- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 3, 2006

At this writing, 13 men are trapped deep underground in a West Virginia coal mine and the prognosis for their safe recovery is uncertain. This event underscores the grave dangers that continue to afflict that trade. It also calls to mind a practice long used to keep miners safe — one that serves as a useful metaphor in thinking about the dangers emerging in the New Year.

Traditionally, miners used a primitive but effective technique for monitoring the build-up of deadly gases in their tunnel job-sites: They placed a canary in a cage in areas where work was being done, knowing that the birds would succumb if the air went bad before humans even noticed it. When the canary’s singing permanently stopped, it was an unmistakable warning of trouble ahead.

At the dawn of 2006, there are a number of metaphorical canaries-in-the-mineshaft that require careful monitoring. Here are four that require our urgent attention:

• The rise of Islamofascism in Gaza: Israel’s ill-advised withdrawal from the territory along the Mediterranean that it captured in the Six-Day war proves the old adage that if you think things can’t get worse, just wait. The vacuum of power created by the withdrawal last summer of the Israeli military has given rise for the moment to anarchy.

Escalating violence within Gaza is being accompanied by increasing violence against Israel in the form of Kassam rocket attacks and suicide bombings. Worse yet, the capacity for still-more-deadly forms of terrorism is growing as surface-to-air missiles, high explosives and other ordnance are being smuggled across the now effectively open border with Egypt.

Unfortunately, the chaos will likely shortly give way to a Taliban-style repressive regime led by the Islamist terrorist organization, Hamas. As with Afghanistan’s Islamofascist regime, a Hamas-dominated enclave will become a new safe haven for terror. Most immediately, it will pose a far more serious threat to the Free World’s frontier state in the region, Israel. But it will be a matter of time before al Qaeda and other Saudi-backed Islamist groups use this territory — and whatever parts of the West Bank Israel foolishly decides to surrender next — to prepare their attacks on the rest of us.

• Russia reverts to form: Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin has decided to try once again to intervene in Ukraine’s domestic political affairs. The last time, roughly one year ago, it did so by endorsing and otherwise supporting a pro-Russian candidate. Currently, it is doing it by employing a familiar Soviet tactic: energy blackmail.

By briefly cutting off natural gas supplies to Ukraine, Mr. Putin is demonstrating his willingness to punish his foes, even at the risk of arousing Europe to the prospect that its growing dependency on Russian energy could subject it to similar coercion in the future. He is also proving that his restoration of Soviet-style control over his nation’s economy (and political institutions) will allow him to wield weapons like the energy monopoly, Gazprom, as an instrument of state power. These developments are not auspicious in a country that is now not only a member of the West’s most exclusive club of industrialized nations — the G-8 — but its chairman for this year.

• Musharraf surrenders to the Islamists: Another gasping canary is to be found in the abject failure of Pakistan’s dictator, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, to curb the malevolent activities of his country’s religious schools, known as madrassas. These schools are factories for Islamofascism; their pupils’ education consists exclusively of memorizing the Koran and indoctrination in its most extreme, jihadist interpretation. Such training leaves them unprepared for little else than serving as cannon-fodder in the war against the Free World.

After the London bombings proved that native perpetrators of such attacks were being trained in Pakistani Islamist schools, Gen. Musharraf promised to send their foreign “students” home and require an accounting of the sources of the madrasas’ funds. He has now effectively welched on both commitments. Needless to say, nothing is being done to effect more systematic reform of these schools.

• The escalating campaign against America’s counter-terrorism tools: Finally, 2005 closed with efforts in several areas whose effect (if not explicit purpose) is to deny the U.S. government means critical to our defense of the home front. Interrogations that might be deemed by some to be “cruel, inhuman or degrading,” warrantless surveillance of people communicating from inside the United States with known al Qaeda or other terrorist operatives and renewal of critical provisions of the Patriot Act are all under assault. Little regard is being given for the contribution these tools have made to keeping us safe since September 11, 2001 — let alone for the future need for such instruments, if, as the foregoing “canaries” suggest, the war for the Free World gets a lot more dangerous.

Developments affecting Israel, Ukraine, Pakistan and our counter-terrorism tools are all important stories in their own right. They take on even greater significance, however, as indicators of what could be in store for us as we contend — like miners tunneling in the underground darkness — with forces that may spell our doom if we do not pay close attention to our canaries.

Frank J. Gaffney, Jr. is president of the Center for Security Policy, a columnist for The Washington Times and lead-author of “War Footing: Ten Steps America Must Take to Prevail in the War for the Free World.”

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