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Op-Ed

Bin Laden to U.S.: "Drop Israel, Let's Talk"

Walid Phares, September 21, 2009

U.S. soldiers stand to attention during a ceremony at Camp Eggers in Kabul on Sept. 11 in remembrance of the victims of the 9/11 terror attacks in New York and Washington in 2001. (Photo: Shah Marai/ AFP-Getty Images)

In a 12-minute address on audiotape, al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden spoke to the American people on the 8th anniversary of 9/11. The tape was produced by the as-Sahab propaganda arm of the terror group and posted on various jihadist forums last night.

His address (assuming it is his voice on the tape), directed "to the American people," asserted that the main reason for the al Qaeda attacks on New York and Washington on September 11, 2001, was U.S. support for Israel as well as "some other injustices." Interestingly, bin Laden claimed the war between the two "nations" (i.e the American nation and the Islamic "Umma") can stop if the White House eliminates what he called the "Israel lobby." He accused Israel of pushing for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Note that in this speech he did not mention the battlefields of Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia or Chechnya; he targeted only U.S.-Israeli relations.

He began by insisting that Americans need to know the real causes for this war "which is costing you dearly in blood and wealth. The White House convinced you that this War [on Terror] is necessary for your security." Bin Laden was referring mainly to Bush's War on Terror, but could also have been referring to what the Obama administration has recently called the "war of necessity." Bin Laden asked Americans to hear "both sides" (a concept taken from American political discourse and rarely referred to in jihadist literature).

While over-emphasizing the Israel factor—something unusual for him—bin Laden told his audience that for two decades he had claimed that the main cause for his attacks was "America's support to its allies the Israelis." He added that there were also other injustices caused by the U.S. but refrained from citing them. Such an over-assertion is new in the al Qaeda narrative, for in most of bin Laden's previous speeches, including his declarations of war of 1996 and 1998, Israel was listed as only one and not the main root cause of the terror he unleashed. His speeches during the fall of 2001 focused on the "evil nature" of American policies rather than on the country's support for Israel.

Bin Laden went on to say that "our two Umma," meaning America and the Muslim world, "are both victims" of one aggressor: those "who control the White House, particularly the Israel lobby and the multinational corporations." He endorsed two books for Americans to understand how these lobbies control the White House—"a book by a former C.I.A. agent who apologized for his crimes as a hit man," which most likely is John Perkins's "Confessions of an Economic Hit Man," and another book called "The Israel Lobby" by professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt. He claimed that these two books "will give you the truth."

Bin Laden also praised President Obama for having "admitted at last in his speech in Cairo the existence of our people's miseries." He also praised "former President Carter's statements about the Palestinians during his last visit in Gaza, and particularly his statements on Israel's racism.

"Those who are stating from the White House that the war in Afghanistan is one of necessity are like Bush; they represent the interests of the corporations." He declared that the authors of such statements are the ones responsible for the war, not the Mujahideen. "The White House is occupied by pressure groups," he said. "You Americans should liberate the White House from these groups instead of liberating Iraq." Pushing the drama, bin Laden added that "any leader of the White House is set on tracks he can't leave. This president has become like a train set to move in a particular direction. He must accept these pressures otherwise his fate could be like President Kennedy's or his brother."

He called on Americans "to free themselves from the intellectual terror of the neo-cons and the Israel lobby." He asked them to review their alliance with Israel. "Is your security and well-being worth sacrificing for Israel's security?" He added that polls show that Americans are opposed to wars and thus they must act against those "who threaten our security," meaning Israel.

Then he made an offer. "We are ready to accept talking about ending this war." However, he believes that President Obama won't be able to meet that challenge. "Obama is a mustad'aaf." In some of the media analysis in English the term was translated automatically as "Obama is weak." But that translation is not accurate. "Mustdaa'f" here means "victimized" or forced to act against his original intentions. "He maintained the men of Bush and Cheney in power: Secretary Gates, Admiral Mullen and General Petraeus," bin Laden said. "Obama can't stop the war with these men in charge. He should have appointed generals who were against the war like General Sanchez and Admiral Fallon."

He told Americans that if they can stop the war, "that is fine; if not, the jihadists will continue this war of attrition as they did with the U.S.S.R. for ten years leading to its collapse." This war you are waging "is already lost."

Bin Laden claimed that his war against the United States led to a major economic crisis and debts, which in turn led to a financial meltdown. He thus claimed the economic collapse of the U.S. as an act of war set in motion by the jihadists.

At first read, the speech aims to creating confusion among Americans by announcing that the war can really come to an end by accepting al Qaeda's conditions. But among the many messages bin Laden is sending, there is also an attempt to create a division within the Obama administration by inciting those he believes are anti-Israel to pressure the American president to curtail the influence of the so-called "Israel lobby" inside the White House.

There is, without a doubt, a shift in al Qaeda's strategic communications. Bin Laden's advisers, some of whom appear to be operating from within the U.S. political culture, have convinced him that it would be strategically preferable to single out one issue, the U.S.-Israel relationship, in order to put the American public and the administration under pressure. The offer from al Qaeda is that the entire War on Terror, as waged from al Qaeda's side, would come to an end if Washington would just let go of its alliance with Israel. This tape takes a non-traditional approach, one that could even suggest that a re-alignment has been taking place between various forces of jihadism in the greater Middle East. This tape deserves more attention than the previous ones.

Dr. Walid Phares is the director of the Future Terrorism Project at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and a visiting scholar at the European Foundation for Democracy. He is the author of "The Confrontation: Winning the War against Future Jihad." He teaches global strategies in Washington, D.C.

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