In the latest in a series of extraordinary – and somewhat ominous – US State Department warnings, non-emergency US government personnel and US citizens in Yemen have been told to leave “due to the continued potential for terrorist attacks.”
In the first stage of warnings, diplomatic missions across the Middle East and Asia – including Israel – were ordered closed Sunday out of concern that al- Qaida and affiliated organizations were planning an attack.
Then on Monday, while the warning was lifted in Israel, the US State Department announced that a total of 19 US embassies and consuls would remain closed.
These announcements seem to play into the hands of al-Qaida. Terrorism is a slippery, hard-topin- down concept. Threatening to use violence against civilians to obtain ineluctably political aims – reestablishing the Caliphate in the Middle East and elsewhere – would seem to qualify. But terrorism is only effective when the prospective victim is intimidated.
The US State Department’s call effectively to abandon ship, at least temporarily, sows a sense of panic, which encourages still more threats and terrorism.
Israelis have learned precisely how this dynamic works through bitter lessons during waves of suicide attacks, particularly in the late 1990s and during the second intifada, which began at the end of 2000.
Admittedly US intelligence has picked up a plethora of ominous signs of an imminent attack.
American intelligence sources have been quoted in the media as saying that the current shutdown of embassies in the Middle East and Africa is the result of the National Security Agency’s having intercepted a secret message between al-Qaida chief Ayman al-Zawahri and Nasser al-Wahishi, the leader of the Yemen-based al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, that seems to provide evidence of a planned attack.
Meanwhile, according to Interpol, al-Qaida was involved in prison breaks in Iraq, Libya and Pakistan that have freed hundreds of terrorists and other criminals. The international police force is asking its 190 member countries to determine whether the events are linked or coordinated, and to closely follow and process information linked to the escapes or escaped prisoners.
In addition, the month of August is the anniversary of terrorist attacks in Mumbai, Gluboky, Russia, and Jakarta, Indonesia. This week marks the 15th anniversary of US Embassy bombings in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. We are also now in the final days of Ramadan. Muslims usually celebrate this period with the observance of prayer, good works and spiritual retreats. But extremists like al-Qaida might view this time as propitious for a terrorist attack against “infidels.”
Perhaps the US’s strategy is, as noted by Rep. C.A.
“Dutch” Ruppersberger of Maryland, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, to “give notice to the people that are planning it: We know something’s out there.”
Still, it might also be possible that al-Qaida intentionally planted the intelligence on the planned attacks so as to mislead the US and divert attention and security away from an actual plot.
Particularly in the wake of Benghazi, the State Department faces a dilemma. Refraining from issuing a public warning could potentially expose it to harsh criticism – particularly from combative opponents of the Obama administration – for not forewarning Americans. But issuing warnings plays into the hands of al-Qaida, whose very raison d’etre is to induce fear as a means of forcing the West into retreat.
We can only wonder whether it might have been possible for the Americans to protect their missions and strengthen security throughout the region more quietly without advertising to the entire world that it has been intimidated by the same al- Qaida that US President Barack Obama, during his successful 2012 campaign for reelection, pronounced “decimated” and “on the path to defeat.”
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