The use of a Jordanian double agent by al Qaeda in the suicide bombing that killed seven CIA officers and a Jordanian in Afghanistan last week will make Israelis and Americans wary in their future dealings with Jordan, according to an American security expert.
The Jordanian spy service had reportedly vouched for the would-be informant, which the security expert, Shoshana Bryen, said was apparently good enough for the man to enter a secure CIA base without the customary security screening.
“He had apparently previously turned over some stuff” about al Qaeda, thus gaining the trust of the CIA, said Bryen, director of special projects at the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs.
“If I were al Qaeda, I would want to create doubt that the Jordanians are my friends,” Bryen said. “That’s probably why they used him. It makes sense to me. So now, we can’t trust who the Jordanians bring us, and that will slow security cooperation between the U.S. and Jordan.”
She said that although what happened “does not directly affect Israel, everything that affects international security affects Israel. Now the Israelis are going to have to look twice at the Jordanians. … Israel has a good relationship with Jordan, and this will hinder it in its attempts to work with it.”
Analysts noted that this caution could be extremely important in Yemen, where Jordanian and American intelligence operatives work side-by-side monitoring the operations of al Qaeda there. They note that al Qaeda’s leader, Osama bin Laden, was born in Yemen. They are also watching Iran and its support for the Shiite Zaidi rebels, also known as Huthis, in northern Yemen in their six-year fight against the Yemeni and Saudi armies, which are Sunni.
Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said the significance of Yemen is that it has become “the new front” for al Qaeda as it repositions its forces there from such places as Afghanistan and Pakistan.
“They are setting up terrorist operations and trying to control the strategic waterways through which most of the oil in the region passes,” he said.
Al Qaeda has chosen Yemen to set up a base because it is a “lawless country that never integrated [the north and south], and government control is limited,” Hoenlein added. “Many see it as a failing state.”
Al Qaeda’s presence in Yemen is seen as a “direct threat” to Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and some Gulf states, he pointed out. Hoenlein added that Israel also cares because of its concern about “anything that destabilizes regimes in the region.”
Gerald Steinberg, a professor of political science at Bar-Ilan University, observed that the government of Yemen is playing both sides of the fence, accepting $70 million in aid from the U.S. last year to fight the Huthis and al Qaeda, but not doing all it can.
“The Yemeni government is playing a double game,” he said. “It claims to be opposed to al Qaeda but it has been careful not to alienate it and become its target.”
As a result, he said, it wasn’t long before 10 of the main suspects in the 2000 bombing of the U.S.S. Cole escaped from a Yemeni prison.
The escape, which occurred in April 2003, came from a tightly guarded intelligence building in the port city of Aden. The men were members of al Qaeda, which was blamed for the attack. They had been arrested and held there since shortly after the destroyer was bombed Oct. 12, 2000, killing 17 American sailors.
“Al Qaeda seems to be under attack in Pakistan, but in Yemen there seems to be a greater level of tolerance for them,” Steinberg said. “Israel is also a target for al Qaeda. We have seen them try to infiltrate into Lebanon, and they have been trying to get into Gaza. But they have not succeeded; there is concern that they are trying to develop an infrastructure there.”
Thus, he said, Israel is watching developments in Yemen very closely. But he pointed out that it is more difficult to fly from Yemen to Israel than to the U.S., as the would-be alleged underpants bomber did on Christmas Day. The suspect, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23, the son of a wealthy Nigerian banker, failed to detonate the bomb he was given by al Qaeda shortly before landing in Detroit on a Northwest flight from Yemen that stopped in Amsterdam.
“I can’t imagine that anyone coming to Israel would be able to pay cash for a one-way ticket and get on the plane without any luggage,” Steinberg said.
That incident upset many Israelis, he noted, because “if the U.S. showed that level of incompetence, it makes Israelis nervous.”
But Steinberg said the fact that the would-be bomber “was unable to pull off what should have been a relatively straightforward operation shows it is much less sophisticated than believed and it shows a degradation of al Qaeda’s abilities.”
Israelis were also upset that the Obama administration asked Israel to explain the basis of a raid its security forces staged in Nablus two weeks ago to arrest three suspects in the ambush killing of an Israeli settler a few days earlier. Israeli authorities said the men refused requests to surrender.
“The U.S. acted as if Israel had done something wrong,” Steinberg said. “Why was the U.S. signaling a dislike for a successful Israeli anti-terror operation on the same day it was dealing with its own terrorist threat? When America is attacked, that is terrorism, but when Israel is attacked and responds, there is a question about the way Israel deals with it. The Obama administration seemed to reprimand Israel’s anti-terror action despite the fact that no civilians were killed, there was no collateral damage and no massive bombing.”
Yoram Ettinger in an op-ed piece in the Israeli online publication YNet, pointed out that the actions of al Qaeda prove that “Islamic terrorism is raging in the Middle East and the entire globe irrespective of the Arab-Israeli conflict, independent of the Palestinian issue and regardless of U.S.-Israel friendship, Israel’s policies, or Israel’s existence.”
“The 1,400-year-old Islamic terrorism is not driven by despair, but by local, regional and global religious, political and territorial ambitions, terrorizing Muslims, Christians, Hindus and Jews,” he continued, citing Islamic terrorist actions throughout the globe.
Yitzhak Reiter, a professor in the Hebrew University’s Department of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies, agreed that terrorism would never be wiped out but that a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would “definitely minimize the scale of violence against Israel.”
“It would have a symbolic dimension on the religious plane and the national affinity of people, and when and if it is resolved, the scale of violence and terror against Israel and Jews will be diminished significantly.”