Washington Is Playing With Islamist Fire

By Ely Karmon

Several days ago The New York Times revealed a historic shift in US foreign policy, saying "the Obama administration has begun to reverse decades of mistrust and hostility as it seeks to forge closer ties" with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, once viewed as irreconcilably opposed to US interests.

The move was attributed to the new political reality, the results of three rounds of elections in Egypt which project the Muslim Brotherhood as the winners of the majority in the new parliament. It was also made possible by the Brotherhood's "moderate messages," including the promise to build a "modern democracy that will respect individual freedoms, free markets and international commitments, including Egypt's treaty with Israel."

But what's really new about this? For decades the US has had deep strategic, military and economic relations with Saudi Arabia, a theocratic regime which has a much more obscurantist Islamist policy than the one proposed by the Brotherhood in its official program (not the one presented to the Egyptian and foreign public in its platform before the elections).

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The US also provided military support, albeit indirectly, to the mujihadeen fighting the Soviet invaders in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

What's really new here is the obliviousness and naïve, wishful thinking evinced by the American policy makers and intellectuals proposing this "rapprochement" with the Islamist movements in the Arab world, which hijacked the uprisings of the young Arab modernist forces in Tunisia and Egypt and will probably do the same in Libya and Syria.

The mujihadeen of Afghanistan fell under the influence of Abdullah Azzam, the ideologue of the jihadist global movement and the mentor of Osama bin Laden. Azzam's concept of "al-Qa'ida al-Sulbah," or "the solid base" of the jihadi vanguard was the source of the al-Qaida organization's name.

Abdullah Azzam visited the United States in the late 1980s, before the end of the war in Afghanistan and the withdrawal of the Soviet forces, and preached jihad against America.

When the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in 1995-96, Saudi Arabia gave it financial support and diplomatic recognition, despite the Taliban's permission for bin Laden to train anti-American and anti-Saudi young jihadists on Afghani soil.

Surprisingly, al-Qaida never attacked Saudi interests before the American occupation of Iraq in spring 2003.

It is also surprising that 15 of the 19 hijackers who attacked the US on September 11, 2001 were Saudis.

The 9/11 Commission identified eight more al-Qaida operatives who had been personally chosen by bin Laden to participate in the hijackings, but who for a variety of reasons dropped out of the plot.

Saudis have been involved in every major terrorist attack against the United States, in Saudi Arabia itself and elsewhere: the Saudi National Guard bombing in November 1995, the Khobar Towers bombing in June 1996, the Nairobi embassy bombing in August 1998, the USS Cole bombing in October 2000, and, of course, September 11.

Moreover, Saudi nationals have played a leading role in financing the al-Qaida infrastructure and its terrorist attacks and have also funded the Sunni insurgency in Iraq against the American and coalition forces. Some 70 percent of the suicide bombers in Iraq were Saudis.

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The writer is a senior research scholar at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT) and The Institute for Policy and Strategy (IPS) at The Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya.

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