Collateral Murder,” WikiLeaks (5 April 2010).

[4] “At Least 20 Afghan Civilians Killed in US Air Raid,” Antiwar.com (21 August 2008).

[5] Tom Engelhardt, “Slaughter, Lies, and Video in Afghanistan,” TomDispatch.com (11 September 2008); see also Jason Burke, “Air strike sharpens civilian casualties row,” Guardian (24 August 2008) and Carlotta Gall, “U.S. Killed 90, Including 60 Children, in Afghan Village, U.N. Finds,” New York Times (26 August 2008).

[6] Tom Coghlan, “Harrowing video film backs Afghan villagers' claims of carnage caused by US troops,” Times Online (8 September 2008).

[7] Jerome Starkey, “US special forces 'tried to cover-up' botched Khataba raid in Afghanistan,” Times Online (5 April 2010).

[8] For example, see COMISAF Initial Assessment (Unclassified), Washington Post (21 September 2009).

[9] “McChrystal apologizes as airstrike kills dozens in Afghanistan,” CNN (23 February 2010).

[10] “Nato ‘regrets’ civilian deaths,” Al Jazeera (15 February 2010).

[11] “Over 40 Militants Killed in Afghanistan; Karzai Orders Probe into Violence,” Associated Press (15 July 2006).

[12] Abdul Waheed and Alan Cowell, “29 Taliban Insurgents Killed, Coalition Says,” New York Times (28 May 2009).

[13] Haji Mujtaba, Kamran Haider, and Michael Georgy, “U.S. drone attack in Pakistan kills three militants,” Reuters (1 January 2010).

April 5, 2010

It’s the blowback, stupid! (part 3)

In his latest column for The Huffington Post, Alan Dershowitz argues against the notion of blowback. Specifically, he argues against the belief that “Israeli actions, such as issuing building permits in Jerusalem, endanger the lives of American troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.”[1] Needless to say, he’s addressing the controversy recently sparked by General David Petraeus, who stated before the Senate Armed Services Committee:

The enduring hostilities between Israel and some of its neighbors present distinct challenges to our ability to advance our interests in the [CENTCOM] AOR [Area of Responsibility, which comprises most of the Middle East, as well as such Asian countries as Afghanistan and Pakistan]. Israeli-Palestinian tensions often flare into violence and large-scale armed confrontations. The conflict foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel. Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of U.S. partnerships with governments and peoples in the AOR and weakens the legitimacy of moderate regimes in the Arab world. Meanwhile, al-Qaeda and other militant groups exploit that anger to mobilize support. The conflict also gives Iran influence in the Arab world through its clients, Lebanese Hizballah and Hamas.[2]

Dershowitz provides two arguments that there is no connection “between what Israel does and the rate of American casualties.” First, he points out that al-Qaeda didn’t stop planning the 9/11 attacks during the January 2001 Taba Summit. During the summit, he writes, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered the Palestinians “virtually everything they could have wanted: a state on 100% of the Gaza and 97% of the West Bank, a capital in a divided Jerusalem and a $35 billion reparation package for refugees. Virtually the entire Arab world urged Arafat to accept this generous offer, but he declined it.”

Dershowitz’s argument here fails for a number of reasons. First of all, although US support for Israel is certainly a cause of anti-American terrorism (more on this in a minute), it’s obviously not the only cause. Neither General Petraeus nor any other major figure claiming that American support for Israel causes blowback has claimed differently. As can be evidenced by Osama bin Laden’s 1996 and 1998 fatwas, al-Qaeda declared war on the United States for a number of reasons, US support for Israel being just one of them.[3]

Second, it’s certainly debatable whether Barak’s offer to Arafat was “generous.” Although clearly the most generous offer Israel has ever made to the Palestinians, it still failed to comply with international law, which holds that Israel must return all of the West Bank, abandon its settlements, and allow the refugees the right to return to their former homes. So it’s understandable why many in the Muslim world weren’t suddenly won over.

As further evidence that US support for Israel doesn’t cause blowback, Dershowitz writes that “there was no increase in American casualties” during Operation Cast Lead. What he fails to mention here is that Cast Lead proved to be a motivating factor in the suicide terrorist attack committed by Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi, the Jordanian double agent who killed seven Afghanistan-based CIA operatives last December. According to his brother, al-Balawi was “very angry because of military operations in Gaza, and he wanted to volunteer across the Jordan Medical Association [sic] to provide medical services in Gaza.”[4] Cast Lead also seems to have played a part in Umar Faruk Abdulmutallab’s attempt to blow up a Detroit-bound commercial airliner last Christmas. As some of his former classmates have stated, Abdulmutallab was vocal in his sympathy for the Palestinian cause and outrage over the Gaza assault.[5]

Many other examples can be given of Israeli aggression fueling anti-American terrorism. For instance, the perpetrators of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing believed they were defending the victims of Israeli violence. As the terrorists wrote in a February 27, 1993 letter to the New York Times: “This action was done in response for the American political, economical, and military support to Israel the state of terrorism and to the rest of the dictator countries in the region.” They went on to demand that the US end “all military, economical, and political aid to Israel,” as well as its “diplomatic relations with Israel.” The terrorists continued: “The American people must know, that their civilians who got killed are not better than those who are getting killed by the American weapons and support.”[6]

Abdul Hakim Murad, who first suggested to the group’s ringleader, Ramzi Yousef, that they target the World Trade Center, later explained his own motives:

I was working for my religion because I feel that my Muslim brothers in Palestine are suffering. Muslims in Bosnia are suffering, everywhere they are suffering. And if you check the reason for the suffering, you will find that the U.S. is the reason for this. If you ask anybody, even if you ask children, they will tell you that the U.S. is supporting Israel and Israel is killing our Muslim brothers in Palestine. The United States is acting like a terrorist, but nobody can see that. I mean supporting Israel by money and by weapons, that is considered also a kind of terrorism.[7]

Similar motives can be found in such men as Mohamed Rashed Daoud al-Owhali (a perpetrator of the 1998 embassy bombings), Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (Ramzi Yousef’s uncle and mastermind of the 9/11 attacks), and Mohammed Atta (ringleader of the 9/11 attacks). After being arrested in 1998, al-Owhali told FBI agent Stephen Gaudin, “You want to blame this on me? It’s your fault, your country’s fault for supporting Israel!”[8] Regarding Mohammed, the 9/11 Commission Report notes: “By his own account, KSM’s animus toward the United States stemmed not from his experiences there as a student, but rather from his violent disagreement with U.S. policy favoring Israel.”[9] And Lawrence Wright notes the following about Mohammed Atta: “On April 11, 1996, when Atta was twenty-seven years old, he signed a standardized will he got from the al-Quds mosque. It was the day Israel attacked Lebanon in Operation Grapes of Wrath. According to one of his friends, Atta was enraged, and by filling out his last testament during the attack he was offering his life in response.”[10]

Israeli aggression against Muslims also seems to have played a significant part in radicalizing Osama bin Laden. As Lawrence Wright notes:

In Osama’s fourteenth year he experienced a religious and political awakening. Some ascribe the change to a charismatic Syrian gym teacher at the school who was a member of the Muslim Brothers. Osama stopped watching cowboy shows. Outside of school, he refused to wear Western dress. Sometimes he would sit in front of the television and weep over the news from Palestine. ‘In his teenage years, he was the same nice kid,’ his mother related. ‘But he was more concerned, sad, and frustrated about the situation in Palestine in particular, and the Arab and Muslim world in general.’ He tried to explain his feelings to his friends, but his passion left him nonplussed.[11]

In an October 2004 videotape, bin Laden claimed that he only decided to attack the United States after witnessing “the oppression and tyranny of the American Israeli coalition against our people in Palestine and Lebanon.” As he explained:

The events that affected my soul in a direct way started in 1982 when America permitted the Israelis to invade Lebanon and the American Sixth Fleet helped them in that. The bombardment began and many were killed and injured and others were terrorized and displaced I couldn’t forget those moving scenes, blood, and severed limbs, women and children sprawled everywhere. Houses destroyed along with their occupants and high-rises demolished over their residents[,] rockets raining down on our homes without mercy the situation was like a crocodile meeting a helpless child powerless except for his screams. Does the crocodile understand a conversation that doesn’t include a weapon? And the whole world saw and heard but didn’t respond. In those difficult moments, many hard-to-describe ideas bubbled in my soul, but in the end they produced an intense feeling of rejection of tyranny and gave birth to a strong resolve to punish the oppressors. And as I looked at those demolished towers in Lebanon, it entered my mind that we should punish the oppressor in kind and that we should destroy towers in America in order that they taste some of what we tasted and so that they be deterred from killing our women and children.[12]

As the above cases illustrate, there’s an obvious, undeniable correlation between Israeli aggression and anti-American terrorism. If people like Dershowitz want to argue that America’s “special relationship” with Israel should continue, then that’s their right, but it’s simply dishonest for them to deny the obvious blowback that this relationship engenders.


[1] Alan Dershowitz, “The Conflict Between the US and Israel Must End Now!The Huffington Post (1 April 2010).

[2] United States Senate Armed Services Committee, Statement of General David H. Petraeus, U.S. Army Commander U.S. Central Command Before the Senate Armed Services Committee on the Posture of U.S. Central Command (16 March 2010).

[3]Bin Laden’s Fatwa,” Online News Hour (August 1996); “Al Qaeda’s Fatwa,” Online News Hour (23 February 1998).

[4]Middle East visit the home of suicide bomber who killed the elements CIA in Khost,” Asharq Al-Awsat (7 January 2010), trans. Google Translate; Juan Cole, “Iraq, Gaza, Drone Strikes in Pakistan—the Radicalization of CIA Assassin Humam al-Balawi,” Informed Comment (9 January 2010).

[5]Yemen: U.S. never warned us about terror suspect,” USA Today (29 December 2009); Glenn Greenwald, “More cause and effect in our ever-expanding ‘war’,” Salon.com (7 January 2009).

[6]1998 Congressional Hearings: Intelligence and Security,” Federation of American Scientists.

[7] Terry McDermott, Perfect Soldiers: The 9/11 Hijackers: Who They Were, Why They Did It (New York: HarperCollins, 2005), 130-31.

[8] Lawrence Wright, The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 (New York: Knopf, 2006), 278.

[9] National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, The 9/11 Commission Report (22 July 2004), 147

[10] Wright, The Looming Tower, 307.

[11] Ibid., 75-76.

[12]Full Transcript of Bin Laden Video,” ABC News (1 November 2004).