UNLIKE most other forms of international terrorism, the Middle East brand has always constituted a combination of religious, ideological and political zeal, intimately connected with regional regimes.
It has been used as a low-risk, low-cost and readily available instrument, providing sovereign operators with the diplomatically essential factor of deniability.
Traditionally, Middle East terrorism has enjoyed the support of regional rulers, who have used it to advance their own goals.
For instance, Saudi Arabia and Libya have backed Islamic terrorist groups throughout the Mideast, Africa and the Far East; and Sudan’s ruling Salvation Front is training – with Iranian assistance and Syrian involvement – Egyptian, Jordanian, Tunisian and Gulf States’ terrorists. (The notorious suicide operations camp is situated at Al-Kamilay, 120 km. east of Khartoum).
Moreover, Syria drafts Kurdish and Armenian terrorists for its territorial and water conflicts with Turkey (while political dialogue goes on between Damascus and Ankara); under the direct supervision of its elite intelligence units, Syria trains Arab terrorists to topple Arab regimes, to advance its ties with Iran, and to intimidate Israel.
With the personal involvement of Defense Minister Mustafa Tlas, Syria also activates European, Japanese and Third World terrorists and Lebanese narco-terrorism.
Iran is widening its own network of state-sponsored terrorism; Iraq is still a major sponsor of regional and international terrorism; and even Jordan is using the imposed presence of Hamas, PLO and other terrorists on its soil, to advance its internal and inter-Arab interests.
President Assad, his relatives and political allies directly control the operations of the major organizations of violence and state-sponsored terrorism established by the Ba’ath regime – the Special Units, the Defense Brigades, the General Intelligence, Military Intelligence, Political Security, Internal Security and the Bureau of National Security.
NOW, a regime which exploits terrorism as an instrument to subdue domestic opposition is being expected to use that same instrument against the plague of terrorism!
State-sponsored Middle East terrorism such as Hizbullah, PLO and Hamas, with its roots in the seventh century, has constituted violence as a political norm in the region. It has both created and used it as an instrument to pursue military goals unattainable through conventional warfare.
Some observers have claimed that the fate of terrorism depends on progress (or the lack thereof) in the political process; however, it has been the effectiveness of a struggle against terrorism which has determined the protagonist’s steadfastness or weakness in the political process.
For example, Turkey’s political posture vis-a-vis Syria has been advanced by its crackdown on the Damascus-supported PKK, and King Hussein’s domestic and inter-Arab political dialogues have improved since his 1970 annihilation of PLO strongholds.
In other words, the more tenacious the fight against terrorism, the less effective terrorism becomes as a political instrument and as an obstacle to peace.
The internationally renowned Lebanese Shi’ite scholar and Middle Eastern analyst, Prof. Fuad Ajami of Johns Hopkins University, demolishes the notion that countering terrorism in the region is best advanced through political means. He contends that “to talk of a peace process that would end this wave of terror is naive … Nothing would inflame the tensions of the extremists in the region more than a major American diplomatic initiative.”
He adds: “it is a false reading of a large civilization to say that the terror springs from the impasse between Israeli and Palestinian. It springs from that, but only partly so … (New York Times, April 17, 1986).
Ignoring the fundamental tenets of Middle East terrorism, misunderstanding the correlation between terrorism and politics, and overlooking its intimate connection with regional regimes may become a major obstacle on the path to defeating terrorism and attaining peace.