Saturday, January 31, 2004

TEL AVIV — Israeli intelligence officials believe that al Qaeda has largely spared the Jewish state from terrorist attacks as part of a global plan to first destroy the United States and establish an Islamic empire before targeting Israel.

This consensus is based on constant and intensive monitoring of al Qaeda’s operations, and statements and analysis of its leadership’s beliefs, Israeli intelligence officials said.

Osama bin Laden and his followers have been under scrutiny here since the late 1990s — at least two years before September 11.

Al Qaeda’s presence in the Palestinian territories today is limited to rank-and-file operatives, usually Palestinians or Jordanians, who are closely monitored by Israeli intelligence.

The operatives maintain close links with Hamas and Islamic Jihad organizations, two groups responsible for most of the suicide bombings targeting the Jewish state.

The Israelis believe the United States is al Qaeda’s primary objective and that Israel will be dealt with in the final stage of its global plan.

According to Jonathan D. Halevi, a reserve lieutenant colonel in Israel’s armed forces and a foreign ministry adviser, al Qaeda is waging jihad, or holy war, against the United States as “retaliation” for what it considers “the terrorist war waged by the U.S. against the nation of Islam.”

Reuven Paz, a veteran of Israel’s intelligence apparatus, said the goal set for al Qaeda 20 years ago by its main ideologist, the late Abdullah Azzam, a Palestinian, is to create a single Islamic state that would encompass the world.

Azzam was killed 14 years ago in Afghanistan by a bomb planted in his automobile.

“No one knows who was responsible,” said Mr. Paz, director of the Tel Aviv-based Project for the Research of Intelligence Movements, an outfit known in this country’s intelligence community by the acronym PRISM.

A recent recording made in Iraq by Abu Musaab Zarqawi, one of al Qaeda’s most influential leaders, affirms the Israelis’ contention that it not only seeks the downfall of the West, but also a purge of Islam’s own “clerical establishment.”

“You abandoned us in the most difficult of circumstances and you handed us over to our enemy,” Zarqawi said.

This bitter critique referred to the circumstances in which the regime of Saddam Hussein collapsed and Iraq came under the control of American and allied forces.

Zarqawi’s original name, according to the Middle East Research Institute, was Ahmad Al-Khalayla.

A citizen of Jordan, he is believed to have planned a series of attacks there while the millennium was being celebrated, but was thwarted by Jordanian authorities.

He is also accused of masterminding the bombing of Jordan’s embassy in Baghdad on Aug. 7, and the 2002 assassination of American diplomat Laurence Foley in Jordan.

The U.S. State Department has posted a $5 million reward for information leading to his arrest.

His seething hatred of the United States was expressed in this passage from a newly released recording:

“Oh, Allah, rend the kingdom of Bush as you rend the kingdom of Caesar; Oh, Allah, curse the Arab tyrants and the foreign tyrants; Oh, Allah, strike the apostate rulers,” he said.

A key short-term objective, according to Ronen Bergman, a prominent Israeli writer who also has an extensive background in his country’s intelligence apparatus, is “to destabilize” the various Arab and other Muslim states.

As a result of the American onslaught against al Qaeda’s former bases in eastern Afghanistan, its terrorist network has been “dispersed,” he said.

He cited its subsequent operations in Morocco, Kenya, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

In Kenya, the objective was to shoot down an Israeli Arkia airliner immediately after takeoff from Mombasa Airport, but the surface-to-air missiles smuggled into the country from neighboring Somalia missed their target.

Another result of this “dispersion” is the presence of hundreds of armed personnel in Iraq who belong to Ansar al-Islam, an organization closely allied with al Qaeda, Mr. Bergman said.

Al Qaeda’s ideology contradicts Islam’s traditionally conciliatory attitude toward “the protected religions,” Judaism and Christianity, according to Col. Halevi.

This changed largely because of “radical Islam’s hatred of the U.S. and other Western countries as leaders of the Christian world,” he said. “The U.S. is viewed as a global infidel force menacing Islam with its ideology, social and economic values, and hostile policy seen in terms of a modern Crusader war against Islam.”

He attributed the idea of indiscriminate mass murder of Christians to Suliman Abu Ghaith, a prominent al Qaeda leader, who contends that Muslims “have the right to kill 4 million Americans, including a million children, to displace 8 million Americans and to cripple hundreds of thousands more.”

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