Gaza, Libya and 9/11: Wishful thinking helping terror

If we really want to fight terror, we have to throw away the wishful thinking. That is something we must demand of our leaders and of our media.

Rocket hits Be'er Tuviya home 390 (photo credit: Courtesy Be'er Tuviya)
Rocket hits Be'er Tuviya home 390
(photo credit: Courtesy Be'er Tuviya)
The terror from Gaza, Libya and even 9/11 are all linked by one thing: they were made possible by Western analysts and leaders who relied on wishful thinking.
Each case shows how naïve/inept/corrupt leaders were were joined by an entire class of media watchdogs, who became lapdogs curled up at their feet.
The leaders and the media analysts felt that the terror threat was not so great, and they pretended there was no danger rather than imagining ways to meet the danger.
That is what happened in Libya this year. That is what took place in Gaza in 2005 and thereafter. That is what happened to the US before 9/11.
For political reasons, the 9/11 Commission was exceedingly muted in its findings, but its clearest indictment is that US leaders, particularly the Clinton administration, did not exercise imagination in the face of growing Arab-Islamic terror in the 1990s.
Yes, the first Bush administration (1989-1992) and the second Bush administration (the first eight months of 2001) were also remiss, but it was the Clinton Justice Department, for example, that had all kinds of rules that prevented the CIA and FBI from pooling data and working together.
It was the Clinton team that imposed rules against airlines using “profiling” to screen passengers, and Clinton appointees at the CIA such as John Deutch and George Tenet oversaw the castration of American intelligence overseas. Talented agents resigned in droves, rather than serve under the new bureaucrats.
Budgets for CIA operations were cut back, and few agents with knowledge of foreign languages (especially Arabic, Persian and Urdu) were put in the field.
The fact that Clinton rarely saw his CIA or FBI directors is testimony to the low priority he gave to intelligence gathering.
There was a joke about Clinton’s first CIA director, Jim Woolsey, that, in retrospect, seems particularly eerie: in order to get to see Clinton, it was said, Woolsey would have to crash his plane into the White House.
Legend says Ariel Sharon was a great fighter of Arab terror, but the truth is not as kind. Sharon’s decision to evict almost 10,000 Israeli citizens and all Israeli forces from Gaza – without any written or oral agreement with any Arab party – simply does not make (and never made) any strategic sense.
But it made political sense.
Sharon feared losing critical backing from Israeli financiers and industrialists who liked Ami Ayalon, another former general, who pushed “The Geneva Initiative” for talks with the Palestinians.
Sharon’s Gaza Plan kept them in Sharon’s corner.
Sharon also faced a serious legal threat of prosecution over various questionable money transfers, but knew no attorney-general and no supreme court would demand an indictment right in the middle of delicate “peace moves.”
For its part, Israel’s press deliberately covered up for Sharon. David Landau, an exeditor at Haaretz, admitted he and colleagues buried anti- Sharon news to keep him in power. [Landau made these comments many times, but I heard them when we both briefed students from George Mason University.] Amnon Abramovitz, the leading commentator at Channel 2 TV, and Nahum Barnea, the most important writer at Yediot Aharonot, did the same, leading their colleagues to protect Sharon.
Abramovitz actually coined a special Hebrew term to describe the media’s protection of Sharon.
For them Sharon was an “etrog” – the special citron fruit proffered on Succot. The etrog is swaddled in protective padding to make sure that it does not incur even the smallest blemish, and so was Sharon swaddled and protected.
When Sharon promised to bring his ideas to a vote before the Likud convention – and lost – the press did not pillory him for hypocrisy and violation of his promises.
Much of the Israeli academic community and the Israeli legal community joined in the effort that made a travesty of Israel’s Basic Law guaranteeing due process and property rights. The same Supreme Court which agonizes over the expropriation five meters of soil from an Arab village for the sake of a border fence gave wholesale approval to the cession of an entire territory to... well, no one, without even an accompanying document or legal agreement.
Israel just pulled out, not for the sake of a new road, not for the sake of a new fence, not even for the idea of “peace in our time,” but on the vague whim of “some kind of peace in some kind of time with some kind of partner whose identity will become evident later.”
Israel withdrew unilaterally from Gaza in 2005, hoping this would make “the security situation better” and that Palestinian “moderates” (who, exactly?) would embrace Israel’s gesture, choose peace and live happily ever after.
This is such wishful thinking that even Hollywood would have laughed – but no one is laughing today after the thousands of rockets that have flown from Gaza into Israel since that fateful withdrawal/ eviction.
America’s diplomats in Libya were under constant threat and intermittent attack well before the September 11 attacks of 2012, and the US ambassador himself, Chris Stevens, had warned that he and his staff were being targeted by al-Qaida.
President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other officials had to know this. There were just too many cables and emails warning of the danger.
In addition, the consulate in Benghazi, Libya, was attacked at least twice before the final fatal assault on 9/11, 2012.
America’s second 9/11 was a self-inflicted surprise because Obama’s team was clinging to the old religion of “we-offended-them-so-they-attacked-us” based on the fictional plot line that some YouTube video enraged Muslims worldwide.
Two other big factors in the Obama team’s blindness to terror are:
• Obama wanted to believe that he had really spurred the climate change he called “Arab Spring,” that would shortly bring forth new flowers;
• They wanted to believe that almost all terror and all al- Qaida machinations ended the day Sheriff Barack personally shot down that cowboy in the black hat, Osama bin Laden.
It is interesting that the US press has treated Obama much the way most of the Israeli press treated Ariel Sharon – like a fruit to be protected from blemishes, rather than like a politician whose actions need to be scrutinized.
If we really want to fight terror, we have to throw away the wishful thinking. That is something we must demand of our leaders and of our media.
The worst lies are the ones we tell ourselves, and the most dangerous lies are the ones we tell ourselves about terror.
The writer an expert on Arab politics and communications, is the author of Battle for Our Minds: Western Elites and the Terror Threat, published by Threshold/Simon and Schuster.A former reporter, correspondent and editor, respectively at The New York Times, Cox Newspapers and The Jerusalem Post, he was strategic affairs adviser in the Ministry of Public Security and teaches at Bar-Ilan University.