Terrorism: How the United States Became Enemy One

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The story of the evolution of Islamist terrorism is one that has been met with confusion and surprise by many American citizens. Many were taught that the enemy was the Soviet Union, and most of our history books, discussions and even movies, have reflected the Cold War as the problem we were facing. Many of us were wondering, what is this suicide bomber thing, the intense contempt, and what does it have to do with us? It is as though we were sleeping through a part of our history, and woke up with an enemy we did not know that we had. 

Palestine and Israel

Arguably, though, it is best examined by delving into the history of the United Nations (U. N.) historic division of land in the Middle East. In 1947, the intergovernmental organization, whose intention was to foster international cooperation among nations, voted to partition Palestine into two parts (“U.N. votes for partition of Palestine”). The division of Palestine spawned the establishment of a Jewish state, independent of its predecessor. The area was under British control at the time. Both the Jews and the Arabs believed that the land belonged to them, a conflicting issue that went as far back as 1910. Zionist Jews, emigrants from Russia and Europe, who believed the land to be their own, sought to re-establish their homeland in the area described as Jerusalem and the historic Land of Israel. Geographically, this area was essentially located where the then Palestine existed. On the other hand, the Palestinian Arabs wanted to quell the Jewish immigration. Their goal was to establish a secular Palestinian state (“U.N. votes for partition of Palestine”). 

In 1929, the Arabs and the Jews engaged in ongoing conflict over the land (“U.N. votes for partition of Palestine”). Britain, at the time, tried to stem Jewish immigration in support of the Arabs’ perspective. The advent of the Holocaust, where over six million Jews were killed and hunted down by the Nazis and their collaborators, precipitated and strengthened the migration of Jews into Palestine during World War II. Feeling betrayed, radical Jewish factions engaged in terrorist methods against the British troops, who they saw as opposed to the Zionist cause. In 1945, then President Harry Truman, initiated an inquiry into the settlement of Jews in Palestine ("Truman announces inquiry”). Death camp, upon death camp was being liberated in the last weeks of World War II. In August, Truman received the Harrison Report that illuminated the plight of the Jews as a result of Nazi transgressions. Truman determined that Jewish refugees needed a safe place to call home. Though in 1946, the U. S. Joint Chiefs of Staff added a new conundrum to the equation. The question arose regarding who would be in control of the valuable oil fields in an area rife with instability. The fear was that the Communists, who at the time were known for expanding into geographical areas where they found political instability, would place U. S. access to Middle Eastern oil in jeopardy, particularly where there might already be Jewish communist sympathizers. Truman’s plans were placed on hold.

Requests for aid by the Jewish community continued to pour in ("Truman announces inquiry”). Discussion and debate went on for an additional two years. The United States allied with the Jews, and Britain, somewhat baffled by their circumstances, deferred to the United Nations to come up with a practical solution (“U.N. votes for partition of Palestine”).

 In 1947, the newly established United Nations, which had no independent power of its own, decided that a Jewish state should be created and that Palestine should be partitioned ("Truman announces inquiry”). Despite this determination, unless the United States and Great Britain supported their decision, the U. N. was powerless to enforce the referendum. 

The new Jewish land allocation measured beyond half of Palestine, however, the Jewish population comprised less citizenry than the Palestinian Arab constituency ("State of Israel proclaimed"). A fact not lost on Arab supporters. War ensued, with Palestinian Arabs and allies against the Jews, though the Jewish forces were able to secure their territory. In 1948, Britain removed itself from the region, likely happily so, coinciding with the expiration of their Palestinian Mandate, pursuant to the League of Nations administration terms ("British Palestine Mandate”). The mandate required Great Britain to temporarily ensure the well being and progress of the population in Palestine and they were now, no longer required to do so. On May 14, 1948, Jewish Agency Executive Committee Chairman David Ben-Gurion proclaimed the independent State of Israel ("State of Israel proclaimed"). He said, “We hereby proclaim the establishment of the Jewish state in Palestine, to be called Israel” ("State of Israel proclaimed"), to both tears and applause from the audience. Ben-Gurion was now Israel’s first premier. No rest for the weary though, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Transjordan invaded the next day. Though less prepared, Israel managed to successfully ward off the Arab forces, and in addition, conquered just under sixty percent of United Nations allocated Arab lands, including Galilee, Jaffa, Ramle, Lydda, a strip on the Tel-Aviv-Jerusalem road, and some portions of the West Bank. A cease fire, brokered by the U.N., allowed the State of Israel to keep control of the portion of Arab land that they had captured.

Israeli-Arab relations continued to remain unstable after the 1948 war (Sanchez). In 1967, Egyptian forces began to mobilize near the Israeli border from within the Sinai Peninsula ("Six Day War Begins”). Israeli troops responded to the Sinai buildup, and commenced attacks on Egypt and Syria simultaneously. Jordan also entered the hostilities, but the Arab triumvirate was unprepared and ill-equipped to match forces with the Israeli military. In just six days, Israel defended its borders and wrested additional lands from the Arabs, among them the Gaza Strip, the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula, the West Bank, the Golan Heights of Syria, and the Arab district of East Jerusalem. The United Nations’ cease fire took effect just a few days after the war started, yet by that time, Israel had doubled its size and more. The Israelis were most happy about the fact that they had managed to seize the Old City of Jerusalem from Jordan. Many were so grateful that they bowed in prayer near the Second Temple Western Wall. Negotiations since that time have met with some success, but a permanent peace has remained elusive ("Six Day War Begins”).

The Soviet War in Afghanistan

The Soviet Union mobilized forces and entered Afghanistan in 1979, at the behest of the existing government ("Soviets take over in Afghanistan"). The original plan was to provide consultation, but after looking at the political circumstances, the Soviets came in full force, killed Hafizullah Amin, the country’s president, and placed their preferred leader, socialist and Soviet sympathizer Babrak Karmal in power. The rebel Afghan Mujahideen received support from the Muslim Brotherhood, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and Saudi Arabia in an effort to topple the Soviet advance. Some viewed the Soviet intervention and the U. S. counter, simply as yet another battleground for their ongoing Cold War. The war continued for nine years, was viewed as fruitless by many, and some say was the straw that broke the camel’s back with respect to the downfall of the Soviet Union (Reuveny and Prakash).

Osama bin Laden and the Rise of Al Qaeda

Osama bin Laden, born in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, a 25 year old volunteer at the time, offered his support for the Afghan jihad by funding their operations through his wealthy family network, offered training, and directed the mujahedeen as they battled against the Soviets (“Osama bin Laden”). Bin Laden’s father owned the largest construction company in the kingdom. The business was an enormous conglomerate, which in addition to construction, engaged in the distribution of consumer goods, including Volkswagen automobiles and Snapple drinks throughout the Middle East. Bin Laden was raised under Wahhabi principles, and his beliefs became more than just a religion, but became central to his political beliefs and were at the core of his every decision. When the Soviets left Afghanistan, bin Laden returned to his homeland a hero.

In 1990, however, Saddam Hussein invaded the small country of Kuwait ("Iraq invades Kuwait"). Bin Laden was concerned that Iraq would expand its attacks against Saudi Arabia. Consequently, he suggested to the king that he bring in the Afghan mujahedeen rebels, in an effort to help protect the country. Yet King Fahd rejected bin Laden’s offer and decided to accept the help of United States military protections to ward off Iraq, giving the Americans entrée into the Muslim holy lands. This seems to be at the root of the terrorist contempt for the Saudi’s Western allies. As a result of Fahd’s actions, in choosing non-Muslims to enter the holy land, bin Laden became a vociferous objector of the Saudi royal family’s actions and that of their American allies (“Osama bin Laden”).

In 1991, in response to bin Laden’s growing fiery pan-Islamist rhetoric, he was kicked out of Saudi Arabia (“Osama bin Laden”). In his exile, bin Laden initially went to the Sudan in Africa, then made his way to Afghanistan, but not without taking over $250 million with him to aid in establishing terrorist training camps. The Taliban, who had seized power in Afghanistan, offered bin Laden refuge, and in exchange, he provided funding, fighters and training camps, while expanding his ever growing Al Qaeda terrorist network. His network on the upswing, bin Laden declared a jihad against America and Israel. In 1998, bin Laden declared: 

For more than seven years the United States is occupying the lands of Islam in the holiest of its territories, Arabia, plundering its riches, overwhelming its rulers, humiliating its people, threatening its neighbors, and using its bases in the peninsula as a spearhead to fight against the neighboring Islamic peoples . . . to kill Americans and their allies, both civil and military, is an individual duty of every Muslim who can, in any country where this is possible, until the Aqsa mosque and the Haram mosque are freed from their grip, and until their armies, shattered and broken-winged, depart from all the lands of Islam, incapable of threatening any Muslim (Lewis).

After his proclamation, Islamic terrorist started their venture to strike U. S. targets (“Osama bin Laden”). Shortly thereafter, two U. S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, Africa were bombed simultaneously. In 2000, the U.S.S. Cole, a naval destroyer, was attacked by a small fishing vessel loaded with explosives. Seventeen of the seamen on board were killed, and another thirty eight sailors were injured. This was followed by the 9/11 attacks against the World Trade Center in downtown New York City, where the lives of nearly 3,000 people were taken.

Works Cited

"British Palestine Mandate: History & Overview." Jewish Virtual Library. American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise. n. d. Web. 2 September 2016. <http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/History/mandate3.html>.

"Iraq invades Kuwait." History.com. A&E Television Networks, LLC. n. d. Web. 2 September 2016. <http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/iraq-invades-kuwait>.

Lewis, Bernard. "Jihad vs. Crusade." The Wall Street Journal. Dow Jones & Co. 27 September 2001. Web. 2 September 2016. <http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB1001547201928681240>.

“Osama bin Laden” History.com. A&E Television Networks, LLC. n. d. Web. 2 September 2016. <http://www.history.com/topics/osama-bin-laden>.

Reuveny, Rafael and Prakash, Aseem. "The Afghanistan war and the breakdown of the Soviet Union." Review of International Studies. British International Studies Association. 1999. Web. 2 September 2016. <https://faculty.washington.edu/aseem/afganwar.pdf>.

Sanchez, Ray. "Israel and its neighbors: Decades of war." CNN. Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. 13 August 2016. Web. 2 September 2016. <http://www.cnn.com/interactive/2014/08/world/israel-neighbors/>.

"Six Day War Begins." History.com. A&E Television Networks, LLC. n. d. Web. 2 September 2016. <http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/six-day-war-begins>.

"Soviets take over in Afghanistan." History.com. A&E Television Networks, LLC. n. d. Web. 2 September 2016. <http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/soviets-take-over-in-afghanistan>.

"State of Israel proclaimed." History.com. A&E Television Networks, LLC. n. d. Web. 2 September 2016. <http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/state-of-israel-proclaimed>.

"Truman announces inquiry into Jewish settlement in Palestine." History.com. A&E Television Networks, LLC. n. d. Web. 2 September 2016. <http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/truman-announces-inquiry-into-jewish-settlement-in-palestine>.

"U.N. votes for partition of Palestine." History.com. A&E Television Networks, LLC. n. d. Web. 2 September 2016. <http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/u-n-votes-for-partition-of-palestine>.