Behind the Kenya Terrorist Attacks

This is a partial transcript of The Big Story With John Gibson, Nov. 29, 2002, that has been edited for clarity. Click here to order the complete transcript.

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GREGG JARRETT, GUEST HOST: Kenya [has rounded] up a handful of people [following homicide attacks on Israeli tourists]… Israel is handing it now to their Mossad, saying that nobody will be forgiven…

The choice of Israelis as targets may have been designed to boost Muslim support for Al Qaeda, and it's also likely these attacks were meant to shift attention away from Iraq.

Gregory Copley is president of the International Strategic Studies Association. He joins us live to talk about it.

Thanks for being with us.

Until now, Israel has not really been a primary target of Al Qaeda, if this is, in fact, the work of Al Qaeda. Does that now mean that, in many ways, Israel becomes involved in America's war on terrorism?

GREGORY COPLEY, INTERNATIONAL STRATEGIC STUDIES ASSOCIATION: Israel has already been involved in the American war on terrorism. In fact, it's only been the Western audiences which have separated out the war as being against Al Qaeda on the one hand and the Arab-Israeli war on the other hand. In fact, they're one and the same thing.

JARRETT: In what way have they been involved?

COPLEY: Well, there are many Israeli special forces and operatives inside Iraq, for example, trying to hunt down terrorists. The whole purpose of the Al Qaeda movement is to remove the West from the Middle East and the West includes Israel. They want Israel gone. They want the West gone from the Middle East. And they're perceived as one and the same by the Al Qaeda and a lot of the Arab street.

JARRETT: But, Mr. Copley, beyond simply gathering intelligence inside Iraq and maybe elsewhere, I mean, if the Israeli Mossad becomes more intimately involved in trying to take out terrorists, it takes on a whole new dimension, doesn't it? After all, Israel has a long and distinguished history of approaching terrorism in a very different way.

You may remember after the Munich massacre in 1972, then prime minister, Golda Maier set up essentially an assassination squad that one-by-one took out those people who were the leaders of Black September. So this could be a very different war on terrorism with the Israelis actively involved.

COPLEY: There's no question about it, and Al Qaeda and all of the allies of Al Qaeda, particularly the Iraqis, the Iranians, the Syrians, and so on, want to trigger Israel into making a very strong response. They want to trigger an Arab-Israeli war, which they believe will diffuse the U.S. attempts to go into Iraq.

JARRETT: All right. Let me argue then or ask you the converse of this. You had four attacks against Israelis in two different venues [on Thursday, Nov. 28] — Palestinian territory, Israeli territory, and, of course, in Kenya. If Al Qaeda has partnered now with Hezbollah and other terrorist groups, does this mean America becomes involved in Israel's fight against Palestinian terrorists?

COPLEY: Well, that's the hope of both Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, and so on. All of these groups have connections… we like to look at different labels for them, but they are so interrelated and overlapping. Even the Shiite and the Sunni groups work with each other to achieve common objectives.

So Al Qaeda has been working with Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, and Hamas and so on for many, many years. Even in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, there were the connections right there with Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, and so on.

JARRETT: Yes, but President Bush has pretty consistently resisted the temptation to compare Palestinian terrorism with Al Qaeda terrorism. In fact, let me put up on the screen what James Bennet wrote in The New York Times:

"Some diplomats in Israel wondered if the Bush administration would find it harder to make distinctions between the conflicts and restrain Prime Minister Ariel Sharon."

Is Bennet right? Or will the Bush administration continue to try to distinguish these two conflicts in order to win Arab support for a potential war against Iraq?

COPLEY: The latter. They're going to try to continue to separate the two but unsuccessfully, and, of course, it is the job of the Al Qaedas and the Hezbollahs and the Hamases of the world to force them to be locked together.

That's their objective, make the Arab-Israeli war and the war against terrorism one and the same thing. Therefore, it makes it difficult for the U.S. to have any credibility on the ground in the Middle East.

JARRETT: If I understand what you're saying, to some extent, Al Qaeda is trying to manipulate the United States and the war on terrorism. And let me quote from BBC News online talking about the motivation.

"Its motive could well be to rally Arab opinion against the war on terror declared by President Bush. By focusing more sharply on Israel as the target, Al Qaeda may be trying to reshape the battle into the West versus the rest."

That's what you're saying.

COPLEY: That's exactly what I'm saying, and we've been saying that in our own publications and reports for the last couple of years, that this is where they're to force a polarization between the West and the Arab and Muslim world.

JARRETT: Will they succeed?

COPLEY: Well, we hope not, but there are many moderate Muslims throughout the world. In fact, the predominant Muslim population is moderate and horrified by this radicalization and hijacking of their religion, but...

JARRETT: All right. Let me play devil's...


COPLEY: ... support.

JARRETT: Let me play devil's advocate. I talked to an expert today who knows Middle Eastern affairs better than anybody else and has been following Al Qaeda for the better part of a decade, and he says, "You know what? Maybe we're giving terrorists too much credit for intelligence. Maybe their own goal is to simply wreak as much havoc and chaos as humanly possible, and they're not really thinking through the various scenarios that is you and I have been talking about."

COPLEY: Well, I think that we often do give them too much credit for being organized and being brilliant, but they do have the advantage of an association with a number of governments — the Iranian clerical government, the Iraqi government, the Syrian government, and so on — where the strategic aspects are thought through and agendas are most definitely thought through and put into effect, with Al Qaeda being one of the principal instruments in that.

But I do believe that the selection of targets and the way their success or lack of success of the terrorist organizations recently reflects the fact that they are not as coherent as they once were and that they do lack intelligence and capability in many areas.

JARRETT: All right. Gregory Copley, president of the International Strategic Studies Association. Many thanks.

COPLEY: Thank you, Gregg.

JARRETT: Appreciate your words today.

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