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BICOM Daily Briefing November 21 2003

Last updated: 2003-11-21

British media attention is focused on yesterday’s twin terror attacks on British targets in Istanbul. All papers run in-depth news pieces, leaders and comment articles on the implications of the attacks. In other news, The Guardian reports on the division between the US and the EU regarding the appropriate policy to be adopted toward Iranian nuclear ambitions. In addition, The Guardian contains a piece in which Israel’s readiness for eventual compromise with the Palestinians is reiterated. The International Herald Tribune has an article detailing Israeli unease with the UN vote endorsing the Road Map on Thursday. In the Israeli press, Haaretz leads with an article focusing on reports of a new Israeli diplomatic initiative toward the Palestinian Authority, while Ma‘ariv and Yediot Ahronot both have front page stories dealing with the latest attacks in Turkey, and al-Qaeda‘s apparent involvement in them.

Quotes of the Day:

Prime Minister Tony Blair (Press Conference 20/11): “…and you look round the world today and I tell you in virtually every place there is trouble and difficulty, these terrorists are making it worse, whether it is Kashmir, whether it is Palestine, whether it is Chechnya, wherever it is, and they are prepared to kill anyone, they are prepared to shed any amount of bloodshed, because they know how important this battle is.”

President George Bush (The Guardian 20/11): “Great Britain, America and other free nations are united today in our grief, and united in our determination to fight and defeat this evil.”

Recep Erdogan, Turkish Prime Minister (Haaretz 20/11): “The goal of these attacks is doomed to be destroyed in the face of the government's determination ... and international solidarity in fighting terrorism.”  

Abdulkadir Aksu Turkish Interior Minister (Haaretz 20/11): “These were most probably suicide attacks, the characteristics of which resemble Saturday's twin synagogue bombings.”

Silvan Shalom Israeli Foreign Minister (Haaretz 20/11): “Democratic countries will not surrender to terrorism. They will fight against it wherever it strikes. Terror is a global phenomenon and the community of nations must unite against it while ensuring the values of democracy, freedom and liberties.”

Behind the News:

Al-Qaeda attack on British targets in Istanbul:

Terrorist bombings hit the headquarters of HSBC bank and the British Consulate in Istanbul yesterday, killing 27 people and wounding 450. The attacks followed similar bombings of two synagogues in the city last weekend. Among the dead in Thursday’s attack on the British Consulate was Consul-General Roger Short. 15 other Consulate workers were also killed. The al-Qaeda organisation claimed responsibility for the bombings, along with the Great Eastern Raiders' Front, or IBDA-C, a little known Turkish Islamist group.  Turkish authorities consider that these same groups were responsible for last Saturday’s synagogue bombings.

Turkish police sources have confirmed that the two bombers were 27-year-old Azad Ekinci and Feridun Ugurlu. The former was a schoolmate of one of the two men identified as the perpetrators of the synagogue bombings. Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom expressed his condemnation of the attacks (see above).  Prime Minister Ariel Sharon re-asserted his belief that no compromise can be reached with terror, and contended that terrorism represents a danger to the entire free world. Israel's Ambassador to Turkey Pinhas Avivi said all Israeli diplomatic staff were safe. "We were not the target this time." He added. The Israeli consulate is located within 500 meters of one of the sites of the explosions.

Poll indicates wide Palestinian support for suicide bombings (Source: IMRA)

A poll commissioned by “The New Family Organisation” and carried out by the Palestinian Centre for Public Opinion (PCPO) has found that 18.6% of Palestinians believe it is important to raise a child to be a shahid (martyr). When questioned as to what type of legal marriage they were like to see in a Palestinian state, 27.8% said they would like to see religious polygamy, 50.8% religious monogamy and just 11.4 % preferred to see civil with mixed religion marriages. 30.7% of respondents believe that a suitable punishment for adultery is death. Out of those who took part in the poll, 5.3% consider themselves to be secular, 46%, traditional, 44.2% are religious and 4.5%, ultra-religious. The poll questioned 618 Palestinian adults from the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.

Comment and Opinion:

The Daily Telegraph (21/11): “The bombings in Istanbul yesterday had a twin tactical purpose, which in turn is part of a concerted, ruthlessly prosecuted anti-Western strategy. First, they hit a country regarded by us as a model for secular Islam. Second, they coincided with the state visit to Britain of George W Bush, who, in a speech the day before, had propounded a "forward strategy of freedom" against terrorism. These atrocities, which killed at least 27 people and wounded 440, bear the mark of al-Qa'eda and its affiliates, as did the attacks last Saturday on two synagogues in Istanbul. Between them they provide a graphic snapshot of the battlefront in the Age of Terror.

The goal of Osama bin Laden and his sympathisers is the re-establishment of the caliphate in the Middle East and the eradication of Western secular influence. It is a vision inspired by a deep-seated hatred of the fruit of the European Enlightenment - a belief in progress and the power of reason, and the separation of secular and religious power. In their reaction to this mode of thinking, the Islamists would take us back in time; in extreme cases, a flight to the supposed theocratic purity of the desert in the age of Mohammed. And their ultimate weapon is the suicide bomber - today armed with explosives, tomorrow, if the opportunity arises, with much more deadly nuclear, chemical or biological devices. In this battle, Turkey, a secular, democratic Muslim state which is seeking to join the European Union and has long had close relations with Israel, is an obvious target.

Last Saturday's bombings in Istanbul were the latest in a grim line of attacks on Jewish institutions: another synagogue in Istanbul in 1986, a Jewish community centre in Buenos Aires, a school in France and the Israeli embassy in London in 1994, a synagogue in Tunis and an Israeli-owned hotel in Mombasa in 2002, to mention only a few. The ostensible motive for these outrages is the continuing occupation by Israel of Arab land but they are in fact fuelled by a wider anti-Semitism, as illustrated by the remarks of Dr Mahathir Mohamad, in his last days as Malaysian prime minister, to the Organisation of the Islamic Conference in Kuala Lumpur last month. In the view of the radicals, Israel must be pounded until it is driven into the sea. For the radicals, that achievement would spell the end of Western influence in the Middle East, a goal of bin Laden initially as far as American forces in Saudi Arabia were concerned, now expanded to the removal of all regimes friendly to Washington and its allies. Al-Qa'eda personnel may have been scattered and their operations disrupted by the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001, but they have regrouped and are still capable of carrying out or abetting devastating attacks.

In the Banqueting House, Mr Bush challenged those in the West who would appease the Islamists in the hope of avoiding further retribution, a step which would simply confirm to the likes of bin Laden that the secular democracies were ripe for the plucking. Many Europeans have been astonishingly slow to understand the impact of what happened on September 11. Yesterday's atrocities are yet another reminder that the West and its allies, and moderate Muslims throughout the world, are up against a foe, who, blasphemously, given that God is the creator of life, glorify their deaths and the innocent people they kill as a passport to Paradise. They represent a radically new and ever-present danger. And the sooner we wake up to it, the better.”

Jonathan Stevenson (The Times, 21/11): “One of the most sobering aspects of the bombings in Istanbul yesterday and on Saturday is that they come as little surprise. They follow a clear post-September 11 pattern: al-Qaeda encourages and assists local followers in striking soft targets that are, nonetheless, politically and symbolically meaningful.

Saturday’s targets were Turkish Jews — proxies for Israel, one of al-Qaeda’s two “far enemies”. Yesterday’s were institutions of the United Kingdom — the closest ally of the United States, which is far enemy No 1.”

Turkey is the only largely Muslim country in Nato, the only one with smooth diplomatic and defence relationships with Israel, and a key American ally.

Because Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party has much more solid Islamist credentials than its predecessor, al-Qaeda may have opportunistically perceived better political traction for radical Islam in Turkey. Al-Qaeda may be sending Ankara the message that impious government alliances with Western countries and friendship with Israel will not be tolerated.”

Amnon Dankner (Ma‘ariv): “The attacks in Istanbul, which constitute a clear continuation of September 11, are only a modest beginning. The voices rising from Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur, from Cairo and Majada, must make the penny drop at last: this is war.

The greater part of the Western world has still not internalised the fact that it is engaged in a bitter war which may last years. George Bush has been saying it again and again since the fall of the Twin Towers, but only a few have heard and understood. Others, stupefied by fear, ignorance and stupidity, oppose standing firm in this war, blaming the West, Israel, the US or in fact anyone else who has understood that something historic is happening here. They claim that if only the states of the west were to remove themselves from all involvement in the states of the Third World in general, and the Muslim world in particular, if Israel were only to surrender or be destroyed, then there would be no further complaints, the terror of Al-Qaida would cease, Osama Bin Laden would return to Koran study, and general quiet would prevail.

The explosions yesterday in Istanbul may perhaps dispel some of the nonsense that the peddlers of such opinions have spread. These attacks, together with the wide popular support for them in the Arab and Muslim world, and the hysterical rhetoric from Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur, from Cairo to Majada, should make things clear at last. Since the days of Adolf Hitler, the world has not been witness to such a flow of vile and malicious propaganda as that which emanates from the Arab and Muslim world today.

The feeling that this is just the beginning derives from the ability of Arab and Muslim terrorist today to lay their hands on forms of weaponry far more deadly than explosive devices. The progress that Iran has made toward achieving a nuclear option, the great danger deriving from Pakistan possessing nuclear weapons, and the ready availability of biological and chemical weaponry should give us all pause.

All those who preach understanding, reconciliation, aid and reconstruction have no idea what they are talking about. Perhaps they are trying to console themselves in the face of a future of blood, sweat and tears, but this is the future. That is already certain. The question as to whether the blood, sweat and tears will lead to victory, or to a future filled only with more terrible disasters depends on the determination, the effort and the clarity of objectives of the west.”

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Israel Briefing supplied by BICOM