April 15, 2008

"How it Came to War," by Nicholas Lemann

"HOW IT CAME TO WAR; When did Bush decide that he had to fight Saddam?"
The New Yorker
March 31, 2003
SECTION: FACT; Letter From Washington; Pg. 36
LENGTH: 3071 words

Washington had a vertiginous feeling last week as the endlessly debated war against Iraq finally began. For the previous six months, the capital had surely been the most pro-Iraq-war city in the world: George W. Bush had given a textbook demonstration of Presidential power in bringing Washington into a position of support-or, in the case of many of the Democrats, cowed silence-for a course of action that almost nobody had advocated when Saddam Hussein forced the United Nations weapons inspectors to leave, in 1998. There had been, from the Washington point of view, a satisfying rhythm to the run-up to war, beginning with Bush's speech to the United Nations in September, continuing through Saddam's forced readmission of the weapons inspectors in the fall, and culminating in Secretary of State Colin Powell's presentation of evidence against Saddam at the U.N. in early February, which, in Washington, at least, caused a wave of liberal capitulations to the cause of war.

Then, to the queasy surprise of the small community of people in Washington who follow American diplomacy with a sense of proprietary interest, things fell apart. There was much more opposition to the war than anybody had expected; seemingly reliable allies jumped ship; the cooperation of the Security Council became unattainable; even the impeccably loyal Tony Blair, the British Prime Minister, needed last-minute resuscitation, in the form of a Presidential reiteration of support for Palestinian statehood. Recrimination between hawks and doves, over who was to blame for the failure of diplomacy, and gloom about the death of the international order were in the air-along with martial expectancy. Late Monday morning, after it was announced that President Bush would make a television address that evening, helicopters suddenly began patrolling the skies and streets were shut off. It turned out that a North Carolina tobacco farmer had driven his tractor into a pond on the Mall, but, before people knew that, the city had been alive with alarmed rumors: a peace protester was threatening to blow up the Washington Monument; a terrorist had driven a truck packed with explosives into the reflecting pool in front of the Capitol Building.
With the war only hours away from beginning, I had a long talk with a senior Administration official about how it had come about and what it seemed to portend.

"Before September 11th," the official said, "there wasn't a consensus Administration view about Iraq. This issue hadn't come to the fore, and you had Administration views. There were those who preferred regime change, and they were largely residing in the Pentagon, and probably in the Vice-President's office. At the State Department, the focus was on tightening up the containment regime-so-called 'smart sanctions.' The National Security Council didn't seem to have much of an opinion at that point. But the issue hadn't really been joined.

"Then, in the immediate aftermath of the eleventh, not that much changed. The focus was on Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden, Al Qaeda. Some initial attempts by Wolfowitz"-Paul Wolfowitz, the Deputy Secretary of Defense -"and others to draw Iraq in never went anywhere, because the link between Iraq and September 11th was, as far as we know, nebulous at most-nonexistent, for all intents and purposes. It's somewhere in the first half of 2002 that all this changed. The President internalized the idea of making regime change in Iraq a priority. What I can't explain to you is exactly the process that took us from the initial post-September 11th position, which was, Let's keep the focus on Al Qaeda and Afghanistan, to, say, nine months later, when Iraq had moved to the top of the priority list for us. That's a mystery that nobody has yet uncovered. It clearly has something to do with September 11th, and it's clearly consistent with the President's speech about weapons of mass destruction in the hands of rogues, people with a history of some terror-but, again, how it exactly happened, and what was the particular role of Cheney, among others, I wish you well in uncovering."

I wondered how the war looked to the American diplomatic community. "I think it's hard to generalize," the official said. "It's my sense that the arguments for going to war are strong enough that people feel comfortable. There's a good case for going to war. There's also a respectable case for not. But the case for going to war is strong enough that I don't think a lot of people at senior levels are going home unable to face themselves in the mirror. A lot of this comes down to how imminent a threat you feel Iraq poses. Everyone agrees that Saddam Hussein is truly evil. Everyone agrees he has these weapons of mass destruction. Everyone is concerned about what he might do with them. And so the real question is, Did we have to do something right away, with military force? Reasonable men and women can disagree, but I think the bottom line is, the arguments that have led the President to this point are strong enough that even those who tilt the other way can still acknowledge the validity of the arguments, and, indeed, even conclude that those who favor going to war now may well be right."

In terms of the future of American diplomacy, much depends on how the war effort goes. If things don't go well, the official said, "the price we pay is, first of all, the aftermath inside Iraq is likely to be more costly, in terms of how long, how many forces have to stay. It could be harder to put Iraq right, if what we inherit is a much more destroyed place. Second of all, we could find the world economy in much rougher straits. If things are messy and prolonged, we could find some friendly governments possibly overthrown, or at least in much worse shape. The U.S.'s reputation would be taking a battering. It's one thing if you challenge the conventional wisdom and are proved right. It's quite another"-he chuckled mordantly-"if you challenge the conventional wisdom and the conventional wisdom proves to have been right. I just think America's reputation would have taken a real battering. We'd probably also find increased terrorist attacks, because we'd be seen not as invincible, and bogged down, and all that. This is all-this is a big throw of the dice."

An odd aspect of the Washington foreign-policy community during the last few months has been that there was less general enthusiasm for the war inside the government than you'd think, and more enthusiasm outside the government, which is where the Democratic foreign-policy specialists are now. Foreign-policy Democrats are a bit to the right of their party, because they feel that it tends to be too hesitant about the use of American power, and foreign-policy Republicans (excepting the hawks) are a bit to the left of theirs, because they feel that it undervalues diplomacy. The result is that the foreign-policy arms of the two parties form a continuum of opinion (excepting, again, the hawks), despite the custom that forbids those who have served in Administrations of one party from serving in Administrations of the other. The consensus after the expulsion of the weapons inspectors in 1998 was that Saddam Hussein was a bad actor, but that his misbehavior had not achieved the status of a grave international crisis. On the other hand, quite a few people in the Clinton Administration wanted to respond to him more forcefully than the United States actually did, with a four-day bombing campaign called Operation Desert Fox.

James Steinberg, who during the last years of the Clinton Administration was the No. 2 man at the National Security Council and is now the head of the foreign-policy division of the Brookings Institution, told me that he would have preferred to try to muster an international disarmament effort against Saddam. Then as now, the chief problem would have been persuading the French and the Russians. "We would have tried to go to the United Nations, but back it up with a more aggressive posture, including moving troops to the region," Steinberg said. "But a variety of factors made it impossible." He listed the war in Kosovo and Al Qaeda's bombing of the American embassies in East Africa as matters that took the focus away from Iraq-and, of course, Clinton had an especially weak hand during this period, because he was being impeached.

By the time of the 2000 Presidential campaign, the flurry of activity that followed the end of inspections had subsided, and on Iraq there was not much apparent difference between Clinton's position, Al Gore's position, and Bush's position. All three men were nominally for "regime change," without suggesting an immediate way to achieve it. "In any Administration, the question is, How do you raise an issue from one that people with a narrow portfolio worry about to one that people with a broad portfolio worry about," Stephen Sestanovich, another high diplomatic official in the Clinton Administration, whom I saw in Washington last week, told me. (Sestanovich now works at the Washington office of the Council on Foreign Relations.) "Iraq was a problem the regional specialists saw as very serious, but they could never get their argument accepted above the level of regional specialists." That was as true in the early Bush days as in the late Clinton ones.

Then, when Iraq did become an issue of Presidential importance, Washington followed George Bush's lead. The foreign-policy consensus shifted, from the view that Saddam represented a second-order-of-magnitude problem to the view that it was worth a war to get rid of him, but only if it was an international effort like the first Gulf War. And most people believed that's what would happen, once Bush had acceded to Colin Powell's request to go to the United Nations to line up support. Surely, people felt, the rest of the world would come around to the new American position-even the balky Russians and French. As Sestanovich put it, "The anti-American stance is a familiar French thing, not entirely cynical, not entirely principled. They'd know when to call it off. After they'd been French for a while, they'd stop being French. People thought they understood the limits of the game and it would be over at a certain point. And then it wasn't. And it turned out that the Russians were prepared to be French, as long as the French were being French."

So this was the dizzying progression in the Washington diplomatic world: from believing that Saddam should be taken somewhat more seriously as a threat, to believing that an international coalition was going to oust him from power, to watching the coalition fall apart and the United States go to war anyway-and wondering whether it made a difference anymore what professional diplomats think.

Last week, I went to see Richard Haass, the director of the policy-planning staff at the State Department. Haass is probably the Administration's most prominent moderate theoretician and is a leading member of the foreign-policy establishment. Before joining the Bush Administration, he had held the job at the Brookings Institution which James Steinberg now holds. (And Steinberg formerly held Haass's job in the State Department.) Haass will soon be leaving government to take one of the foreign-policy world's plummiest jobs, as president of the Council on Foreign Relations, in New York. With his departure, it's hard to think of whom one could call a prominent moderate theoretician in the Bush Administration.

I arrived at the State Department on the day that President Bush made his televised address giving Saddam Hussein forty-eight hours to surrender power. The enormous, usually crowded lobby of the building was deserted, as if to manifest the succession of diplomacy by war. Haass seemed tired but not harried, as you would when a long period of intense preparation had ended and there was nothing left to do.

I asked him whether there had been a particular moment when he realized that war was definitely coming. "There was a moment," he said. "The moment was the first week of July, when I had a meeting with Condi"-Condoleezza Rice, Bush's national-security adviser. "Condi and I have regular meetings, once every month or so-she and I get together for thirty or forty-five minutes, just to review the bidding. And I raised this issue about were we really sure that we wanted to put Iraq front and center at this point, given the war on terrorism and other issues. And she said, essentially, that that decision's been made, don't waste your breath. And that was early July. But before that, in the months leading up to that, there had been various hints, just in what people were saying, how they were acting at various meetings. We were meeting about these issues in the spring of 2002, and my staff would come back to me and report that there's something in the air here. So there was a sense that it was gathering momentum, but it was hard to pin down. For me, it was that meeting with Condi that made me realize it was farther along than I had realized. So then when Powell had his famous dinner with the President, in early August, 2002"-in which Powell persuaded Bush to take the question to the U.N.-"the agenda was not whether Iraq, but how."

The long, gruelling effort at the U.N. now looked like a waste of time-or did Haass disagree? "That's too negative," he said. "Resolution 1441"-which the Security Council passed unanimously, and which reopened the weapons inspections in Iraq-"was an extraordinary achievement. It got inspectors back in under far more demanding terms. And it didn't tie our hands. We never committed ourselves to another resolution. So it was an extraordinary accomplishment. It gave tremendous legal and political and moral authority to anything that we would subsequently do. I don't see how anyone could fault that. Indeed, any problems that we have today pale in comparison to the problems we would have had if we had not done 1441. Where we had problems was obviously in the aftermath, and the question is why. Well, to some extent, as we got closer to the reality of war, all the visceral antiwar feeling came out. The French and others who voted for 1441 are being disingenuous. When they voted for it, they knew damn well what serious consequences it would have. What they're doing is listening to their public opinion, rather than leading it."

There were other reasons besides French opposition that the American effort in the United Nations had failed, Haass said. "A lot of the resentment of American foreign policy over the last couple of years has coalesced. This has become a kind of magnet for resentment. I think we may have been hurt by having a policy toward the Israel-Palestine dispute that was perceived in much of Europe and the Middle East to be biased toward Israel. In any event, we ended up going for the second resolution, quite honestly, not because we needed it. It was seen as nice to have, from our point of view. It was seen as desirable. But it was something that Tony Blair and others felt very strongly that they needed in order to manage their domestic polities."

After months of official talk about removing Saddam from power, would the United States really have been willing to accept his remaining as the Iraqi head of state if he complied with the weapons inspectors? "That's a hypothetical," Haass said. "We said that we would have lived with it. My hunch is that, if you had had complete Iraqi cooperation and compliance, so we had eliminated to our satisfaction the W.M.D."-weapons of mass destruction-"threat, the question would be, Could Saddam Hussein have survived that? My hunch is, Saddam concluded he couldn't survive it, which is one of the reasons why we are where we are. It would have been such a loss of face. But, assuming it did not lead to regime change from within, I do not think we could or would have launched a war in those circumstances. Instead, if Saddam survived W.M.D. disarmament, we could have pursued regime change through other tools. That's why you have diplomacy, that's why you have propaganda, that's why you have covert operations, that's why you have sanctions. You have the rest of the tools. So my recommendations would have been, we pursue regime change and war-crimes prosecution-he still should have been responsible for war crimes-using other tools. But I think you had to reserve the military either for the W.M.D. issue or for incontrovertible evidence of support for terrorism."

Now people were saying that the United States, by deciding to abandon the Security Council negotiations, had done irreparable harm to the institutional stature of the United Nations. "We've not done irreparable harm to anything," Haass said. "In the case of the U.N., we've just once again learned the lesson that the U.N. can only function as an institution when there's consensus among the major powers. The U.N. was never meant to act with the independence of a nation-state. It was never meant to be the instrument of one great power against another. So, when the great powers can't agree, that's when they have to go outside the U.N. Otherwise they'll destroy the institution to make it relevant. You want to preserve it for those times when the differences between the powers are modest, or they actually agree."

Therefore, with the United States determined to go to war, it was imperative to avoid a vote on a second resolution, which might have failed and would have been vetoed even if it had passed. "This would have been a much more confrontational situation," Haass said. "We would have been acting against the U.N. Now we can argue that we are acting pursuant to the U.N., in 1441. This is a way, I believe, quite honestly, of preserving the U.N.'s potential viability in the future. We've not destroyed it. We've just admitted, though, that it can't do everything, when the great powers of the day disagree."

Now that the war is under way, the Washington foreign-policy consensus has shifted again, to the point that Haass's position on the future of the U.N.-indeed, the future of the United States as a member of lasting alliances-would seem overoptimistic to many people. Washington has stopped debating the merits of the real war in Iraq (that's one for demonstrators in the streets, not policymakers in offices) and has begun to focus on a possible one in North Korea.

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August 22, 2007

"It’s Time for a Declaration of Independence From Israel," Chris Hedges

It’s Time for a Declaration of Independence From Israel
By Chris Hedges, Truthdig
Posted on July 6, 2007, Printed on August 22, 2007

Israel, without the United States, would probably not exist. The country came perilously close to extinction during the October 1973 war when Egypt, trained and backed by the Soviet Union, crossed the Suez and the Syrians poured in over the Golan Heights. Huge American military transport planes came to the rescue. They began landing every half-hour to refit the battered Israeli army, which had lost most of its heavy armor. By the time the war was over, the United States had given Israel $2.2 billion in emergency military aid.

The intervention, which enraged the Arab world, triggered the OPEC oil embargo that for a time wreaked havoc on Western economies. This was perhaps the most dramatic example of the sustained life-support system the United States has provided to the Jewish state.

Israel was born at midnight May 14, 1948. The U.S. recognized the new state 11 minutes later. The two countries have been locked in a deadly embrace ever since.

Washington, at the beginning of the relationship, was able to be a moderating influence. An incensed President Eisenhower demanded and got Israel's withdrawal after the Israelis occupied Gaza in 1956. During the Six-Day War in 1967, Israeli warplanes bombed the USS Liberty. The ship, flying the U.S. flag and stationed 15 miles off the Israeli coast, was intercepting tactical and strategic communications from both sides. The Israeli strikes killed 34 U.S. sailors and wounded 171. The deliberate attack froze, for a while, Washington's enthusiasm for Israel. But ruptures like this one proved to be only bumps, soon smoothed out by an increasingly sophisticated and well-financed Israel lobby that set out to merge Israeli and American foreign policy in the Middle East.

Israel has reaped tremendous rewards from this alliance. It has been given more than $140 billion in U.S. direct economic and military assistance. It receives about $3 billion in direct assistance annually, roughly one-fifth of the U.S. foreign aid budget. Although most American foreign aid packages stipulate that related military purchases have to be made in the United States, Israel is allowed to use about 25 percent of the money to subsidize its own growing and profitable defense industry. It is exempt, unlike other nations, from accounting for how it spends the aid money. And funds are routinely siphoned off to build new Jewish settlements, bolster the Israeli occupation in the Palestinian territories and construct the security barrier, which costs an estimated $1 million a mile.

The barrier weaves its way through the West Bank, creating isolated pockets of impoverished Palestinians in ringed ghettos. By the time the barrier is finished it will probably in effect seize up to 40 percent of Palestinian land. This is the largest land grab by Israel since the 1967 war. And although the United States officially opposes settlement expansion and the barrier, it also funds them.

The U.S. has provided Israel with nearly $3 billion to develop weapons systems and given Israel access to some of the most sophisticated items in its own military arsenal, including Blackhawk attack helicopters and F-16 fighter jets. The United States also gives Israel access to intelligence it denies to its NATO allies. And when Israel refused to sign the nuclear nonproliferation treaty, the United States stood by without a word of protest as the Israelis built the region's first nuclear weapons program.

U.S. foreign policy, especially under the current Bush administration, has become little more than an extension of Israeli foreign policy. The United States since 1982 has vetoed 32 Security Council resolutions critical of Israel, more than the total number of vetoes cast by all the other Security Council members. It refuses to enforce the Security Council resolutions it claims to support. These resolutions call on Israel to withdraw from the occupied territories.

There is now volcanic anger and revulsion by Arabs at this blatant favoritism. Few in the Middle East see any distinction between Israeli and American policies, nor should they. And when the Islamic radicals speak of U.S. support of Israel as a prime reason for their hatred of the United States, we should listen. The consequences of this one-sided relationship are being played out in the disastrous war in Iraq, growing tension with Iran, and the humanitarian and political crisis in Gaza. It is being played out in Lebanon, where Hezbollah is gearing up for another war with Israel, one most Middle East analysts say is inevitable. The U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East is unraveling. And it is doing so because of this special relationship. The eruption of a regional conflict would usher in a nightmare of catastrophic proportions.

There were many in the American foreign policy establishment and State Department who saw this situation coming. The decision to throw our lot in with Israel in the Middle East was not initially a popular one with an array of foreign policy experts, including President Harry Truman's secretary of state, Gen. George Marshall. They warned there would be a backlash. They knew the cost the United States would pay in the oil-rich region for this decision, which they feared would be one of the greatest strategic blunders of the postwar era. And they were right. The decision has jeopardized American and Israeli security and created the kindling for a regional conflagration.

The alliance, which makes no sense in geopolitical terms, does makes sense when seen through the lens of domestic politics. The Israel lobby has become a potent force in the American political system. No major candidate, Democrat or Republican, dares to challenge it. The lobby successfully purged the State Department of Arab experts who challenged the notion that Israeli and American interests were identical. Backers of Israel have doled out hundreds of millions of dollars to support U.S. political candidates deemed favorable to Israel. They have brutally punished those who strayed, including the first President Bush, who they said was not vigorous enough in his defense of Israeli interests. This was a lesson the next Bush White House did not forget. George W. Bush did not want to be a one-term president like his father.

Israel advocated removing Saddam Hussein from power and currently advocates striking Iran to prevent it from acquiring nuclear weapons. Direct Israeli involvement in American military operations in the Middle East is impossible. It would reignite a war between Arab states and Israel. The United States, which during the Cold War avoided direct military involvement in the region, now does the direct bidding of Israel while Israel watches from the sidelines. During the 1991 Gulf War, Israel was a spectator, just as it is in the war with Iraq.

President Bush, facing dwindling support for the war in Iraq, publicly holds Israel up as a model for what he would like Iraq to become. Imagine how this idea plays out on the Arab street, which views Israel as the Algerians viewed the French colonizers during the war of liberation.

"In Israel," Bush said recently, "terrorists have taken innocent human life for years in suicide attacks. The difference is that Israel is a functioning democracy and it's not prevented from carrying out its responsibilities. And that's a good indicator of success that we're looking for in Iraq."

Americans are increasingly isolated and reviled in the world. They remain blissfully ignorant of their own culpability for this isolation. U.S. "spin" paints the rest of the world as unreasonable, but Israel, Americans are assured, will always be on our side.

Israel is reaping economic as well as political rewards from its lock-down apartheid state. In the "gated community" market it has begun to sell systems and techniques that allow the nation to cope with terrorism. Israel, in 2006, exported $3.4 billion in defense products -- well over a billion dollars more than it received in American military aid. Israel has grown into the fourth largest arms dealer in the world. Most of this growth has come in the so-called homeland security sector.

"The key products and services," as Naomi Klein wrote in The Nation, "are hi-tech fences, unmanned drones, biometric IDs, video and audio surveillance gear, air passenger profiling and prisoner interrogation systems -- precisely the tools and technologies Israel has used to lock in the occupied territories. And that is why the chaos in Gaza and the rest of the region doesn't threaten the bottom line in Tel Aviv, and may actually boost it. Israel has learned to turn endless war into a brand asset, pitching its uprooting, occupation and containment of the Palestinian people as a half-century head start in the 'global war on terror.' "

The United States, at least officially, does not support the occupation and calls for a viable Palestinian state. It is a global player, with interests that stretch well beyond the boundaries of the Middle East, and the equation that Israel's enemies are our enemies is not that simple.

"Terrorism is not a single adversary," John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt wrote in The London Review of Books, "but a tactic employed by a wide array of political groups. The terrorist organizations that threaten Israel do not threaten the United States, except when it intervenes against them (as in Lebanon in 1982). Moreover, Palestinian terrorism is not random violence directed against Israel or 'the West'; it is largely a response to Israel's prolonged campaign to colonize the West Bank and Gaza Strip. More important, saying that Israel and the US are united by a shared terrorist threat has the causal relationship backwards: the US has a terrorism problem in good part because it is so closely allied with Israel, not the other way around."

Middle Eastern policy is shaped in the United States by those with very close ties to the Israel lobby. Those who attempt to counter the virulent Israeli position, such as former Secretary of State Colin Powell, are ruthlessly slapped down. This alliance was true also during the Clinton administration, with its array of Israel-first Middle East experts, including special Middle East coordinator Dennis Ross and Martin Indyk, the former deputy director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, AIPAC, one of the most powerful Israel lobbying groups in Washington. But at least people like Indyk and Ross are sane, willing to consider a Palestinian state, however unviable, as long as it is palatable to Israel. The Bush administration turned to the far-right wing of the Israel lobby, those who have not a shred of compassion for the Palestinians or a word of criticism for Israel. These new Middle East experts include Elliott Abrams, John Bolton, Douglas Feith, the disgraced I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz and David Wurmser.

Washington was once willing to stay Israel's hand. It intervened to thwart some of its most extreme violations of human rights. This administration, however, has signed on for every disastrous Israeli blunder, from building the security barrier in the West Bank, to sealing off Gaza and triggering a humanitarian crisis, to the ruinous invasion and saturation bombing of Lebanon.

The few tepid attempts by the Bush White House to criticize Israeli actions have all ended in hasty and humiliating retreats in the face of Israeli pressure. When the Israel Defense Forces in April 2002 reoccupied the West Bank, President Bush called on then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to "halt the incursions and begin withdrawal." It never happened. After a week of heavy pressure from the Israel lobby and Israel's allies in Congress, meaning just about everyone in Congress, the president gave up, calling Sharon "a man of peace." It was a humiliating moment for the United States, a clear sign of who pulled the strings.

There were several reasons for the war in Iraq. The desire for American control of oil, the belief that Washington could build puppet states in the region, and a real, if misplaced, fear of Saddam Hussein played a part in the current disaster. But it was also strongly shaped by the notion that what is good for Israel is good for the United States. Israel wanted Iraq neutralized. Israeli intelligence, in the lead-up to the war, gave faulty information to the U.S. about Iraq's alleged arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. And when Baghdad was taken in April 2003, the Israeli government immediately began to push for an attack on Syria. The lust for this attack has waned, in no small part because the Americans don't have enough troops to hang on in Iraq, much less launch a new occupation.

Israel is currently lobbying the United States to launch aerial strikes on Iran, despite the debacle in Lebanon. Israel's iron determination to forcibly prevent a nuclear Iran makes it probable that before the end of the Bush administration an attack on Iran will take place. The efforts to halt nuclear development through diplomatic means have failed. It does not matter that Iran poses no threat to the United States. It does not matter that it does not even pose a threat to Israel, which has several hundred nuclear weapons in its arsenal. It matters only that Israel demands total military domination of the Middle East.

The alliance between Israel and the United States has culminated after 50 years in direct U.S. military involvement in the Middle East. This involvement, which is not furthering American interests, is unleashing a geopolitical nightmare. American soldiers and Marines are dying in droves in a useless war. The impotence of the United States in the face of Israeli pressure is complete. The White House and the Congress have become, for perhaps the first time, a direct extension of Israeli interests. There is no longer any debate within the United States. This is evidenced by the obsequious nods to Israel by all the current presidential candidates with the exception of Dennis Kucinich. The political cost for those who challenge Israel is too high.

This means there will be no peaceful resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. It means the incidents of Islamic terrorism against the U.S. and Israel will grow. It means that American power and prestige are on a steep, irreversible decline. And I fear it also means the ultimate end of the Jewish experiment in the Middle East.

The weakening of the United States, economically and militarily, is giving rise to new centers of power. The U.S. economy, mismanaged and drained by the Iraq war, is increasingly dependent on Chinese trade imports and on Chinese holdings of U.S. Treasury securities. China holds dollar reserves worth $825 billion. If Beijing decides to abandon the U.S. bond market, even in part, it would cause a free fall by the dollar. It would lead to the collapse of the $7-trillion U.S. real estate market. There would be a wave of U.S. bank failures and huge unemployment. The growing dependence on China has been accompanied by aggressive work by the Chinese to build alliances with many of the world's major exporters of oil, such as Iran, Nigeria, Sudan and Venezuela. The Chinese are preparing for the looming worldwide clash over dwindling resources.

The future is ominous. Not only do Israel's foreign policy objectives not coincide with American interests, they actively hurt them. The growing belligerence in the Middle East, the calls for an attack against Iran, the collapse of the imperial project in Iraq have all given an opening, where there was none before, to America's rivals. It is not in Israel's interests to ignite a regional conflict. It is not in ours. But those who have their hands on the wheel seem determined, in the name of freedom and democracy, to keep the American ship of state headed at breakneck speed into the cliffs before us.

Chris Hedges is the former Middle East bureau chief for The New York Times and the author of "War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning."

© 2007 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/55827/

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September 17, 2006

"THE MASTER PLAN" by Lawrence Wright

For the new theorists of jihad, Al Qaeda is just the beginning.
Issue of 2006-09-11
Posted 2006-09-04

Even as members of Al Qaeda watched in exultation while the Twin Towers fell and the Pentagon burned on September 11, 2001, they realized that the pendulum of catastrophe was swinging in their direction. Osama bin Laden later boasted that he was the only one in the group’s upper hierarchy who had anticipated the magnitude of the wound that Al Qaeda inflicted on America, but he also admitted that he was surprised by the towers’ collapse. His goal, for at least five years, had been to goad America into invading Afghanistan, an ambition that had caused him to continually raise the stakes—the simultaneous bombings of the United States Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, in August, 1998, followed by the attack on an American warship in the harbor of Aden, Yemen, in October, 2000. Neither of those actions had led the United States to send troops to Afghanistan. After the attacks on New York and Washington, however, it was clear that there would be an overwhelming response. Al Qaeda members began sending their families home and preparing for war.

Two months later, the Taliban government in Afghanistan, which had given sanctuary to bin Laden, was routed, and the Al Qaeda fighters in Tora Bora were pummelled. Although bin Laden and his chief lieutenants escaped death or capture, nearly eighty per cent of Al Qaeda’s members in Afghanistan were killed. Worse, Al Qaeda’s cause was repudiated throughout the world, even in Muslim countries, where the indiscriminate murder of civilians and the use of suicide operatives were denounced as being contrary to Islam. The remnants of the organization scattered and were on the run. Al Qaeda was essentially dead.

From hiding places in Iran, Yemen, Iraq, and the tribal areas of western Pakistan, Al Qaeda’s survivors lamented their failed strategy. Abu al-Walid al-Masri, a senior leader of Al Qaeda’s inner council, later wrote that Al Qaeda’s experience in Afghanistan was “a tragic example of an Islamic movement managed in an alarmingly meaningless way.” He went on, “Everyone knew that their leader was leading them to the abyss and even leading the entire country to utter destruction, but they continued to carry out his orders faithfully and with bitterness.”

In June, 2002, bin Laden’s son Hamzah posted a message on an Al Qaeda Web site: “Oh, Father! Where is the escape and when will we have a home? Oh, Father! I see spheres of danger everywhere I look. . . . Tell me, Father, something useful about what I see.”

“Oh, son!” bin Laden replied. “Suffice to say that I am full of grief and sighs. . . . I can only see a very steep path ahead. A decade has gone by in vagrancy and travel, and here we are in our tragedy. Security has gone, but danger remains.”

In the view of Abu Musab al-Suri, a Syrian who had been a member of Al Qaeda’s inner council, and who is a theorist of jihad, the greatest loss was not the destruction of the terrorist organization but the downfall of the Taliban, which meant that Al Qaeda no longer had a place to train, organize, and recruit. The expulsion from Afghanistan, Suri later wrote, was followed by “three meager years which we spent as fugitives,” dodging the international dragnet by “moving between safe houses and hideouts.” In 2002, he fled to eastern Iran, where bin Laden’s son Saad and Al Qaeda’s security chief, Saif al-Adl, had also taken refuge. There was a five-million-dollar bounty on his head. In this moment of exile and defeat, he began to conceive the future of jihad.

Suri was born into a middle-class family in Aleppo, Syria, in 1958, the year of bin Laden’s birth. Red-haired and sturdily built, he has a black belt in judo; his real name is Mustafa Setmariam Nasar. He became involved in politics at the University of Aleppo, where he studied engineering. Later, he moved to Jordan, where he joined the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group that opposed Syria’s dictator, Hafez al-Assad. In 1982, Assad decided that the Brotherhood posed a threat to his authority, and his troops slaughtered as many as thirty thousand people in the city of Hama, one of the group’s strongholds. The ruthlessness of Assad’s response shocked Suri. He renounced the Brotherhood, which he held responsible for provoking the destruction of Hama, and took refuge in Europe for several years. In 1985, he moved to Spain, where he married and became a Spanish citizen; two years later, he found his way to Afghanistan, where he met Osama bin Laden.

The two men have had a contentious relationship. Although Suri became a member of Al Qaeda’s inner council, he grew disillusioned by the fecklessness and the disorganization that characterized Al Qaeda’s training camps in Afghanistan. “People come to us with empty heads and leave us with empty heads,” he wrote. “They have done nothing for Islam. This is because they have not received any ideological or doctrinal training.”

In 1992, he moved back to Spain, where he helped to establish a terrorist cell that played a part in the planning of September 11th. Two years later, Suri moved to England. He soon became a fixture in the Islamist press in London, writing articles for the magazine Al Ansar, which promoted the insurgency in Algeria that resulted in more than a hundred thousand deaths. The magazine’s editor was Abu Qatada, a Palestinian cleric who has been characterized as Al Qaeda’s spiritual guide in Europe. Al Ansar was, in many ways, the first jihadi think tank; Suri and other strategists suggested tactics for undermining the despotic regimes in the Arab world, and they promoted attacks on the West even as American and European intelligence agencies were largely unaware of the threat that the Islamist movement posed.

Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist who is currently the press aide to the Saudi Ambassador in Washington, Prince Turki al-Faisal, met Qatada and Suri in the early nineties. They struck him as far more radical than Osama bin Laden; at the time, Al Qaeda was primarily an anti-Communist organization. “Osama was in the moderate camp,” Khashoggi recalled recently. He coined the phrase “Salafi jihadis” to describe men, such as Abu Qatada and Suri, who had been influenced by Salafism, the puritanical, fundamentalist strain of Islam. “Osama was flirting with these ideas,” Khashoggi said. “He was not the one who originated the radical thinking that came to characterize Al Qaeda. He joined these men, rather than the other way around. His organization became the vehicle for their thinking.”

Suri later wrote about bin Laden’s conversion to his ideas, which took place after bin Laden returned to Afghanistan, in 1996. Salafi jihadis spoke with him about a situation that angered him deeply: the presence of American troops on the holy soil of the Arabian Peninsula. Corrupt Islamic scholars had lent their authority to the Saudi royal family, the jihadis argued, and the royal family, in turn, had given legitimacy to the American incursion. There were two possible solutions: either attack the royal family—which would likely anger the Saudi people—or strike at the American presence. “This would force the Saudi family to defend it, thereby losing its own legitimacy in the eyes of Muslims,” Suri writes. “Bin Laden chose the second option.”

Suri believed that the jihadi movement had nearly been extinguished by the drying up of financial resources, the killing or capture of many terrorist leaders, the loss of safe havens, and the increasing international coöperation among police agencies. (The British authorities were pursuing him as a suspect in the 1995 Paris Métro bombings.) Accordingly, he saw the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan, in 1996, as a “golden opportunity,” and he went there the following year. He set up a military camp in Afghanistan, and experimented with chemical weapons. He also arranged bin Laden’s first television interview with CNN. The journalist Peter Bergen, who spent several days in Suri’s company while producing the segment, and who recently published an oral history, “The Osama bin Laden I Know,” recalled, “He was tough and really smart. He seemed like a real intellectual, very conversant with history, and he had an intense seriousness of purpose. He certainly impressed me more than bin Laden.”

In 1999, Suri sent bin Laden an e-mail accusing him of endangering the Taliban regime with his highly theatrical attacks on American targets. And he mocked bin Laden’s love of publicity: “I think our brother has caught the disease of screens, flashes, fans, and applause.” In his writings, Suri rarely mentioned Al Qaeda and disavowed any direct connection to it, despite having served on its inner council. He preferred to speak more broadly of jihad, which he saw as a social movement, encompassing “all those who bear weapons—individuals, groups, and organizations—and wage jihad on the enemies of Islam.” By 2000, he had begun predicting the end of Al Qaeda, whose preëminence he portrayed as a stage in the development of the worldwide Islamist uprising. “Al Qaeda is not an organization, it is not a group, nor do we want it to be,” he writes. “It is a call, a reference, a methodology.” Eventually, its leadership would be eliminated, he said. (Suri himself was captured in Pakistan in November, 2005. American intelligence sources confirmed that Suri is in the custody of another country but refused to disclose his exact location.) In the time that remained to Al Qaeda, he argued, its main goal should be to stimulate other groups around the world to join the jihadi movement. His legacy, as he saw it, was to codify the doctrines that animated Islamist jihad, so that Muslim youths of the future could discover the cause and begin their own, spontaneous religious war.

In 2002, Suri, in his hideout in Iran, began writing his defining work, “Call for Worldwide Islamic Resistance,” which is sixteen hundred pages long and was published on the Internet in December, 2004. Didactic and repetitive, but also ruthlessly candid, the book dissects the faults of the jihadi movement and lays out a plan for the future of the struggle. The goal, he writes, is “to bring about the largest number of human and material casualties possible for America and its allies.” He specifically targets Jews, “Westerners in general,” the members of the NATO alliance, Russia, China, atheists, pagans, and hypocrites, as well as “any type of external enemy.” (The proliferation of adversaries mirrors Al Qaeda’s hatred of all other ideologies.)

And yet, at the same time, he bitterly blames Al Qaeda for dragging the entire jihadi movement into an unequal battle that it is likely to lose. Unlike most jihadi theorists, Suri acknowledges the setback caused by September 11th. He laments the demise of the Taliban, which he and other Salafi jihadis considered the modern world’s only true Islamic government. America’s “war on terror,” he complains, doesn’t discriminate between Al Qaeda adherents and Muslims in general. “Many loyal Muslims,” he writes, believe that the September 11th attacks “justified the American assault and have given it a legitimate rationale for reoccupying the Islamic world.” But Suri goes on to argue that America’s plans for international domination were already evident “in the likes of Nixon and Kissinger,” and that this agenda would have been pursued without the provocation of September 11th. Moreover, the American attack on Afghanistan was not really aimed at capturing or killing bin Laden; its true goal was to sweep away the Taliban and eliminate the rule of Islamic law.

In Suri’s view, the underground terrorist movement—that is, Al Qaeda and its sleeper cells—is defunct. This approach was “a failure on all fronts,” because of its inability to achieve military victory or to rally the Muslim people to its cause. He proposes that the next stage of jihad will be characterized by terrorism created by individuals or small autonomous groups (what he terms “leaderless resistance”), which will wear down the enemy and prepare the ground for the far more ambitious aim of waging war on “open fronts”—an outright struggle for territory. He explains, “Without confrontation in the field and seizing control of the land, we cannot establish a state, which is the strategic goal of the resistance.”

Suri acknowledges that the “Jewish enemy, led by America and its nonbelieving, apostate, hypocritical allies,” enjoys overwhelming military superiority, but he argues that the spiritual commitment of the jihadis is equally formidable. He questions Al Qaeda’s opposition to democracy, which offers radical Islamists an opportunity to “secretly use this comfortable and relaxed atmosphere to spread out, reorganize their ranks, and acquire broader public bases.” In many Arabic states, there is a predictable cycle of official tolerance and savage repression, which can work in favor of the Islamists. If the Islamists “open the way for political moderation,” Suri writes, they will “stretch out horizontally along the base and spread. So they once again exterminate and jihad grows yet again! So then they try to open things up once again, and Islam stretches out and expands again!”

The Bush Administration has declared a “war of ideas” against Islamism, Suri observes, and has had some success; he cites the modification of textbooks in many Muslim countries. This effort, he writes, must be countered by the propagation of the jihadi creed—and this is what his book attempts to do, offering a minutely detailed account of the tenets of Salafi jihadism. Suri urges his readers to reject their own repressive governments and to rise up against Western occupation and Zionism. Although the leaders of Al Qaeda have long excused the slaughter of innocents, and many of its attacks have been directed at other Muslims, Suri specifically cautions against harming other Muslims, women and children who may be nonbelievers, and other noncombatants.

Suri addresses the issue of Israel, writing that “the Zionist presence in Palestine” is an insult to Muslims; but he also excoriates the secular Palestinian National Authority that governs the country. “Armed jihad is the only solution,” he advises. “Every mujahid must wage jihad against all forms of normalization—its institutions, officials, and advocates . . . destroying them and assassinating those who rely on them . . . while paying attention not to harm Muslims by mistake.”

There are five regions, according to Suri, where jihadis should focus their energies: Afghanistan, Central Asia, Yemen, Morocco, and, especially, Iraq. The American occupation of Iraq, he declares, inaugurated a “historical new period” that almost single-handedly rescued the jihadi movement just when many of its critics thought it was finished.

The invasion of Iraq posed a dilemma for Al Qaeda. Iraq is a largely Shiite nation, and Al Qaeda is composed of Sunnis who believe that the Shia are heretics. Shortly before the invasion, in March, 2003, bin Laden issued his own list of targets, which included Jordan, Morocco, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen—not Afghanistan or Iraq. Presumably, he regarded the chances of a Taliban resurgence as remote; moreover, he was aware that an Iraqi insurgency could ignite an Islamic civil war and lead to ethnic cleansing of the Sunni minority.

The American occupation posed a major opportunity, however, for a man named Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. A former prisoner and sex offender, he was a Bedouin from Jordan. Neither an intellectual nor a strategist, Zarqawi acted largely on brute impulse, but he was a reckless warrior who gained the respect of the Arab mujahideen when he arrived in Pakistan, in the early nineties. In Peshawar, he met a Palestinian sheikh named Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, who transformed him from a foot soldier in jihad to a leader who, for a time, rivalled bin Laden.

Maqdisi was already one of the most renowned ideologues of the radical Islamist movement. Incisive, unpredictable, and sharp-tempered, he has a spiritual authority and an originality that make him stand out among jihadi thinkers. His puritanism has led him to denounce many Arab rulers. In “The Evident Sacrileges of the Saudi State,” his widely circulated book, Maqdisi declared a fatwa excommunicating the Saudi royal family—in essence, a license for any Muslim to murder them. (The book influenced the men who bombed a Saudi National Guard training center in Riyadh, in 1995, and also those who attacked American troops in Khobar the following year.) “Maqdisi is the most influential jihadi thinker alive,” Will McCants, a fellow at West Point’s Combatting Terrorism Center, told me.

Maqdisi and Zarqawi formed an immediate bond, an alliance of the man of thought and the man of action. In 1993, they returned to Jordan to start an Islamist group; the following year, both men were picked up by Jordanian authorities, who seized their weapons—grenades and a machine gun—and imprisoned them.

Jordanian prisons were full of radicals and prospective recruits, who were drawn to the cerebral sheikh and his ruthless assistant. Zarqawi soon emerged as the leader of the Islamist group, while Maqdisi continued to be the voice of authority. His decisions were often controversial; for instance, when Hamas began its suicide operations against Israel in 1994, Maqdisi denounced the attacks as un-Islamic—a position that Zarqawi supported at the time.

In March, 1999, Jordan’s new king, Abdullah II, granted amnesty to political prisoners. Zarqawi went to Afghanistan, but his defiant mentor chose to stay in Jordan, where he felt that he was doing productive work. He was soon back in prison.

Unruly and independent, Zarqawi refused to swear fidelity to bin Laden, and established his own camp in western Afghanistan, populated mainly by Jordanians, Syrians, and Palestinians. He was bluntly critical of Al Qaeda’s decision to wage war against America and the West rather than against corrupt Arab dictatorships.

After September 11th, Zarqawi and his followers were flushed out of Afghanistan by the invasion of the coalition forces. He took refuge in Iran and, eventually, in the Kurdish region of Iraq. In April, 2003, after the United States’ invasion of Iraq, he set up a new terror group, al-Tawid wal Jihad (Monotheism and Jihad). Unlike the senior members of Al Qaeda, Zarqawi was obsessed with fighting the Shiites, “the most evil of mankind,” thinking that he would unite the much larger Sunni world into a definitive conquest of what he saw as the great Islamic heresy. That August, shortly after he began his Iraq campaign, he bombed a Shiite mosque, killing a hundred and twenty-five Muslim worshippers, including the most popular Shiite politician in the country, Ayatollah Muhammad Bakr al-Hakim, who, had he lived, would probably have become Iraq’s first freely elected President.

In a letter to bin Laden in January, 2004, which was intercepted by U.S. intelligence, Zarqawi explained that “if we succeed in dragging [the Shia] into the arena of sectarian war it will become possible to awaken the inattentive Sunnis as they feel imminent danger.” He said that he would formally pledge allegiance to Al Qaeda if bin Laden endorsed his battle against the Shiites. Bin Laden told Zarqawi to go ahead and “use the Shiite card,” perhaps because his son Saad and other Al Qaeda figures were being held in Iran, and he hoped that Zarqawi would persuade the Iranians to hand them over; he hesitated, however, to formally ally himself with Zarqawi.

Meanwhile, Zarqawi’s operatives had spread into Europe, where they forged documents and smuggled illegal aliens into the continent while gathering recruits for Iraq. One of his lieutenants, Amer el-Azizi, is a suspect in the March 11, 2004, train bombings in Madrid. Like Zarqawi’s organization, the Spanish cell included former prison inmates and operated more like a street gang than like the highly bureaucratic Al Qaeda. Zarqawi and his men were putting into action the vision that Abu Musab al-Suri had laid out for them: small, spontaneous groups carrying out individual acts of terror in Europe, and an open struggle for territory in Iraq.

Suicide bombings became a trademark of Zarqawi’s operation, despite Maqdisi’s condemnation of the practice. And Zarqawi soon improvised a more gruesome signature: in May, 2004, he was filmed decapitating Nicholas Berg, a young American contractor. The footage was posted on the Internet, and it was followed by other beheadings, along with bombings and assassinations—hundreds of them.

Within radical Islamist circles, Zarqawi’s gory executions and attacks on Muslims at prayer became a source of controversy. From prison, Maqdisi chastised his former protégé. “The pure hands of jihad fighters must not be stained by shedding inviolable blood,” he wrote in an article that was posted on his Web site in July, 2004. “There is no point in vengeful acts that terrify people, provoke the entire world against mujahideen, and prompt the world to fight them.” Maqdisi also advised jihadis not to go to Iraq, “because it will be an inferno for them. This is, by God, the biggest catastrophe.”

Zarqawi angrily refuted Maqdisi’s remarks, saying that he took orders only from God; however, he was beginning to realize that his efforts in Iraq were another dead end for jihad. “The space of movement is starting to get smaller,” he had written to bin Laden in June. “The grip is starting to be tightened on the holy warriors’ necks and, with the spread of soldiers and police, the future is becoming frightening.” Finally, bin Laden agreed to lend his influence to assist Zarqawi in drawing recruits to his cause. In October, 2004, Zarqawi announced his new job title: emir of Al Qaeda in Iraq.

From that time until he was killed by American bombs, in June, 2006, Zarqawi led a murderous campaign unmatched in the history of Al Qaeda. Before Zarqawi became a member, Al Qaeda had killed some thirty-two hundred people. Zarqawi’s forces probably killed twice that number.

In July, 2005, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Al Qaeda’s chief ideologue and second-in-command, attempted to steer the nihilistic Zarqawi closer to the founders’ original course. In a letter, he outlined the next steps for the Iraqi jihad: “The first stage: Expel the Americans from Iraq. The second stage: Establish an Islamic authority or emirate, then develop it and support it until it achieves the level of a caliphate. . . . The third stage: Extend the jihad wave to the secular countries neighboring Iraq. The fourth stage: It may coincide with what came before—the clash with Israel, because Israel was established only to challenge any new Islamic entity.”

Zawahiri advised Zarqawi to moderate his attacks on Iraqi Shiites and to stop beheading hostages. “We are in a battle,” Zawahiri reminded him. “And more than half of this battle is taking place in the battlefield of the media.”

Zarqawi did not heed Al Qaeda’s requests. As the Iraqi jihad fell into barbarism, Al Qaeda’s leaders began advising their followers to go to Sudan or Kashmir, where the chances of victory seemed more promising. Al Qaeda, meanwhile, was confronting a new problem, which one of its prime thinkers, Abu Bakr Naji, had already anticipated, in an Internet document titled “The Management of Savagery.”

Naji’s identity is unknown. Other Islamist writers have said that he was Tunisian, but a Saudi newspaper identified him as Jordanian. Will McCants, the West Point scholar, has translated Naji’s work. He said that “Abu Bakr Naji” might be a collective pseudonym for various theorists of jihad. But, he added, Naji’s work has appeared on Sawt al-Jihad, the authoritative Al Qaeda Internet magazine, meaning that it reflects the prevailing views of the organization. Other analysts are cautious about giving too much weight to Naji’s words. Speaking at a conference earlier this year, David Kilcullen, the chief counterterrorism strategist at the U.S. State Department, highlighted the tendency of extremist movements to fragment into splinter groups based on ideological differences. “It’s important to realize that there are numerous competing points of view within the movement,” he said. “Not everything published in jihadist forums has the approval of the senior leadership.”

Naji’s document, which appeared in the spring of 2004, addresses the crisis and the opportunity posed by the tumult in the Arab world. “During our long journey, through victories and defeats, through the blood, severed limbs and skulls, some of the movements have disappeared and some have remained,” he writes. “If we meditate on the factor common to the movements which have remained, we find that there is political action in addition to military action.” Many Islamist groups have disparaged the notion of politics, considering it “a filthy activity of Satan,” but understanding the politics of the enemy, Naji suggests, is a necessary evil. “We urge that the leaders work to master political science just as they would work to master military science.”

Naji argues that Al Qaeda’s public image has suffered among Muslims because the organization has failed to carry the battle to the media. “The first step in putting our plan in place should be to focus on justifying the action rationally and through the Sharia,” he says. “Second, we must communicate this justification clearly to the people and the masses such that any means or attempt to distort our action through the media is cut off.”

The media is especially important in the chaotic period that the jihadi movement has entered, when people are understandably offended by the carnage. “If we succeed in the management of this savagery, that stage—by the permission of God—will be a bridge to the Islamic state which has been awaited since the fall of the caliphate,” he proclaims. “If we fail—we seek refuge with God from that—it does not mean an end of the matter. Rather, this failure will lead to an increase in savagery.”

Naji writes in the dry, oddly temperate style that characterizes many Al Qaeda strategy studies. And, like all jihadi theorists, he embeds his analysis in the tradition of Ibn Taymiyya, the thirteenth-century Arab theologian whose ideas undergird the Salafi, or Wahhabi, tradition; bin Laden frequently refers to Ibn Taymiyya in his speeches. The remarks of bin Laden and Zawahiri play only a modest part in Naji’s work. Indeed, Naji is a more attentive reader of Western thinkers: the thesis of “The Management of Savagery” is drawn from the observation of the Yale historian Paul Kennedy, in his book “Rise and Fall of the Great Powers” (1987), that imperial overreach leads to the downfall of empires.

Naji began writing his study in 1998, when the jihad movement’s most promising targets appeared to be Jordan, the countries of North Africa, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen—roughly the same countries that bin Laden later named. Naji recommended that jihadis continually attack the vital economic centers of these countries, such as tourist sites and oil refineries, in order to make the regimes concentrate their forces, leaving their peripheries unprotected. Sensing weakness, Naji predicts, the people will lose confidence in their governments, which will respond with increasingly ineffective acts of repression. Eventually, the governments will lose control. Savagery will naturally follow, offering Islamists the opportunity to capture the allegiance of a population that is desperate for order. (Naji cites Afghanistan before the Taliban as an example.) Even though the jihadis will have caused the chaos, that fact will be forgotten as the fighters impose security, provide food and medical treatment, and establish Islamic courts of justice.

After coalition forces overran Al Qaeda compounds in Afghanistan in late 2001, they seized thousands of pages of internal memoranda, records of strategy sessions and ethical debates, and military manuals, but not a single page devoted to the politics of Al Qaeda. Alone among Al Qaeda theorists, Naji briefly addresses whether jihadis are prepared to run a state should they succeed in toppling one. He quotes a colleague who posed the question “Assuming that we get rid of the apostate regimes today, who will take over the ministry of agriculture, trade, economics, etc.?” Beyond the simplistic notion of imposing a caliphate and establishing the rule of Islamic law, the leaders of the organization appear never to have thought about the most basic facts of government. What kind of economic model would they follow? How would they cope with unemployment, so rampant in the Muslim world? Where do they stand on the environment? Health care? The truth, as Naji essentially concedes, is that the radical Islamists have no interest in government; they are interested only in jihad. In his book, Naji breezily answers his friend as follows: “It is not a prerequisite that the mujahid movement has to be prepared especially for agriculture, trade, and industry. . . . As for the one who manages the techniques in each ministry, he can be a paid employee who has no interest in policy and is not a member of the movement or the party. There are many examples of that and a proper explanation would take a long time.”

Fouad Hussein is a radical Jordanian journalist who met Zarqawi and Maqdisi in 1996, when, he writes, “a career of trouble led me to Suwaqah Prison.” He had published a series of articles criticizing the Jordanian government, and, in response, the authorities locked him up for a month. Since Zarqawi and Maqdisi were being held at the same jail, Hussein sought out interviews with them; eventually, Zarqawi served him tea while Maqdisi talked politics. Zarqawi mentioned that he had been in solitary confinement for more than eight months and had lost his toenails as a result of being tortured. The next week, Zarqawi was sent to solitary again, and his followers staged a riot. Hussein became the negotiator between the prisoners and the warden, who relented—an episode that cemented Hussein’s standing among the radical Islamists.

In 2005, Hussein produced what is perhaps the most definitive outline of Al Qaeda’s master plan: a book titled “Al-Zarqawi: The Second Generation of Al Qaeda.” Although it is largely a favorable biography of Zarqawi and his movement, Hussein incorporates the insights of other Al Qaeda members—notably, Saif al-Adl, the security chief.

It is chilling to read this work and realize how closely recent events seem to be hewing to Al Qaeda’s forecasts. Based on interviews with Zarqawi and Adl, Hussein claims that dragging Iran into conflict with the United States is key to Al Qaeda’s strategy. Expanding the area of conflict in the Middle East will cause the U.S. to overextend its forces. According to Hussein, Al Qaeda believes that Iran expects to be attacked by the U.S., because of its interest in building a nuclear weapon. “Accordingly, Iran is preparing to retaliate for or abort this strike by means of using powerful cards in its hand,” he writes. These tactics include targeting oil installations in the Persian Gulf, which could cut off sixty per cent of the world’s oil supplies, destabilizing Western economies.

In an ominous passage, Hussein notes that “for fifteen years—or since the end of the first Gulf War—Iran has been busy building a secret global army of highly trained personnel and the necessary financial and technological capabilities to carry out any kind of mission.” He is clearly referring to Hezbollah, which has so far focussed its attention on Israel. According to Hussein, “Iran has identified American and Jewish targets around the world. This secret army is led by two professional Lebanese men who have pledged full allegiance to Iran and who hold enough of a grudge against the Americans to qualify them to inflict damage on Jewish and American interests around the world.”

Iran, he continues, has been cultivating good relations with other Palestinian resistance groups, including Hamas. “Iran views these parties as its entrenched wings in occupied Palestine,” Hussein writes, asserting that the peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians at the Egyptian resort town of Sharm al-Sheikh in February, 2005, were secretly aimed at countering Iranian influence on the Palestinian resistance. “Al Qaeda interpreted this as the first step toward launching an attack on Iran,” Hussein claims. Both the U.S. and Israel view Hezbollah, the Islamist group in Lebanon, as a creature of the Iranian state, and are intent on eliminating it. “The military campaign against Iran will begin when the United States and Israel succeed in disarming Hezbollah,” Hussein predicts.

Hussein claims, without offering evidence, that Iran already has thirty thousand intelligence agents in Iraq. “Since the Americans have not succeeded in eliminating the Sunni resistance, how can they deal with the situation if the Shiites join the resistance? Iran plans to incite its proponents in Iraq to join the anti-U.S. resistance in the event that the United States or Israel launches an attack on Iran. Iran plans to open its border to the resistance and provide it with what it needs to achieve a swift and major victory against the Americans.” Al Qaeda, he writes, also expects the Americans to go after Iran’s principal ally in the region, Syria. The removal of the Assad regime—a longtime goal of jihadis—will allow the country to be infiltrated by Al Qaeda, putting the terrorists within reach, at last, of Israel.

Hussein observes that Al Qaeda’s ideologues have studied the failure of Islamist movements in the past and concluded that they lacked concrete, realistic goals. Therefore, he writes, “Al Qaeda drew up a feasible plan within a well-defined time frame. The plan was based on improving the Islamic jihadist action in quality and quantity and expanding it to include the entire world.”

Al Qaeda’s twenty-year plan began on September 11th, with a stage that Hussein calls “The Awakening.” The ideologues within Al Qaeda believed that “the Islamic nation was in a state of hibernation,” because of repeated catastrophes inflicted upon Muslims by the West. By striking America—“the head of the serpent”—Al Qaeda caused the United States to “lose consciousness and act chaotically against those who attacked it. This entitled the party that hit the serpent to lead the Islamic nation.” This first stage, says Hussein, ended in 2003, when American troops entered Baghdad.

The second, “Eye-Opening” stage will last until the end of 2006, Hussein writes. Iraq will become the recruiting ground for young men eager to attack America. In this phase, he argues, perhaps wishfully, Al Qaeda will move from being an organization to “a mushrooming invincible and popular trend.” The electronic jihad on the Internet will propagate Al Qaeda’s ideas, and Muslims will be pressed to donate funds to make up for the seizure of terrorist assets by the West. The third stage, “Arising and Standing Up,” will last from 2007 to 2010. Al Qaeda’s focus will be on Syria and Turkey, but it will also begin to directly confront Israel, in order to gain more credibility among the Muslim population.

In the fourth stage, lasting until 2013, Al Qaeda will bring about the demise of Arab governments. “The creeping loss of the regimes’ power will lead to a steady growth in strength within Al Qaeda,” Hussein predicts. Meanwhile, attacks against the Middle East petroleum industry will continue, and America’s power will deteriorate through the constant expansion of the circle of confrontation. “By then, Al Qaeda will have completed its electronic capabilities, and it will be time to use them to launch electronic attacks to undermine the U.S. economy.” Islamists will promote the idea of using gold as the international medium of exchange, leading to the collapse of the dollar.

Then an Islamic caliphate can be declared, inaugurating the fifth stage of Al Qaeda’s grand plan, which will last until 2016. “At this stage, the Western fist in the Arab region will loosen, and Israel will not be able to carry out preëmptive or precautionary strikes,” Hussein writes. “The international balance will change.” Al Qaeda and the Islamist movement will attract powerful new economic allies, such as China, and Europe will fall into disunity.

The sixth phase will be a period of “total confrontation.” The now established caliphate will form an Islamic Army and will instigate a worldwide fight between the “believers” and the “non-believers.” Hussein proclaims, “The world will realize the meaning of real terrorism.” By 2020, “definitive victory” will have been achieved. Victory, according to the Al Qaeda ideologues, means that “falsehood will come to an end. . . . The Islamic state will lead the human race once again to the shore of safety and the oasis of happiness.”

Al Qaeda’s version of utopia has drawn the allegiance of a new generation of Arabs, who have been tutored on the Internet by ideologues such as Suri and Naji. This “third generation of mujahideen,” as Suri calls them, have been radicalized by September 11th, the occupation of Iraq, and the Palestinian intifada. (Suri wrote this before the current struggle in Lebanon.) Those jihadis fighting in the conflict in Iraq have been trained in vicious urban warfare against the most formidable army in history. They will return to their home countries and add their expertise to the new cells springing up in the Middle East, Central Asia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, and many European nations.

With a few troublesome exceptions, America has been free of the kind of indigenous Islamist terrorism that has recently visited Britain. It is a tribute to the American Muslim community, which is more integrated into American society than its counterparts in Europe. Relatively few Muslims in the U.S. have been imprisoned, and the typical Muslim household earns more than the national average. The situation in Europe is starkly different, which means that it will be an ongoing source of trouble, and may continue to be a launching pad for the kind of attacks against America represented by the alleged plot to blow up as many as ten airliners over the Atlantic.

In 2002, the Dutch government commissioned a study of the recruits to the Islamist movement. The report, titled “Recruitment for the Jihad in the Netherlands,” divides the jihadis into three groups. First are young men of Dutch descent who have converted to Islam—a phenomenon, noticed elsewhere in Europe, in which traditional forms of worship have lost their allure and radical Islam functions as an all-encompassing identity and as a form of protest. Many of these conversions take place in prison. The second category is composed mainly of illegal Arab immigrants who have little knowledge of the culture and language of their host country. The third and largest category is made up of the sons and grandsons of predominately Moroccan immigrants, native speakers of Dutch who speak little or no Arabic. This group, caught between cultures, identifies most profoundly with radical Islam.

After the murder of the filmmaker Theo van Gogh, in Amsterdam in 2004, the government published another study, “From Dawa to Jihad,” detailing the threats from radical Islam. This study notes a sharp difference between “traditional” radical political Islam and what the authors term “radical-Islamic puritanism,” which characterizes the new generation. Traditional radical Islam was homogeneous and organized; it had a detailed ideology with a specific vision of a non-Western alternative society. There was, in theory, a peaceful path to this idealized vision, but the traditional radical thinkers believed that this path had been cut off by the West, making jihad—which they saw as a political struggle carried out on the battlefield—the only alternative. The ideology of the new generation, comprising a mixture of ethnic identities, is alarmingly vague. Their only political goal is a return to the ideals of the seventh-century Prophet and his early successors; they spout messianic slogans about the caliphate and imposing Sharia, without a clear idea of what those goals entail. They categorically reject the possibility of a peaceful path. They believe that the world is divided between “sons of light” and “sons of darkness,” and that a fight to the end is the will of God.

Al Qaeda’s apocalyptic agenda is not shared by all Islamists. Although most jihadi groups approve of Al Qaeda’s attacks on America and Europe, their own goals are often more parochial, having to do with purifying Islam and toppling regimes in their own countries which they see as heretical. Many of these groups would be happy to see Al Qaeda disappear, so that their campaigns can be understood as nationalist guerrilla struggles with specific political goals.

This rupture has grown increasingly apparent in the past five years. Sheikh Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah, Hezbollah’s spiritual leader, publicly denounced the September 11th attacks and condemned Al Qaeda’s use of suicide bombers, even though the tactic was employed in the 1983 attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Beirut and the barracks of American and French troops in Lebanon, both of which are believed to have been carried out by Hezbollah. After September 11th, leaders of the Egyptian Islamist organization, Gama’a Islamiya, which has worked closely with Al Qaeda in the past, publicly condemned Al Qaeda’s tactics and its goals of worldwide jihad. Even some of Zawahiri’s former colleagues in the Egyptian terror group he formed, Al Jihad, argue that Al Qaeda has undermined the cause of Islam by instigating anti-Muslim sentiment in the U.S. and the West.

It is notable how seldom these ideologues refer to the words of bin Laden or Zawahiri, the nominal leaders of the movement, perhaps because the declarations of Al Qaeda’s leadership are directed more at Americans and Europeans than at the jihadis. “Beware the scripted enemy, who plays to a global audience,” David Kilcullen, the counterterrorism strategist at the State Department, wrote in a paper now being used by the U.S. military in Iraq as a handbook for dealing with the insurgency. Al Qaeda, he wrote, propagates a “single narrative” aimed at influencing the West; but each faction within the jihadi movement has its own version of this narrative, often sharply different from the message being put forward by bin Laden and Zawahiri.

Although American and European intelligence communities are aware of the jihadi texts, the work of these ideologues often reads like a playbook that U.S. policymakers have been slavishly, if inadvertently, following. “The data don’t get to the top, because the decision-makers are not looking for that kind of information,” a policy analyst who works closely with the American intelligence community told me. “They think they know better.”

As the writings of Abu Musab al-Suri, Abu Bakr Naji, Fouad Hussein, and others make clear, the tradition of Salafi jihad existed before bin Laden and Al Qaeda and will likely survive them; yet, from the beginning of the war on terror, the strategy of the Administration has been to decapitate Al Qaeda’s leadership. Bruce Hoffman, who is the author of “Inside Terrorism” and a professor at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, told me, “One of the problems with the kill-or-capture metric is that it has often been to the exclusion of having a deeper, richer understanding of the movement, its origins, and our adversaries’ mindset. The nuances are absolutely critical. Our adversaries are wedded to the ideology that informs and fuels their struggle, and, by not paying attention, we risk not knowing our enemy.”

September 04, 2006

Hassan Nasrallah's speech at the end of the Lebanon War, 27 August 2006

Nasrallah New TV interview - excerpts of Hezbollah leader's speech following the end of the Lebanon War of August 2006
Posted 2006-09-04 by mideastwire.com

On August 27, on Lebanese TV station New TV, the leader of Hezbollah, Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah, was interviewed and said, in part: "I don't think there would be a second round of [Israeli] aggression on Lebanon.” Nasrallah added all talk on “other rounds of war…are merely to plant fear among people... to serve Israel’s best interests.” Nasrallah was replying to comments made by the UN SG's envoy to the region Terje Roed-Larsen who depicted possible new rounds of Israeli offensives on Lebanon, adding “my information and analysis point [to the fact] that the talk is only to plant fear.”

Nasrallah further accused Roed-Larsen of having “a very well-known role, which is to serve the US and Israel’s interests.” He added: “A Dutch minister who visited Lebanon said he had met with the Israeli side and that there will be no second round of aggression… and I tend to believe the Dutch minister and not Roed-Larsen...My other analysis is that the Israeli settlers went back to their homes in Haifa and other cities and that the Israeli premier told them that there will be reconstruction… the Israeli army is decreasing its posts in the Lebanese southern territories instead of reinforcing them… all of this indicates that there wouldn’t be a second round of aggression.”

Nasrallah said that Hizbullah’s “priority now is the social and humanitarian situation… we are not a militia or mercenary… I have promised from the very first day - and I never promise anything that I know Hizbullah cannot fulfill - that we will help reconstruct every house that was damaged or destroyed.” He added: “I didn’t only promise the Shia, but also all the Lebanese, any Lebanese who had his house damaged or destroyed…better yet we will help any Lebanese or non Lebanese families who suffered damages during the Israeli aggression.”

When asked why Hizbullah didn’t wait for the government to make an initiative to help the “one million displaced people,” or in the reconstruction process, Nasrallah said: “We didn’t want the people to stay on the streets. Because of corruption, bureaucracy, theft, lack of ability, and other matters the government’s decision to help those people would take a long time. We [Hizbullah] directly went on the streets and helped the people, gave them money for a year’s rent and money to buy new furniture… started working on removing the rubble from the streets from the very first day of (UN-enforced) cease-fire… it took the government 7 days before deciding to have its bulldozers working in the southern suburbs.”

He added: “Some information reached me that some people in the state have decided on purpose to leave the people on the streets for a week or two to make them hate and blame us (Hizbullah) for what happened and to rise against Hizbullah… I bear the full responsibility of what I just said.”

He continued: “Some delegations were sent by the US and the UK embassies to speak to the displaced who were staying in schools to see if the people have started to melt and turn against Hizbullah and these delegations were shocked to see the high level of determination and back up which these people have for the resistance.”

Nasrallah said: “Hizbullah has taken the burden of paying the people for rent and furniture, assessing damages and clearing the rubble and you want us to take care of rebuilding the streets and bridges? Let the government bear its responsibility.”
He added jokingly, “if you want me to take care of everything then hand me over the state and I am ready to work things out...The government has a responsibility and I have a promise. If the state cannot reconstruct the houses of the people then Hizbullah, by Allah’s Will, will do the job. We are waiting for the state to decide on this matter, in the mean time we continue to pay for the displaced people’s yearly rent until the matter of the reconstruction of their houses is solved.”

He also said that the money which Hizbullah is giving the people, “is not tied with any pre or post conditions... Hizbullah doesn’t take money or arms from any one who puts conditions on it.” Besides, “Iran has pledged to reconstruct the bridges and roads all over Lebanon and which have been damaged.”

On a possible Hizbullah vision of creating an Islamic or Islamic-Shiite state and working outside the state, Nasrallah said that Lebanon “is a weave of various entities, religions, parties, and sects, and cannot be ruled as an Islamic or Christian state or even an Islamic- Shiite state.” He added: “This is all US and Israeli threatening talk which was used in the past to make the Christians afraid of a possible Islamic state and apparently now they (US and Israel) want to create a new fear among the Sunnis from the Shiite.”

Nasrallah said: “Let me say what is in my heart… the state never fought to liberate my land, the Lebanese territories, so when we held arms and fought the occupation we became accused of becoming a threat… if the Lebanese detainees remained in Israeli prisons and no one said anything to get them out it was fine, but if we moved to free them then they call us adventurers.”

Nasrallah continued: “The state doesn’t move to liberate a land or free a detainee or protect us or feed us or help us or teach us or provide medication for us… it only takes taxes from us… it is a miracle that the people have remained silent about such an injustice… they want us to be killed or die of famine, diseases, remain ignorant… or we work to enhance our situation, tar the roads, and clean the streets and construct schools… and then they accuse us of being state within a state.”

He said: “Either way, I fully pledge now, and the state is hearing me as I speak, wherever we [Hizbullah] have built a hospital and the state builds a hospital next to it, we are ready to close our hospital and the same goes for schools.” On the Israeli war on Lebanon which was triggered by the capture of the two soldiers and the negotiations to effect a swap: Nasrallah said that according to Hizbullah’s information, Israel, “has been preparing for an aggression on Lebanon since a long time… and that the Israeli surprising war was to be launched in September or October… in the mean time, Hizbullah was preparing for the past 5 to 6 months to capture Israeli soldiers to swap them with the Lebanese detainees in Israel… the operation happened in July, and after losing 8 soldiers and a tank and two captured soldiers, Israel was forced to have its aggression in July instead of September-October, as information later reached us… Israel lost the element of surprise… and didn’t manage to kill any of Hizbullah’s leaders, or secure the safety of its northern settlements, or retrieve the two captured soldiers… imagine what would have happened if Lebanon was taken by surprise in September-October? and no one was prepared to take action then?”

He added: “The Israeli aggression was going to happen whether we provided Israel with an excuse or not… but I tell you one thing, the decision making is not up to me alone… there are 15 people in the political-military council and if any of us had a 1 percent doubt that Israel was going to reply in this savage manner we wouldn’t have captured those soldiers…”

Nasrallah said that Hizbullah, and ever since it managed to force the Israelis out of Lebanon back in 2000, has been anticipating an Israeli aggression that Israel thinks would save its face. “We didn’t know when the aggression was going to take place… so we prepared ourselves, stashed weapons and made a self-sufficient arsenal base in every base we have in the south just in case Israel decided to cut the roads –and it did—and that is how we managed to continue to shower the Israeli northern settlements with rockets and our fighters managed to continue to fight.”

“...I once said that we have more than 12,000 rockets… I don’t lie, I am not allowed to lie but at the same time I know how to play a psychological war… the number of rockets might be 13,000 or 20,000 or 50,000, and these are all more than 12,000, but I don’t reveal how many.”

“...They speak of fear from us inside Lebanon, I said it before and say it now that our weapons are to fight occupation and the Israeli enemy and not our Lebanese brothers… I address the Lebanese and Christians especially who keep saying that they are afraid for their status, that they fear for their lives... that they fear syria and iran... we of the resistance are more threatened than they are... our lives are threatened by Israel, the US, and all the international powers... we are being relentlessly pursued by those enemies, and we are more threatened than any other person here... I tell my Lebanese brothers and friends that they need not worry that we will turn our arms against them. We will never point them inside Lebanon as some may wish to create civil strife... but i also tell those opportunists not to blackmail us on this stand regarding our weapons.”

"...Following the ceasefire, the Israelis tried to provoke us to fight them and break UN Security Council Resolution 1701… they did that by doing a landing in Lebanon in the Bekaa… attacking civilian houses and cutting roads in the south,... all of that after the cease-fire… and there was not one significant international stand to condemn the Israeli breaches to the cease-fire… I tell you that if Hizbullah replied to the Israeli provocation –even in the slightest manner—you would have heard the harshest international condemnations.”

Nasrallah said that "anyone who supported the resistance, whether in their actions, words, hearts, minds, or even if they couldn't do anything but prayed for us… then we dedicate this victory –over the strongest army in the region—to them…” This included, according to Nasrallah, "Syria and its President Bashar Assad... and any other state which supported the resistance... Syria has supported us over the years... Bashar Assad was given juicy offers not to back the resistance for which he was offered to remain in lebanon as long as he wanted and other offers regarding Golan hights... but he refused these offers, and continued to back the resistance."

Nasrallah called for “implementing the Taef Accord… and creating a true national unity government which includes representation of all the Lebanese. The primary condition in the Taef Accord is having a national consensus cabinet which reflects a true representation of the powers in lebanon. How can we have a true national unity government when the power representing 75 percent of the Lebanese is not represented in this government.” He added that MP Michel Aoun, who “represents 75% of the Christians in Lebanon,” should also be represented, as he (Aoun) doesn’t have a single minister in the current cabinet. "We tell them OK you want the implementation of the Taef Accord, then form the national unity government and they (those who are currently in power) say no..." - TV - Middle East, Middle East

Reactions to Nasrallah's speech. (Pro-Hizbullah)

"Those who gloat over Nasrallah's candor"
An editorial by Abdel Beri Atwan August 31 in Al Quds Al Arabi said: "A large number of people in the Arab media applauded the interview, which Hasan Nasrallah gave to the Lebanese New TV network. In particular, they paused at the paragraph in which he said that he would not have kidnapped the two Israeli soldiers had he known the magnitude of the destruction, which his country would suffer as a result. These people took only this paragraph of the interview and used it to serve their collusion with the Israeli aggression against Lebanon. They regarded that paragraph as a confirmation of their view.

"They described the party and its war and leadership as adventurous and irresponsible because Hezbollah attacked an Israeli military post, killed seven of its soldiers and kidnapped two others. In gloat, some of them maliciously praised Nasrallah for his courage in admitting his mistake and for his self-criticism. However, the fact, which these and others do not know, is that Nasrallah has a big heart and fine human feelings towards his compatriots who were displaced and whose homes were destroyed. Moreover, a large number of their sons were killed. Nevertheless, as most parts of the interview indicated, this does not mean that he regrets his great achievement, which altered all political and military equations in the entire Arab region.

"Nasrallah was not the only person who did not expect the Israelis to harbour this level of rancour and hatred and to be thirsty for the blood of hundreds of innocent people in their response to the abduction of two of their soldiers in a legitimate and accurately calculated military operation. He was a man of ethics in his enmity, killed no innocent Israelis, was anxious to direct his rockets at military targets and avoided the bombardment of infrastructure, chemical plants and fuel storage sites in Haifa to avoid the killing of civilians. These traits and ethics are not familiar to the Israelis who blackmailed the whole world over the Nazi holocaust and who carried out and continue to carry out actions that are not less ugly in Lebanon and occupied Palestine.

"The abduction of the two Israeli soldiers was not the cause of the destruction of Lebanon. Rather, it was the pretext that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert used to implement his plan that was already worked out in cooperation with US military commanders. The aim behind this plan was to destroy Hezbollah and its personnel and military bases to deprive Iran and Syria of a strong military arm, which can be used against the Jewish state to retaliate for any aggression launched against the two countries as part of expected pre-emptive strikes to destroy the Iranian nuclear reactor and infrastructure. US journalist Simon Hersh spoke in detail about this Israeli-US plan in his documented report that he published in the New Yorker magazine. Many European and Israeli newspapers reported on the same plan.

"The splendid steadfastness, which Hezbollah fighters showed in south Lebanon, foiled the new Middle East project, which Ms Condoleezza Rice heralded. This project is based on perpetuating the current humiliation of the Arab and Islamic nations and consolidating the Israeli domination, so that one day we might see the Arab rulers who are the most prominent product of the United States pay tax to Tel Aviv and carry out its orders on how many barrels of oil they should produce. Hasan Nasrallah presented numerous lessons in resistance, modesty, strategic vision and good manners in talking to others with whom he differs. Nevertheless, the most prominent lesson, which he presented in his interview with the aforementioned Lebanese television network, is not only his humanity, but also the fact that he did not hesitate to criticize himself and admit mistakes, alongside the assertion of the achievements.

"So, let those people who tendentiously praised this courage name one single Arab leader who is ready for soul-searching and self-criticism in which he would admit the deadly strategic mistakes that he made, particularly those leaders who colluded in the US war to destroy Iraq and then occupy it and destroy its Arab identity, internal fabric and territorial integrity. Have we heard them admit their failure in their domestic policies, which starved their peoples and deprived them of their most basic rights? If what happened in Lebanon was an adventure, this adventure ended with the results that we know. Let everyone interpret these results as a defeat or victory as they please. But we now have the right to ask about the role of the wise men and what they are currently doing.

"We do not believe that they are wise and do not expect them to move an inch because they are the champions of inaction and believe in the zero option in politics, that is to say, not moving forward or rather not moving at all in any direction, so that the situation may remain as it is while they eat, sleep, enjoy the positions, thrones and wealth and plunder public money. The Palestinian people are slaughtered and the Lebanese people face an air and maritime blockade. Yet, we did not hear one single wise leader call on his uncles in Washington to lift this blockade. Instead, we saw them participate in this blockade, work to prolong it and collaborate to enforce it.

"Even if Hasan Nasrallah shows regret over the abduction of the two Israeli soldiers, he still achieved in 34 days what the Arab armies could not collectively achieve. He had the courage, which none of the Arab leaders who criticized him possessed. These leaders provided cover for the devastating Israeli aggression when he fired 4,000 rockets that shook areas deep inside Israel and forced one million Jews to stay terrified in shelters. He is a man who entered history through its honourable gates, just as he entered the hearts of 1.5 billion Muslims in various parts of the world. And the nation cannot reach consensus on a false view." - Al Quds Al Arabi, United Kingdom

For a critique of Nasrallah's claims to victory, see Michael Young at Reason Magazine on line, "Hoodwinked by Hezbollah: Turning the stench of defeat into the smell of victory.

Charles Glass, Chief Middle East correspondent of ABC News for 10 years and Middle East expert, who has written several books on the region, recounts his experience with Hizbullah in the London Review of Books. August 3, 2006.


September 03, 2006

"A Disciplined Hezbollah Surprises Israel," Erlanger, NYTimes, 7 August 2006

A Disciplined Hezbollah Surprises Israel With Its Training, Tactics and Weapons
New York Times, The (NY)
August 7, 2006
Steven Erlanger reported from Jerusalem for this article, and Richard A. Oppel Jr. from Zarit, Israel. Mark Mazzetti contributed reporting from Washington.
Estimated printed pages: 6

On Dec. 26, 2003, a powerful earthquake leveled most of Bam, in southeastern Iran, killing 35,000 people. Transport planes carrying aid poured in from everywhere, including Syria.

According to Israeli military intelligence, the planes returned to Syria carrying sophisticated weapons, including long-range Zelzal missiles, which the Syrians passed on to Hezbollah, the Shiite militia group in southern Lebanon that Iran created and sponsors.

As the Israeli Army struggles for a fourth week to defeat Hezbollah before a cease-fire, the shipments are just one indication of how -- with the help of its main sponsors, Iran and Syria -- the militia has sharply improved its arsenal and strategies in the six years since Israel abruptly ended its occupation of southern Lebanon.

Hezbollah is a militia trained like an army and equipped like a state, and its fighters "are nothing like Hamas or the Palestinians," said a soldier who just returned from Lebanon. "They are trained and highly qualified," he said, equipped with flak jackets, night-vision goggles, good communications and sometimes Israeli uniforms and ammunition. "All of us were kind of surprised."

Much attention has been focused on Hezbollah's astonishing stockpile of Syrian- and Iranian-made missiles, some 3,000 of which have already fallen on Israel. More than 48 Israelis have been killed in the attacks -- including 12 reservist soldiers killed Sunday, who were gathered at a kibbutz at Kfar Giladi, in northern Israel, when rockets packed with antipersonnel ball bearings exploded among them, and 3 killed Sunday evening in another rocket barrage on Haifa.

But Iran and Syria also used those six years to provide satellite communications and some of the world's best infantry weapons, including modern, Russian-made antitank weapons and Semtex plastic explosives, as well as the training required to use them effectively against Israeli armor.

It is Hezbollah's skillful use of those weapons -- in particular, wire-guided and laser-guided antitank missiles, with double, phased explosive warheads and a range of about two miles -- that has caused most of the casualties to Israeli forces.

Hezbollah's Russian-made antitank missiles, designed to penetrate armor, have damaged or destroyed Israeli vehicles, including its most modern tank, the Merkava, on about 20 percent of their hits, Israeli tank commanders at the front said.

Hezbollah has also used antitank missiles, including the less modern Sagger, to fire from a distance into houses in which Israeli troops are sheltered, with a first explosion cracking the typical concrete block wall and the second going off inside.

"They use them like artillery to hit houses," said Brig. Gen. Yossi Kuperwasser, until recently the Israeli Army's director of intelligence analysis. "They can use them accurately up to even three kilometers, and they go through a wall like through the armor of a tank."

Hezbollah fighters use tunnels to quickly emerge from the ground, fire a shoulder-held antitank missile, and then disappear again, much the way Chechen rebels used the sewer system of Grozny to attack Russian armored columns.

"We know what they have and how they work," General Kuperwasser said. "But we don't know where all the tunnels are. So they can achieve tactical surprise."

The antitank missiles are the "main fear" for Israeli troops, said David Ben-Nun, 24, an enlisted man in the Nahal brigade who just returned from a week in Lebanon. The troops do not linger long in any house because of hidden missile crews. "You can't even see them," he said.

With modern communications and a network of tunnels, storage rooms, barracks and booby traps laid under the hilly landscape, Hezbollah's training, tactics and modern weaponry explain, the Israelis say, why they are moving with caution.

The Israelis say Hezbollah's fighters number from 2,000 to 4,000, a small army that is aided by a larger circle of part-timers who provide logistics and storage of weapons in houses and civilian buildings.

Hezbollah operates like a revolutionary force within a civilian sea, making it hard to fight without occupying or bombing civilian areas. On orders, some fighters emerge to retrieve launchers, fire missiles and then melt away. Still, the numbers are small compared with the Israeli Army and are roughly the size of one Syrian division.

The Iranian Revolutionary Guards have helped teach Hezbollah how to organize itself like an army, with special units for intelligence, antitank warfare, explosives, engineering, communications and rocket launching.

They have also taught Hezbollah how to aim rockets, make shaped "improvised explosive devices" -- used to such devastating results against American armor in Iraq -- and, the Israelis say, even how to fire the C-802, a ground-to-ship missile that Israel never knew Hezbollah possessed.

Iranian Air Force officers have made repeated trips to Lebanon to train Hezbollah to aim and fire Iranian medium-range missiles, like the Fajr-3 and Fajr-5, according to intelligence officials in Washington. The Americans say they believe that a small number of Iranian operatives remain in Beirut, but say there is no evidence that they are directing Hezbollah's attacks.

But Iran, so far, has not allowed Hezbollah to fire one of the Zelzal missiles, the Israelis say.

The former Syrian president, Hafez al-Assad, was careful to restrict supplies to Hezbollah, but his son, Bashar, who took over in 2000 -- the year Israel pulled out of Lebanon -- has opened its warehouses.

Syria has given Hezbollah 220-millimeter and 302-millimeter missiles, both equipped with large, anti-personnel warheads. Syria has also given Hezbollah its most sophisticated antitank weapons, sold to the Syrian Army by Russia.

Those, General Kuperwasser said, include the Russian Metis and RPG-29. The RPG-29 has both an antitank round to better penetrate armor and an anti-personnel round. The Metis is more modern yet, wire-guided with a longer range and a higher speed, and can fire up to four rounds a minute.

Some Israelis say they believe that Syria has provided Hezbollah with the Russian-made Kornet, laser-guided, with a range of about three miles, which Hezbollah may be holding back, waiting for Israel to move farther into southern Lebanon and extend its supply lines.

Despite Israeli complaints to Moscow, "Russia just decided to close its eyes," a senior Israeli official said.

In its early years, Hezbollah specialized in suicide bombings and kidnappings. The United States blames it for the suicide attacks on the American Embassy in Beirut and a Marine barracks in 1983. The group became popular in the Shiite south and set up its mini-state there, as well as reserving to itself a section of southern Beirut, known as Security Square.

Until 2003, Timur Goksel was the senior political adviser to Unifil, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, which monitors the border. He says he knows Hezbollah well and speaks with admiration of its commitment and organization.

After fighting the Israelis for 18 years, "they're not afraid of the Israeli Army anymore," he said in a telephone interview from Beirut. Hezbollah's ability to harass the Israelis and study their flaws, like a tendency for regular patrols and for troop convoys on the eve of the Sabbath, gave Hezbollah confidence that the Israeli Army "is a normal human army, with normal vulnerabilities and follies," he added.

Now, however, "Hezbollah has much better weapons than before," he said.

Mr. Goksel describes Hezbollah much as the Israelis do: careful, patient, attuned to gathering intelligence, scholars of guerrilla warfare from the American Revolution to Mao and the Vietcong, and respectful of Israeli firepower and mobility.

"Hezbollah has studied asymmetrical warfare, and they have the advantage of fighting in their own landscape, among their people, where they've prepared for just what the Israelis are doing -- entering behind armor on the ground," Mr. Goksel said.

"They have staff work and they do long-term planning, something the Palestinians never do," he said. "They watch for two months to note every detail of their enemy. They review their operations -- what they did wrong, how the enemy responded. And they have flexible tactics, without a large hierarchical command structure."

That makes them very different from the Soviet-trained Arab armies the Israelis defeated in 1967 and 1973, which had a command structure that was too regimented.

In 1992, when Sheik Hassan Nasrallah took over, he organized Hezbollah into three regional commands with military autonomy. Beirut and the Hezbollah council made policy, but did not try to run the war. Sheik Nasrallah -- said to have been advised by the secretive Imad Mugniyeh, a trained engineer wanted by the United States on terrorism charges -- thereby improved Hezbollah's security and limited its communications.

It set up separate and largely autonomous units that live among civilians, with local reserve forces to provide support, supplies and logistics. Hezbollah commanders travel in old cars without bodyguards or escorts and wear no visible insignia, Mr. Goksel said, to keep their identities hidden.

Hezbollah began by setting up roadside bombs detonated by cables, which the Israelis learned to defeat with wire-cutting attachments to their vehicles. Then Hezbollah used radio detonators, which the Israelis also defeated, and then cellphone detonators, and then a double system of cellphones, and then a photocell detonator -- like the beam that opens an automatic door. Now, Mr. Goksel said, Hezbollah is working with pressure detonators dug into the roads, even as the Israelis weld metal plates to the bottom of their tanks.

Hezbollah, Mr. Goksel says, has clear tactics, trying to draw Israeli ground troops farther into Lebanon. "They can't take the Israelis in open battle," he said, "so they want to draw them in to well-prepared battlefields," like Aita al Shaab, where there has been fierce fighting.

He added: "They know the Israelis depend too much on armor, which is a prime target for them. And they want Israeli supply lines to lengthen, so they're easier to hit."

Israeli tanks have been struck by huge roadside bombs planted in expectation that Israeli armor would roll across the border, said one tank lieutenant, who in keeping with military policy would only give his first name, Ohad.

At least two soldiers from his unit have been wounded by snipers who are accurate at 600 yards. The Hezbollah fighters "are not just farmers who have been given weapons to fire," he said. "They are persistent and well trained."

Another tank company commander, a captain who gave his name as Edan, said that about 20 percent of the missiles that have hit Israeli tanks penetrated the Merkava armor or otherwise caused causalities.

Col. Mordechai Kahane, the commander of the Golani brigade's Egoz unit, first set up to fight Hezbollah, told the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot of one of the worst early days, when his unit went into Marun al Ras in daylight, and lost a senior officer and a number of men.

"Hezbollah put us to sleep" building up its fortifications, he said. "There's no certainty that we knew that we were going to encounter what it is that we ultimately encountered. We said, 'There is going to be a bunker here, a cave there,' but the thoroughness surprised us all. A Hezbollah weapons storeroom is not just a natural cave. It's a pit with concrete, ladders, emergency openings, escape routes. We didn't know it was that well organized."

General Kuperwasser, too, respects Hezbollah's ability "to well prepare the battlefield," but says, "We're making progress and killing a lot of them, and more of them are giving up in battle now and becoming prisoners, which is a very important sign."

'The Best Guerrilla Force in the World'
Analysts Attribute Hezbollah's Resilience to Zeal, Secrecy and Iranian Funding
By Edward Cody and Molly Moore
Washington Post
Monday, August 14, 2006; A01

BEIRUT, Aug. 14 -- Hezbollah's irregular fighters stood off the modern Israeli army for a month in the hills of southern Lebanon thanks to extraordinary zeal and secrecy, rigorous training, tight controls over the population, and a steady flow of Iranian money to acquire effective weaponry, according to informed assessments in Lebanon and Israel.

"They are the best guerrilla force in the world," said a Lebanese specialist who has sifted through intelligence on Hezbollah for more than two decades and strongly opposes the militant Shiite Muslim movement.

Because Hezbollah was entrenched in friendly Shiite-inhabited villages and underground bunkers constructed in secret over several years, a withering Israeli air campaign and a tank-led ground assault were unable to establish full control over a border strip and sweep it clear of Hezbollah guerrillas -- one of Israel's main declared war aims. Largely as a result, the U.N. Security Council resolution approved unanimously Friday night fell short of the original objectives laid out by Israel and the Bush administration when the conflict began July 12.

As the declared U.N. cease-fire went into effect Monday morning, many Lebanese -- particularly among the Shiites who make up an estimated 40 percent of the population -- had already assessed Hezbollah's endurance as a military success despite the devastation wrought across Lebanon by Israeli bombing.

Hezbollah's staying power on the battlefield came from a classic fish-in-the-sea advantage enjoyed by guerrillas on their home ground, hiding in their own villages and aided by their relatives. Hasan Nasrallah, the Hezbollah leader, summed up the guerrilla strategy in a televised address during the conflict when he said, "We are not a regular army and we will not fight like a regular army."

The group's battlefield resilience also came from an unusual combination of zeal and disciplined military science, said the Lebanese specialist with access to intelligence information, who spoke on condition he not be identified by name.

The fighters' Islamic faith and intense indoctrination reduced their fear of death, he noted, giving them an advantage in close-quarters combat and in braving airstrikes to move munitions from post to post. Hezbollah leaders also enhanced fighters' willingness to risk death by establishing the Martyr's Institute, with an office in Tehran, that guarantees living stipends and education fees for the families of fighters who die on the front.

"If you are waiting for a white flag coming out of the Hezbollah bunker, I can assure you it won't come," Brig. Gen. Ido Nehushtan, a member of the Israeli army's general staff, said in a briefing for reporters in the northern Israeli village of Gosherim. "They are extremists, they will go all the way."

Moreover, Hezbollah's military leadership carefully studied military history, including the Vietnam War, the Lebanese expert said, and set up a training program with help from Iranian intelligence and military officers with years of experience in the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s. The training was matched to weapons that proved effective against Israeli tanks, he added, including the Merkava main battle tank with advanced armor plating.

Wire-guided and laser-guided antitank missiles were the most effective and deadly Hezbollah weapons, according to Israeli military officers and soldiers. A review of Israel Defense Forces records showed that the majority of Israeli combat deaths resulted from missile hits on armored vehicles -- or on buildings where Israeli soldiers set up observation posts or conducted searches.

Most of the antitank missiles, Israeli officers noted, could be dragged out of caches and quickly fired with two- or three-man launching teams at distances of 3,200 yards or more from their targets. One of the most effective was the Russian-designed Sagger 2, a wire-guided missile with a range of 550 to 3,200 yards.

In one hidden bunker, Israeli soldiers discovered night-vision camera equipment connected to computers that fed coordinates of targets to the Sagger 2 missile, according to Israeli military officials who described the details from photographs they said soldiers took inside the bunker.

Some antitank missiles also can be used to attack helicopters, which has limited the military's use of choppers in rescues and other operations. On Saturday, Hezbollah shot down a CH-53 Sikorsky helicopter in Lebanon, killing all five crew members, according to the Israeli military. As of late Sunday, Israeli troops still had been unable to retrieve the bodies because of fierce fighting in the area of the crash.

The Hezbollah arsenal, which also included thousands of missiles and rockets to be fired against northern Israel's towns and villages, was paid for with a war chest kept full by relentless fundraising among Shiites around the world and, in particular, by funds provided by Iran, said the intelligence specialist. The amount of Iranian funds reaching Hezbollah was estimated at $25 million a month, but some reports suggested it increased sharply, perhaps doubled, after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took over as president in Tehran last year, the specialist said.

Fawaz Trabulsi, a Lebanese professor who helped lead Palestinian-allied militia forces against the Israeli army in 1982, noted that Hezbollah's fight has differed in several respects from that mounted by the Palestine Liberation Organization during the 1980s. In that war, Israeli forces punched straight northward and reached Beirut in a few days with only minor resistance, he recalled, saying Israeli officers seemed to think they could duplicate that performance against Hezbollah.

One reason for the sharp difference is that Israeli intelligence had much less detail on Hezbollah forces, tactics and equipment than it had on the PLO, which was infiltrated by a network of spies, said Trabulsi, now a political science professor at Lebanese American University. "Hezbollah is not penetrated at all," he said.

Nehushtan, the Israeli general, said the Israeli military had enough information to appreciate the fighting ability and weaponry of Hezbollah as the conflict opened. In addition, Israeli warplanes have hit pinpoint targets throughout the fighting, presumably on the basis of real-time intelligence reaching the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv through drones and other surveillance equipment. Other observers, however, said the sweep of fighting over the last month -- when Israel on several occasions said it controlled the terrain, only to continue fighting in the same border villages -- suggested intelligence had not provided an adequate appreciation of the battlefield.

"I think it's no secret that the Israeli military didn't have the intelligence on this," said Richard Straus, who publishes the Middle East Policy Survey newsletter in Washington. "They didn't know what Hezbollah had, how it had built up, what it was capable of."

Another difference that gave Hezbollah fighters an edge is the experience they acquired in combating Israeli troops during the nearly two decades of Israeli occupation in southern Lebanon that ended in 2000. In contrast, Palestinian guerrillas had gained most of their experience fighting Lebanese militias in the civil war here -- using nothing more than assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades -- and were unprepared and unequipped to resist the advance of Israel's modern army.

"The difference is in training, the difference is in weapons, but the big difference is that most of the Palestinians had never engaged in fighting Israel," Trabulsi said. "They were used to fighting a civil war in Lebanon."

Hezbollah's resistance to penetration by Israeli intelligence was part of a culture of secrecy extreme even by the standards of underground guerrilla forces. The code fit with a tendency toward secrecy in the Shiite stream of Islam, called faqih . It also fit with a sense of solidarity against others that Lebanese Shiites have been imbued with since the beginning of their emergence as a political force in the mid-1970s, when their first organization was called the Movement of the Deprived.

One young Lebanese doctor learned that her brother had been a Hezbollah fighter for several years only when the movement notified her he had been killed, colleagues said. Similarly, a Lebanese man found out his brother was a senior Hezbollah militia officer only when informed of his death; the brother had cloaked occasional trips to Tehran by saying he was trying to start an import-export business.

Reporters who over the last month went to the bombed-out sections of southern Beirut suburbs where Hezbollah had its headquarters were approached within minutes by young men asking who they were and what they were doing there. Interviews with the people living there, most of whom were ardent Hezbollah supporters, were not allowed, the young men said. Around the battlefields of south Lebanon, however, the militia was busy fighting Israeli troops and hiding from airstrikes.

Reporters were free to move as much as they dared, since they, too, feared being hit by Israeli jets.

Even the movement's political leadership was kept in the dark about many military and intelligence activities, Trabulsi noted. Ghaleb Abu-Zeinab, a member of Hezbollah's political bureau, said in an interview, for instance, that he was not informed about operations on "the field," Hezbollah shorthand for the villages and hillsides across southern Lebanon where the battle raged.

"They have a military and intelligence organization totally separated from the political organization," Trabulsi said.

A dramatic example of the secrecy and careful preparations for conflict with Israel was Hezbollah's al-Manar television. The station has kept broadcasting its mix of news and propaganda from hidden studios throughout the fighting, despite repeated Israeli airstrikes against relay towers and antennas across the country. Lebanese said some of the broadcasts seemed to include coded messages to Hezbollah fighters in southern Lebanon. But as with most things about Hezbollah, they were not really sure.

Nasrallah, the Hezbollah leader, used al-Manar to make a number of speeches rallying his followers and explaining his strategy. With his cleric's turban and student's mien, appearing on the screen in pre-taped broadcasts, he was perhaps the biggest secret of all, hunted by Israeli warplanes and hiding in a location about which Lebanese could only guess.

Moore reported from Jerusalem. Correspondent Jonathan Finer in Gosherim contributed to this report.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company
Also see Wikipedia's entry on Hezbollah, here for background, history, and policies of the party.


"IN THE PARTY OF GOD," by Jeff Goldberg, New Yorker: 2002

Watching Lebanon,
by Seymour M. Hersh
Washington’s interests in Israel’s war.
From the Issue of 2006-08-21 and Posted 2006-08-14

The Battle for Lebanon,
by Jon Lee Anderson
Has Israel’s assault weakened Hezbollah—or made it stronger?
From the Issue of 2006-08-07 and Posted 2006-07-31

Are terrorists in Lebanon preparing for a larger war?
Issue of 2002-10-14 and 21
Posted 2002-10-07
src="http://graphics10.nytimes.com/images/2006/08/06/world/07hezbollah.xlarge1.jpg" alt="Example" />

The village of Ras al-Ein, which is situated in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon, falls under the overlapping control of the Syrian Army, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, and the Shiite terrorist group Hezbollah, or Party of God. The village is seedy and brown, and is decorated with posters of martyrs and potentates—Ayatollah Khomeini is especially popular—and with billboards that celebrate bloodshed and sacrifice.

I visited Ras al-Ein this summer to interview the leader of a Hezbollah faction, a man named Hussayn al-Mussawi, who, twenty years ago, was involved in kidnapping Americans. Many of those kidnapped were held in Ras al-Ein; they were kept blindfolded, and chained to beds and radiators. It is thought that Ras al-Ein is where William Buckley, the Beirut station chief of the Central Intelligence Agency, was held for a time before he was killed by Hezbollah, in 1985.

When I arrived, it was midday; the air was still and the heat smothering, and the streets were mostly empty. A man was selling ice cream in a park at the center of town. Slides and swing sets, their paint peeling, dot the park; in the middle is a pond covered by a skin of algae. Several women and children were there. The women wore gray chadors, and their heads were covered by scarves, pinned high and tight under the left ear, so that no strand of hair could escape.

Like the rest of the town, the park was crowded with ferocious Hezbollah art. One poster showed an American flag whose field of stars had been replaced by a single Star of David. Another portrayed the Dome of the Rock, the Muslim shrine in Jerusalem, cupped in the bony hand of a figure with a grotesquely hooked nose. A third poster, extolling the bravery of Shiite martyrs, showed a Muslim fighter standing on a pile of dead soldiers whose uniforms were marked with Stars of David. The yellow flag of Hezbollah could be seen everywhere; across the top is a quotation from the Koran, from which Hezbollah took its name—"Verily the party of God shall be victorious"—and at the center is an AK-47 in silhouette, in the hand of the Shiite martyr Husayn, a cousin of the Prophet Muhammad. In the background is a depiction of the globe, suggesting Hezbollah's role in the worldwide umma, or community of Muslims. Along the bottom of the Hezbollah flag is written "The Islamic Revolution in Lebanon." I did not see the red-green-and-white flag of Lebanon anywhere in Ras al-Ein.

I had taken a taxi from Ashrafieh, the prosperous Christian neighborhood in Beirut, to Ras al-Ein, a two-hour trip over potholed roads and through a modest number of roadblocks. The soft Mediterranean air soon gave way to the dry-bones heat of the Bekaa. The taxi-driver, an elderly Christian, had been hesitant about the trip (Lebanon's Christian minority is fearful of Shiite gunmen), but he smoothly negotiated the passage through two Syrian Army checkpoints. At one, a sergeant of about thirty, who carried a side arm and wore a round helmet covered in black mesh, inspected my American passport, handed it back to me, and said, enigmatically, "Osama bin Laden."

We had by then reached the outskirts of Baalbek, the main Bekaa town. Baalbek is famous for three well-preserved Roman temples, of Jupiter, Venus, and Bacchus. (A statue of Hafez al-Assad, the late dictator of Syria and the father of the current dictator, stands at the entrance to the town.) The temples, which are enormous—the two main temples are larger than the Parthenon—are the site of an annual international cultural festival that draws the élite of Beirut, and Lebanese officials like to point to it as proof of Lebanon's normalcy. This year, the festival featured a performance of Michael Flatley's "Lord of the Dance." Ras al-Ein is a couple of miles from the temples, and we soon arrived at the Nawras Restaurant, next to the park, where I was to meet Mussawi. I sat at a table outside, with a view of the street. Two men nearby were smoking hookahs. I ordered a Pepsi and waited.

Shiism arose as a protest movement, whose followers believed that Islam should be ruled by descendants of the Prophet Muhammad's cousin Ali, and not by the caliphs who seized control after the Prophet's death. The roots of Shiite anger lie in the martyrdom of Ali's son Husayn, who died in battle against the Caliph Yezid in what is today southern Iraq. (I have heard both Shiites from southern Iraq and Iranian Shiites refer to their enemy Saddam Hussein as a modern-day Yezid.) At times, Shiism has been a quietist movement; Shiites built houses of mourn-ing and study, called Husaynias, where they recalled the glory of Husayn's martyrdom.

In Lebanon in the nineteen-sixties, the Shiites began to be drawn to the outside world. Some joined revolutionary Palestinian movements; others fell into the orbit of a populist cleric, Musa Sadr, who founded a group called the Movement of the Deprived and, later, the Shiite Amal militia. Hezbollah was formed, in 1982, by a group of young, dispossessed Shiites who coalesced around a cleric and poet named Muhammad Hussayn Fadlallah. They were impelled by a number of disparate forces, including the oppression of their community in Lebanon by the country's Sunni and Christian élites, and the rapture they felt in 1979 as Iran came under the power of "pure" Islam. A crucial event, though, was Israel's invasion of Lebanon in June of 1982.

Fatah, which is part of the Palestine Liberation Organization, had been firing Katyusha rockets into northern Israel from Lebanon, where it had its main base, and Prime Minister Menachem Begin, on the advice of his defense minister, Ariel Sharon, ordered Israeli forces into Lebanon. The stated purpose was to conquer what had come to be known as Fatahland, the strip of South Lebanon under Yasir Arafat's control, and to evict the P.L.O.'s forces. Sharon, though, had grander designs: to secure a friendly Christian government in Beirut and to destroy the P.L.O. It was not so much the invasion that inspired the Shiites, who were happy to see the South free of Arafat and Fatah. The Shiites took up arms when they realized that Sharon, like Arafat, had no intention of leaving Lebanon.

Hezbollah, with bases in the Bekaa and in Beirut's southern suburbs, quickly became the most successful terrorist organization in modern history. It has served as a role model for terror groups around the world; Magnus Ranstorp, the director of the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence, at the University of St. Andrews, in Scotland, says that Al Qaeda learned the value of choreographed violence from Hezbollah. The organization virtually invented the multipronged terror attack when, early on the morning of October 23, 1983, it synchronized the suicide bombings, in Beirut, of the United States Marine barracks and an apartment building housing a contingent of French peacekeepers. Those attacks occurred just twenty seconds apart; a third part of the plan, to destroy the compound of the Italian peacekeeping contingent, is said to have been jettisoned when the planners learned that the Italians were sleeping in tents, not in a high-rise building.

Until September 11th of last year, Hezbollah had murdered more Americans than any other terrorist group—two hundred and forty-one in the Marine-barracks attack alone. Through terror tactics, Hezbollah forced the American and French governments to withdraw their peacekeeping forces from Lebanon. And, two years ago, it became the first military force, guerrilla or otherwise, to drive Israel out of Arab territory when Prime Minister Ehud Barak withdrew his forces from South Lebanon.

Using various names, including the Islamic Jihad Organization and the Organization of the Oppressed on Earth, Hezbollah remained underground until 1985, when it published a manifesto condemning the West, and proclaiming, "Every one of us is a fighting soldier when a call for jihad arises and each one of us carries out his mission in battle on the basis of his legal obligations. For Allah is behind us supporting and protecting us while instilling fear in the hearts of our enemies."

Another phase began in earnest in 1991, when, at the close of Lebanon's sixteen-year civil war, the country's many militias agreed to disarm. Nominally, Lebanon is governed from Beirut by an administration whose senior portfolios have been carefully divided among the country's various religious factions—Maronite and Greek Orthodox Christians, Sunnis and Shiites and Druze. But in fact Lebanon is under the control of Syria; and the Syrians, with encouragement from Iran, have allowed Hezbollah to maintain its arsenal, and even to expand it, in the interest of fighting Israel as Syria's proxy. The Syrians also allowed Hezbollah to control the Shiite ghettos of southern Beirut, much of the Bekaa Valley, and most of South Lebanon, along the border with Israel.

Hezbollah's current leader, Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah, is as important a figure in Lebanon as the country's ruling politicians and the Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad. Hezbollah officials run for office in Lebanon and win—the group now holds eleven seats in the hundred-and-twenty-eight-seat Lebanese parliament. But within Hezbollah there is little pretense of fealty to the President of Lebanon, Émile Lahoud, who is a Christian, and certainly none to the Prime Minister, Rafiq Hariri, who is a Sunni Muslim. The only portraits one sees in Hezbollah offices are of Khomeini and of Ayatollah Khamenei, the current ruler of Iran.

Hezbollah has an annual budget of more than a hundred million dollars, which is supplied by the Iranian government directly and by a complex system of finance cells scattered around the world, from Bangkok and Paraguay to Michigan and North Carolina. Like Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah operates successfully in public spheres that are closed off to most terrorist groups. It runs a vast and effective social-services network. It publishes newspapers and magazines and owns a satellite television station that is said to be watched by ten million people a day in the Middle East and Europe. The station, called Al Manar, or the Lighthouse, broadcasts anti-American programming, but its main purpose is to encourage Palestinians to become suicide bombers.

Along with this public work, Hez bollah continues to increase its terrorist and guerrilla capabilities. Magnus Ranstorp says that Hezbollah can be active on four tracks simultaneously—the political, the social, the guerrilla, and the terrorist—because its leaders are "masters of long-term strategic subversion." The organization's Special Security Apparatus operates in Europe, North and South America, and East Asia. According to both American and Israeli intelligence officials, the group maintains floating "day camps" for terrorist training throughout the Bekaa Valley; many of the camps are said to be just outside Baalbek. In some of them, the instructors are supplied by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and Iran's Ministry of Intelligence. In the past twenty years, terrorists from such disparate organizations as the Basque separatist group ETA, the Red Brigades, the Kurdistan Workers' Party, and the Irish Republican Army have been trained in these camps.

A main focus today appears to be the training of specifically anti-Israel militants in the science of constructing so-called "mega-bombs," devices that can bring down office towers and other large structures. The explosion of a mega-bomb is the sort of event that could lead to a major Middle East war. In fact, such attacks have been tried: in April, a plot to bomb the Azrieli Towers, two of Tel Aviv's tallest buildings, was foiled by Israeli security services; in May, a bomb exploded beneath a tanker truck at a fuel depot near Tel Aviv, but did not set off a larger explosion, as planned. Had these operations been successful, hundreds, if not thousands, of Israelis would have died. Salah Shehada, a Hamas leader in Gaza, is said by Israel to have been planning a coördinated attack on five buildings in Tel Aviv. (In July, an Israeli warplane dropped a one-ton bomb on the building where Shehada lived; he was killed, along with at least fourteen others, including nine children.)

Gal Luft, an Israeli reserve lieutenant colonel and an expert on counterterrorism, told me that Hezbollah's role in these plans is unknown. "Hezbollah has experience with bulk explosives," Luft said. "You can make the case that the Hezbollah provides inspiration and advice and technical support, but I wouldn't rule out its own cells trying this." Luft said that it is only a matter of time before a "mega-attack" succeeds.

Hezbollah agents have infiltrated the West Bank and Gaza, and Arab communities inside Israel, helping Hamas and Islamic Jihad and attempting to set up their own cells; many Palestinians revere Hezbollah for achieving in South Lebanon what the Palestinians have failed to achieve in the occupied territories. In the past year, Hezbollah has also been stockpiling rockets for potential use against Israel. These rockets, most of which are from Iran, are said to be moved by truck from Syria, through the Bekaa Valley, and then on to Hezbollah forces in South Lebanon.

Hezbollah has not been suspected of overt anti-American actions since 1996, when the Khobar Towers, in Saudi Arabia, were attacked, but, according to intelligence officials, its operatives, with the help and cover of Iranian diplomats, have been making surveillance tapes of American diplomatic installations in South America, Southeast Asia, and Europe. These tapes, along with maps and other tools, are said to be kept in well-organized clandestine libraries.

In recent days, top American officials have suggested that Hezbollah—and its state sponsors—may soon find themselves targeted in the Bush Administration's war on terror. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage recently called Hezbollah the "A-team" of terrorism and Al Qaeda the "B-team." The C.I.A. has lost at least seven officers to Hezbollah terrorism, including William Buckley. Sam Wyman, a retired C.I.A. official, who recommended Buckley for the job in Beirut, told me that "those who work the terrorism problem writ large, and those who are working the Hezbollah problem writ small, know that this is an account that has not been closed." The chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, Bob Graham, of Florida, says he wants the Administration's war on terrorism to focus not on Iraq but on Hezbollah, its Bekaa Valley camps, and its state sponsors in Iran and Syria. "We should tell the Syrians that we expect them to shut down the Bekaa Valley camps within x number of days, and, if they don't, we are reserving the right to shut them down ourselves," Graham said last month.

After drinking a third Pepsi, I watched a Land Cruiser pull up to the restaurant and deliver a stiff and unhappy-looking man with a well-kept beard. The man sat down silently across from me. Three men, one of whom wore a leather jacket, despite the terrific heat, stood quietly by the Land Cruiser.

The bearded man was not Hussayn al-Mussawi, whom I had hoped to meet. He said that his name was Muhammad, that he was an aide to Mussawi, and that he had been sent to assess my intentions. I was here, I said, to examine the claim that Hezbollah had transformed itself into a mainstream Lebanese political party.

I said that I also wanted to gauge the group's feelings about America, and look for any sign that its implacable opposition to the existence of Israel had changed.

"Are you going to ask about past events?" Muhammad asked. I indicated that I would.

When he pressed me further, I admitted that I was curious about one person in particular, a Hezbollah security operative named Imad Mugniyah. Mugniyah, who began his career in the nineteen-seventies in Arafat's bodyguard unit, is the man whom the United States holds responsible for most of Hezbollah's anti-American attacks, including the Marine-barracks bombing and the 1985 hijacking of a T.W.A. flight, during which a U.S. Navy diver was executed. He is also suspected of involvement in the attack on the Khobar Towers, in which nineteen American servicemen were killed.

Last year, the U.S. government placed Mugniyah on the list of its twenty-two most wanted terrorists, along with two of his colleagues, Ali Atwa and Hassan Izz-al-Din. (Atwa and Izz-al-Din are wanted specifically in connection with the hijacking of the T.W.A. flight in 1985.) The very mention of Mugniyah's name is a sensitive issue in Lebanon and Syria, which have refused to carry out repeated American requests—one was delivered recently by Senator Graham—to shut down Hezbollah's security apparatus, and assist in the capture of Mugniyah. Lebanon's Prime Minister Hariri became agitated when, in a conversation this summer, I asked why his government has refused to help find Mugniyah and his accomplices. "They're not here! They're not here!" Hariri said. "I've told the Americans a hundred times, they're not here!"

Seated in the Nawras Restaurant in Ras al-Ein, across from a man who called himself Muhammad, I said yes, Imad Mugniyah would figure in my story. At that, Muhammad rose, looked at me dismissively, and left the restaurant without a word.


The chief spokesman for Hezbollah is a narrow-shouldered, self-contained man of about forty named Hassan Ezzeddin, who dresses in the style of an Iranian diplomat: trim beard, dark jacket, white shirt, no tie. His office is on a low floor of an apartment building in the southern suburbs of Beirut, which are called the Dahiya. Hezbollah has five main offices there, and all are in apartment buildings, which helps to create a shield between the bureaucracy and Israeli fighter jets and bombers that periodically fly overhead. The shabby offices are sparsely furnished; apparently, the idea is to be able to dismantle them in half an hour or less, in case of an Israeli attack.

The eight members of Hezbollah's ruling council are said to meet in the Dahiya once a week. Lebanese police officers are stationed at a handful of intersections, but they don't stray from their posts. The buildings housing Hezbollah's offices are protected by gunmen dressed in black, and plainclothes Hezbollah agents patrol the streets. Once, while walking to an appointment, I took out a disposable camera and began to take pictures of posters celebrating the deaths of Hezbollah "martyrs." Within thirty seconds, two Hezbollah men confronted me. They ordered me to put my camera away and then followed me to my meeting.

The Shiite stronghold in the southern suburbs of the city is only a twenty-minute drive from the Virgin Mega-store in downtown Beirut, but it might as well be part of Tehran. Ayatollah Khomeini and Ayatollah Khamenei stare down from the walls, and the Western fashions ubiquitous in East Beirut are forbidden; many women wear the full chador. The suburbs are the most densely packed of Beirut's neighborhoods, with seven- and eight-story apartment buildings, many of them jerry-built, jammed against one another along congested streets and narrow alleys. The main businesses in the Dahiya are believed to be chop shops, where stolen automobiles and computers are taken apart and sold.

I was introduced to Ezzeddin by Hussain Naboulsi, and he translated our conversation. Naboulsi is in charge of Hezbollah's Web site. He spent some time in America, and incorporates American slang unself-consciously into his speech. He is young and gregarious, but he grew evasive when the subject of his background came up. "We lived in Brooklyn, and I was going to go to the University of Texas, but then we moved to Canada. . . ." He trailed off.

Ezzeddin said that anti-Americanism is no longer the focus of his party's actions. Hezbollah, he said, holds no brief against the American people; it is opposed only to the policies of the American government, principally its "unlimited" support for Israel. Like all Hezbollah's public figures, Ezzeddin is proud of the victory over Israel in South Lebanon, two years ago, and he spoke at length about the reasons for Hezbollah's success. He quoted a statement of Hezbollah's leader, Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah, made shortly after the Israeli withdrawal: "I tell you: this 'Israel' that owns nuclear weapons and the strongest air force in this region is more fragile than a spiderweb." Ezzeddin explained that Ehud Barak pulled out his troops because the soldiers—and their mothers—feared death. This isn't true for Muslims, he said. "Life doesn't end when you die. To us, there is real life after death. Reaching the afterlife is the goal of life. Once you have in mind the goal of dying, you stop fearing the Jews."

After Israel withdrew from south ern Lebanon, many experts on the Middle East assumed that Hezbollah would focus on social services and on domestic politics, in order to bring about a peaceful transformation of Lebanon into an Islamic republic. Even before the Israeli pullout, a leading scholar of Hezbollah, Augustus Richard Norton, of Boston University, wrote a paper entitled "Hezbollah: From Radicalism to Pragmatism?" In his paper, Norton said that in discussions with Hezbollah officials he had got the impression that the group "has no appetite to launch a military campaign across the Israeli border, should Israel withdraw from the South."

But Hezbollah is, at its core, a jihadist organization, and its leaders have never tried to disguise their ultimate goal: building an Islamic republic in Lebanon and liberating Jerusalem from the Jews. Immediately after the withdrawal, Hezbollah announced that Israel was still occupying a tiny slice of Lebanese land called Shebaa Farms. The United Nations ruled that Shebaa Farms was not part of Lebanon but belonged to the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, and thus was a matter for Israeli-Syrian negotiations. Hezbollah disagreed, and, with Syria's acquiescence, has continued to launch frequent attacks on Israeli outposts in Shebaa.

Ezzeddin seemed to concede that the Hezbollah campaign to rid Shebaa of Israeli troops is a pretext for something larger. "If they go from Shebaa, we will not stop fighting them," he told me. "Our goal is to liberate the 1948 borders of Palestine," he added, referring to the year of Israel's founding. The Jews who survive this war of liberation, Ezzeddin said, "can go back to Germany, or wherever they came from." He added, however, that the Jews who lived in Palestine before 1948 will be "allowed to live as a minority and they will be cared for by the Muslim majority." Sayyid Nasrallah himself told a conference held in Tehran last year that "we all have an extraordinary historic opportunity to finish off the entire cancerous Zionist project."

The balance of forces on Israel's northern border suggests that Hezbollah's ambitions are unrealizable. Its fighters number in the low thousands, at most; the Israeli Air Force is among the most powerful in the world. But the pullout from Lebanon heightened Hezbollah's self-regard, its contempt for Jews, and its desire for total victory. "Everyone told us, 'You're crazy, what are you doing, you can't defeat Israel,' " Ezzeddin said. "But we have shown that the Jews are not invincible. We dealt the Jews a serious blow, and we will continue to deal the Jews serious blows."

The withdrawal of Israeli forces from southern Lebanon, after eighteen years, closed a disastrous chapter in Israeli military history. The conflict destroyed the government of Menachem Begin, and Begin himself; he lived out his final days as a recluse. An Israeli commission held Ariel Sharon, his defense minister, "indirectly responsible" for the massacre by pro-Israeli Christian militiamen of approximately eight hundred Palestinians at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps, in Beirut, in 1982. The Lebanon invasion seemed to have ended Sharon's career. By the time the troops left, more than nine hundred Israeli soldiers had been killed in Lebanon. The withdrawal was badly managed and chaotic. The Army abandoned equipment, and also deserted its Christian allies, a militia called the South Lebanon Army.

In one of the Israeli Army's final acts, sappers tried to bring down the twelfth-century Beaufort Castle, a fortress that sits high over the upper Galilee. The castle had served as a platform for P.L.O. rocket attacks on Israeli towns and farms before Sharon's invasion, and, in the final days of the occupation, the Army was hoping to deny the Palestinians the shelter of its battlements. The Israelis succeeded only in part. The walls did not crumble, and the Hezbollah flag now flies from the highest tower.

I visited Beaufort on a brilliantly hot day this summer, and the only people around were a handful of Hezbollah fighters, a group of Beirutis on a day-long excursion through the South, and two Iranian tourists, with cheap cameras hanging from their necks. One of the Hezbollah guerrillas, a pimply man in his early twenties named Na'im, showed me around. We picked our way across half-collapsed battlements, among thorn bushes and patches of purple and yellow wildflowers, to the remains of the outer rampart, which overlooks a steep drop to the floor of the Litani River valley. Na'im wore bluejeans and a redand-green plaid shirt. He carried a rifle, which he used as a walking stick. He told me that the castle dated back to the Islamic conquest of the Holy Land. In fact, Beaufort was built by the Crusaders, but in Na'im's version the castle began as a Muslim fortress. "Saladin used this to defeat the Crusaders," he said, in a rehearsed manner. "Hezbollah will use it to defeat the Jews."

From where we stood, we had a clear view into the Israeli town of Metulla, with its red-roofed, whitewashed houses, small hotels, and orchards. "The Jews are sons of pigs and apes," Na'im said. We walked down the crumbling rampart, past a dry cistern, and up a ridge to the high tower, where the Hezbollah flag waved in the wind.

From Beaufort, I headed to the village of Kfar Kila, and the border, where the Fatima Gate is situated. During the occupation, Israel called it the Good Fence; it was the entrance to Metulla for Lebanese workers. The Good Fence has been sealed, and is now famous as the place where Palestinians and Lebanese throw rocks at Israeli soldiers.

I saw, on my drive down, the digging of what appeared to be anti-tank trenches, but, though the South may be a future battlefield, it is also a museum of past glory. Of the four or five main Islamic fundamentalist terror organizations in the Middle East, Hezbollah has by far the most sophisticated public-relations operation, and it has turned the South into an open-air celebration of its success against Israel. The experience of driving there is similar in some ways to driving through Gettysburg, or Antietam; roadside signs and billboards describe in great detail the battles and unit formations associated with a particular place. One multicolored sign, in both Arabic and English, reads:

On Oct. 19, 1988 at1:25 p.m. a martyr car that was body trapped with 500 kilogram of highly exploding materials transformed two Israeli troops into masses of fire and limbs, in one of the severe kicks that the Israeli army had received in Lebanon.

Most of the signs place the word "Israel" in quotation marks, to underscore the country's illegitimacy, and every sign includes a fact box: the number of "Israelis" killed and wounded at the location, and the "Date of Ignominious Departure" of "Israeli" forces. The historical markers also carry quotations from Israeli leaders praising the fighting abilities of Hezbollah's martyrs. One sign reads, "Zionists comments: 'Hezbollah's secret weapon is their self-innovation and their ability to produce bombs that are simple but effective.' " The attribution beneath the quote is "Former 'Israeli' Prime Minister Ihud Barak."

According to Israeli security sources, the Israelis have never been able to infiltrate Hezbollah as they have the P.L.O. One intelligence official told me that Hezbollah leaders have so far been immune to the three inducements that often lure Palestinians to the Israeli side. In Hebrew, they are called the three "K"s: kesef, or money; kavod, respect; and kussit, a crude sexual term for a woman.

The centerpiece of Hezbollah's propaganda effort in the South is the former Al-Khiam prison, a rambling stone-and-concrete complex of interconnected buildings, a few miles from the border, where I stopped on the way to Kfar Kila. For fifteen years, the prison was run by Israel's proxy force in Lebanon, the South Lebanon Army, with the assistance of the Shabak, the Israeli equivalent of the F.B.I. Prisoners in Al-Khiam—which held almost two hundred at any given time—were allegedly subjected to electric-shock torture and a variety of deprivations. The jail has been preserved just as it was on the day the Israelis left. There are still Israeli Army-issue sleeping bags in the cells. Hezbollah has added a gift shop, which sells Hezbollah key chains and flags and cassettes of martial Hezbollah music; a cafeteria; and signs on the walls of various rooms that describe, in Hezbollah's terms, the use of the rooms. "A Room for Investigation and Torturing by Electricity," reads one. "A Room for the Boss of Whippers." "A Room for Investigation with the Help of the Traitors." And "The Hall of Torturing-Burying-Kicking-Beating-Applying Electricity-Pouring Hot Water-Placing a Dog Beside." A busload of tourists, residents of a Palestinian refugee camp outside Beirut, were clearly in awe of the place, treating the cells as if they were reliquaries and congratulating the Hezbollah employees.

Like me, the tourists were headed for the border at Kfar Kila, where one can walk right up to the electrified fence, and where Israeli cameras feed real-time pictures to a series of fortified observation stations just south of the line. An Israeli bunker sits about fifty feet in from the fence—one man told me that the Israeli soldiers never show their faces—and the Palestinians took turns taking pictures and yelling curses. I drove a short distance to a Hezbollah position that faces a massive concrete Israeli fortress called Tziporen. The tour bus, headed for the same place, stopped on the way at an overlook, and the Palestinians got out. On the Israeli side, on a track that ran parallel to the Lebanese road, was a Humvee and three Israeli soldiers. They were protecting a group of workers who were repairing a section of the road. The Israelis were no more than forty feet away, on the lower part of the slope. The experience for the Palestinians—and for a group of Kuwaitis who arrived by car—was something like a grizzly sighting in a national park. "Yahud!" one Kuwaiti said, dumbfounded. "Jews!" His friends produced video cameras and began filming. The Israeli soldiers waved; the Arabs did not. A few began cursing the soldiers and, once it was decided that the workers were Israeli Arabs, cursed them, too. "Ana bidi'ani kak!" one Palestinian yelled at the soldiers—"I want to fuck you up." "Jasus"—"spy"—another called out. An argument broke out on the ridge, and the Palestinians decided that it was not right to curse the Arab workers, who were only earning a living in oppressive circumstances. Apologies were offered, and what was by now a cavalcade moved forward, to the Hezbollah position opposite the Israeli fortress.

Tziporen, the fortress, overlooks the mausoleum of a Jewish sage named Rav Ashi, who was the redactor of the Babylonian Talmud, and who died in 427. The modest mausoleum sits half in Lebanon and half in Israel. Barbed wire runs atop it, and, with the help of a southerly breeze, the Hezbollah flag planted on the Lebanese side of the mausoleum flapped into Israel. The fighters at the Hezbollah position warned us not to get too close to the fence; the Israelis might fire. Rock throwing from a comfortable distance was encouraged, and the Palestinians aimed for the roof of the fort. On weekends, when the crowds are thicker, villagers drive in tractors full of rocks to supply the tourists.

Because it was too risky to approach the fence, it was impossible to read a large billboard planted three feet north of the line. It faced south into Israel, carrying what was obviously a message for the Israelis alone. The border is, of course, sealed, so it was a month before I got a clear look at the billboard. It read, in Hebrew, "Sharon—Don't Forget Your Soldiers Are Still in Lebanon." The message was written under a photograph of a Hezbollah guerrilla holding, by the hair, the severed head of an Israeli commando.


The true propaganda engine of Hezbollah is the Al Manar satellite television station. Unlike most of Hezbollah's public offices, the studios of Al Manar are not shoddily built or cheaply decorated. The station's five-story headquarters building in the Dahiya, at the end of a short side street, is surrounded by taller apartment buildings. Guards carrying rifles patrol its perimeter, but, inside, Al Manar has a corporate atmosphere. The lobby is glass and marble, and behind the reception desk a pleasant young man answers the telephone. He sits beneath a portrait of Abbas al-Mussawi, the previous Hezbollah leader, who was assassinated ten years ago by Israel. At the reception desk, women whose dress is deemed immodest can borrow a chador.

Al Manar's news director is Hassan Fadlallah, who is in his early thirties and is a member of the same clan as Muhammad Hussayn Fadlallah, the Hezbollah spiritual leader. Fadlallah, a studious-looking man who had several days' stubble on his face, is working on a Ph.D. in education. He apologized for his poor English. A waiter brought us orange juice and tea.

I began by asking him to compare Al Manar and the most famous Arabic satellite channel, Al Jazeera. "Neutrality like that of Al Jazeera is out of the question for us," Fadlallah said. "We cover only the victim, not the aggressor. CNN is the Zionist news network, Al Jazeera is neutral, and Al Manar takes the side of the Palestinians."

Fadlallah paused for a moment, and said he would like to amend his comment on CNN. "We were very happy with Ted Turner," he said. "We were so happy that he was getting closer to the truth." He was referring to recent comments by Turner, the founder of CNN, who talked about suicide bombers and the Israeli Army and then said, "So who are the terrorists? I would make a case that both sides are involved in terrorism." Turner was criticized harshly in the American press and by supporters of Israel, and later said that he regretted "any implication that I believe the actions taken by Israel to protect its people are equal to terrorism." Fadlallah claimed that Turner revised his statement because "the Jews threatened his life." He said Al Manar's opposition to neutrality means that, unlike Al Jazeera, his station would never feature interviews or comments by Israeli officials. "We're not looking to interview Sharon," Fadlallah said. "We want to get close to him in order to kill him."

Al Manar would not rule out broadcasting comments from non-Israeli Jews. "There would be one or two we would put on our shows. For example, we would like to have Noam Chomsky." Fadlallah suggested, half jokingly, that I appear on a question-and-answer show. (Later, another Al Manar official suggested that I answer questions about what he termed "the true meaning of the Talmud.")

Fadlallah said that one of Al Manar's goals is to set in context the role of Jews in world affairs. Anti-Semitism, he said, was banned from the station, but he was considering a program on "scholars who dissent on the issue of the Holocaust," which would include the work of the French Holocaust denier Roger Garaudy. "There are contradictions," Fadlallah said. "Many Europeans believe that the Holocaust was a myth invented so that the Jews could get compensation. Everyone knows how the Jews punish people who seek the truth about the Holocaust."

It would be a mistake, Fadlallah went on, to focus solely on Al Manar's antiIsrael programs. "We have news programming, kids' shows, game shows, political news, and culture." At the same time, he said, Al Manar is "trying to keep the people in the mood of suffering," and most of the station's daily schedule, including its game shows and children's programming, tends to center on Israel. A program called "The Spider's House" explores what Hezbollah sees as Israel's weaknesses; "In Spite of the Wounds" portrays as heroes men who were wounded fighting Israel in South Lebanon. On a game show entitled "The Viewer Is the Witness," contestants guess the names of prominent Israeli politicians and military figures, who are played by Lebanese actors. Al Manar also has a weekly program called "Terrorists."

Avi Jorisch, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a pro-Israel think tank, who is writing a book about Al Manar, has visited the station and watched several hundred hours of its programming. The show "Terrorists," he told me, airs vintage footage of what it terms "Zionist crimes," which include, by Hezbollah's definition, any Israeli action, offensive or defensive. According to Jorisch, Al Manar, with its estimated ten million viewers, is not as popular in the Arab world as Al Jazeera, although he noted that Arab viewership is not audited. He said that his Lebanese sources credit Al Manar as the second most popular station among Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. (Al Manar can be received in the United States via satellite.)

Al Manar regularly airs raw footage of violence in the occupied territories, and it will break into its programming with what one Al Manar official called "patriotic music videos" to announce Palestinian attacks and applaud the killing of Israelis. When I visited the station, the videos were being produced in a basement editing room by a young man named Firas Mansour. Al Manar has modern equipment, and the day I was there Mansour, who was in charge of mixing the videos, was working on a Windows-based editing suite. Mansour is in his late twenties, and he was dressed in hip-hop style. His hair was gelled, and he wore a gold chain, a heavy silver bracelet, and a goatee. He spoke colloquial American English. I asked him where he learned it. "Boston," he said.

Mansour showed me some recent footage from the West Bank, of Israeli soldiers firing on Palestinians. Accompanying the video was a Hezbollah fighting song. "What I'm doing is synchronizing the gunshots to form the downbeat of the song," he told me. "This is my technique. I thought of it." He had come up with a title: "I'm going to call it 'Death to Israel.' " Mansour said that he can produce two or three videos on a good day. "What I do is, first, I try to feel the music. Then I find the pictures to go along with it." He pulled up another video, this one almost ready to air. "Try and see if you could figure out the theme of this one," he said.

The video began with Israeli soldiers firing on Palestinians. Then the screen filled with pictures of Palestinians carrying the wounded to ambulances, followed by an angry funeral scene. Suddenly, the scene shifted to Israelis under fire. An Israeli soldier was on the ground, rocking back and forth, next to a burning jeep; this was followed by scenes of Jewish funerals, with coffins draped in the Israeli flag being lowered into graves.

Mansour pressed a button, and the images disappeared from the screen. "The idea is that even if the Jews are killing us we can still kill them. That we derive our power from blood. It's saying, 'Get ready to blow yourselves up, because this is the only way to liberate Palestine.' '' The video, he said, would be shown after the next attack in Israel. He said he was thinking of calling it "We Will Kill All the Jews." I suggested that these videos would encourage the recruitment of suicide bombers among the Palestinians. "Exactly," he replied.

The anti-Semitism of the Middle East groups that oppose Israel's right to exist often seems instrumental—anti-Jewish stereotypes are another weapon in the anti-Israeli armamentarium. The rhetoric is repellent, but in the past it did not quite touch the malignancy of genocidal anti-Semitism. The language has changed, however. In April, in a sermon delivered in the Gaza Strip, Sheikh Ibrahim Madhi, a Palestinian Authority imam, said, "Oh, Allah, accept our martyrs in the highest Heaven. Oh, Allah, show the Jews a black day. Oh, Allah, annihilate the Jews and their supporters." (The translation was made by the Middle East Media Research Institute.) In Saudi Arabia, where anti-Semitism permeates the newspapers and the mosques, the imam of the Al Harram mosque in Mecca, Sheikh Abd al-Rahman alSudais, recently declared, "Read history and you will understand that the Jews of yesterday are the evil forefathers of the even more evil Jews of today: infidels, falsifiers of words, calf worshippers, prophet murderers, deniers of prophecies . . . the scum of the human race, accursed by Allah." Hezbollah has been at the vanguard of this shift toward frank anti-Semitism, and its leaders frequently resort to epidemiological metaphors in describing the role of Jews in world affairs. Ibrahim Mussawi, the urbane and scholarly-seeming director of English-language news at Al Manar, called Jews "a lesion on the forehead of history." A biochemist named Hussein Haj Hassan, a Hezbollah official who represents Baalbek in the Lebanese parliament, told me that he is not anti-Semitic, but he has noticed that the Jews are a pan-national group "that functions in a way that lets them act as parasites in the nations that have given them shelter."

The Middle East scholar Martin Kramer, a biographer of Sayyid Muhammad Fadlallah, told me that he has sensed a shift in hard-line Shiite thinking in the past twenty years. In the first burst of revolution in Iran, the United States was cast by Ayatollah Khomeini and his allies as the "Great Satan." Israel occupied the role of "Little Satan." This has been reversed, Kramer said. Today, Shiite authorities in Lebanon view America as one more tool of the Jews, who have achieved covert world domination. President Mohammad Khatami of Iran, who is often described as a reformer, last year called Israel "a parasite in the heart of the Muslim world."

There are bitter feelings, to be sure, about Israel's invasion of Lebanon, about Israel's treatment of Palestinians in the occupied territories, about the Israeli Air Force's not infrequent patrols in the skies over Beirut. But even some cosmopolitan Beirutis I met, Christians as well as Muslims, seemed surprisingly open to anti-Jewish propaganda—for instance, that the World Trade Center was destroyed by Jews.

A young Shiite scholar named Amal Saad-Ghorayeb has advanced what in Lebanon is a controversial argument: that Hezbollah is not merely anti-Israel but deeply, theologically anti-Jewish. Her new book, "Hezbollah: Politics & Religion," dissects the anti-Jewish roots of Hezbollah ideology. Hezbollah, she argues, believes that Jews, by the nature of Judaism, possess fatal character flaws.

I met Saad-Ghorayeb one afternoon in a café near the Lebanese American University, where she is an assistant professor. She was wearing an orange spaghetti-strap tank top, a knee-length skirt, and silver hoop earrings. She is thirty years old and married, and has a four-year-old daughter. Her father, Abdo Saad, is a prominent Shiite pollster; her mother is Christian.

Saad-Ghorayeb calls Israel "an aberration, a colonialist state that embraces its victimhood in order to displace another people." Yet her opposition to anti-Semitism seemed sincere, as when she described the anti-Jewish feeling that underlies Hezbollah's ideology. "There is a real antipathy to Jews as Jews," she said. "It is exacerbated by Zionism, but it existed before Zionism." She observed that Hezbollah, like many other Arab groups, is in the thrall of a belief system that she called "moral utilitarianism." Hezbollah, in other words, will find the religious justification for an act as long as the act is useful. "For the Arabs, the end often justifies the means, even if the means are dubious," she said. "If it works, it's moral."

In her book, she argues that Hezbollah's Koranic reading of Jewish history has led its leaders to believe that Jewish theology is evil. She criticizes the scholar Bernard Lewis for downplaying the depth of traditional Islamic antiJudaism, especially when compared with Christian anti-Semitism. "Lewis commits the . . . grave error of depicting traditional Islam as more tolerant of Jews . . . thereby implying that Zionism was the cause of Arab-Islamic anti-Semitism," she writes.

Saad-Ghorayeb is hesitant to label Hezbollah's outlook anti-Semitism, however. She prefers the term "antiJudaism," since in her terms anti-Semitism is a race-based hatred, while anti-Judaism is religion-based. Hezbollah, she says, tries to mask its antiJudaism for "public-relations reasons," but she argues that a study of its language, spoken and written, reveals an underlying truth. She quoted from a speech delivered by Hassan Nasrallah, in which he said, "If we searched the entire world for a person more cowardly, despicable, weak and feeble in psyche, mind, ideology and religion, we would not find anyone like the Jew. Notice, I do not say the Israeli." To Saad-Ghorayeb, this statement "provides moral justification and ideological justification for dehumanizing the Jews." In this view, she went on, "the Israeli Jew becomes a legitimate target for extermination. And it also legitimatizes attacks on non-Israeli Jews."

Larry Johnson, a former counterterrorism official in the Clinton State Department, once told me, "There's a fundamental view here of the Jew as subhuman. Hezbollah is the direct ideological heir of the Nazis." Saad-Ghorayeb disagrees. Nasrallah may skirt the line between racialist anti-Semitism and theological anti-Judaism, she said, but she argued that mainstream Hezbollah ideology provides the Jews with an obvious way to repair themselves in God's eyes: by converting to Islam.


One day near the end of my stay in Lebanon, I visited Sayyid Fadlallah, Hezbollah's spiritual leader, at his home in the Dahiya. Fadlallah, who is sixty-seven, is a surpassingly important figure in Shiism, inside and outside Lebanon. As many as twenty thousand people pray with him each Friday at a cavernous mosque near his home. He is a squat man with a white beard, and wears the black turban of the sayyid, a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad. Fadlallah has long denied any official role in Hezbollah. Some experts take him at his word; others believe that he is dissembling. However, intellectually Fadlallah has taken an independent course, and people close to him told me that he privately scorns Hezbollah's most important patron, Ayatollah Khamenei, as a mediocre thinker and cleric.

Several attempts have been made to assassinate Fadlallah. He believes that the C.I.A., working with Saudi Arabia, tried to kill him by setting off a bomb near his apartment building in 1985, an event cited in Bob Woodward's book "Veil: The Secret Wars of the C.I.A. 1981-1987," which, Fadlallah told me, he has read carefully and repeatedly. His offices are well guarded by men who have apparently been assigned to him by Hezbollah. My briefcase was taken from me for ten minutes and thoroughly searched by the guards. A man carrying a pistol sat in on our interview, along with three translators: Fadlallah's; mine (a Christian woman from East Beirut, who had been required to wear a chador for the occasion); and Abdo Saad, Amal Saad-Ghorayeb's father, who had arranged the interview.

Fadlallah entered the meeting room slowly and deliberately. He sat in a plush chair, the rest of us on couches near him. The room was lit with fluorescent light; as always, a picture of Khomeini stared down from the wall.

Fadlallah framed the core issues in political, not religious, terms. "The Israelis believe that after three thousand years they came back to Palestine," he said. "But can the American Indian come back to America after all this time? Can the Celts go back to Britain?" He said that he has no objection to Jewish statehood, but not at the expense of Palestinians. "The problem between Muslims and Jews has to do with security issues."

Like many Muslim clerics, he holds romantic, condescending, and contradictory views of the historic relationship between Jews and Muslims. He is aware that for hundreds of years, while Jews were persecuted and ostracized in Christian Europe, they were granted the status of protected inferiors by the caliphs, and subjected only to infrequent pogroms. Yet, despite his assertion that the dispute between Jews and Muslims was political, he made the theological observation that the Jews "never recognized Islam as a true religion." I asked him if he agreed with this passage from the Koran: "Strongest among men in enmity to the believers wilt thou find the Jews and Pagans." Yes, he said. "The Jews don't consider Islam to be a religion."

I tried to turn the conversation to Islamic beliefs—in particular, the rationale for suicide attacks. In the early nineteen-eighties, Fadlallah was accused of blessing the suicide bomber who destroyed the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983, a charge that he heatedly denied to me. He pointed out that he was among the first Islamic clerics to condemn the September 11th attacks, though he blamed American foreign policy for creating the atmosphere that led to them. He has, however, endorsed attacks on Israeli civilians. Suicide, he said, is not an absolute value. It is an option left to a people who are without options, and so the act is no longer considered suicide but martyrdom in the name of self-defense. "This is part of the logic of war," he said.

On the killing of Israeli civilians, Fadlallah said, "In a state of war, it is permissible for Palestinians to kill Jews. When there is peace, this is not permissible." He does not believe in a peaceful settlement between two states, one Palestinian, the other Israeli; rather, he favors the disappearance of Israel.

I thought about Saad-Ghorayeb's argument that many in Hezbollah consider all Jews guilty of conspiring against Islam, and I asked Fadlallah if it was permissible to kill Jews beyond the borders of Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza. Hezbollah and its Iranian sponsors are considered by the governments of Israel, the United States, and Argentina to be responsible for the single deadliest anti-Semitic attack since the end of the Second World War: the suicide truck-bombing of the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, in 1994, which left more than a hundred people dead. As in the case of other accusations of terrorism, Hezbollah and Iran say that they were not involved in the attack. "We are against the killing of Jews outside Palestine," Fadlallah said. "Unless they transfer the war outside Palestine." When I asked if they had, Fadlallah raised an eyebrow, and let the question go unanswered.

Major General Benny Gantz is the chief of the Israeli Army's Northern Command, which is responsible for defending Israel from Hezbollah and Syria and any other threats from the north. Until recently, Gantz was the commander of Israeli forces in the West Bank.

When we met this summer, at an airbase outside Tel Aviv, he seemed pleased to have left behind the moral and strategic ambiguities of service in the West Bank. Gantz is forty-three, tall, lean, and cynical. Much of his career has been spent dealing with the Lebanon question. Before serving in the West Bank, he was the top Israeli officer in Lebanon in the days leading up to the withdrawal. A helicopter was waiting to carry him north to the border after our meeting. Gantz is almost certain that he will soon wage war against Hezbollah and Syria. "I'll be surprised if we don't see this fight," he said.

The Israelis believe that in South Lebanon Hezbollah has more than eight thousand rockets, weapons that are far more sophisticated than any previously seen in the group's arsenal. They include the Iranian-made Fajr-5 rocket, which has a range of up to forty-five miles, meaning that Israel's industrial heartland, in the area south of Haifa, falls within Hezbollah's reach. One intelligence official put it this way: "It's not tenable for us to have a jihadist organization on our border with the capability of destroying Israel's main oil refinery."

Hezbollah officials told me that they possessed no rockets whatsoever. But one reporter who has covered Hezbollah and the South for several years said he believes that Hezbollah has established a "balance of terror" along the border. The reporter, Nicholas Blanford, of the Beirut English-language newspaper the Daily Star, said that he is "pretty certain" that Hezbollah has "extensive weaponry down there, stashed away." He added, "Their refrain is, we're ready for all eventualities."

Blanford, who has good sources in the Hezbollah leadership, said, "They seem to be convinced that sooner or later there's going to be an Israeli-Arab conflict. In the long term, Israel cannot put up with this threat from Hezbollah." It seems clear that in ordinary times Israel would already have moved against Hezbollah. But these are not ordinary times. Intelligence officials told me that Israel cannot act preëmptively against Hezbollah while America is trying to shore up Arab support for, or acquiescence in, a campaign to overthrow Saddam Hussein. To do otherwise would be to risk angering the Bush Administration, which needs Israel to show restraint. One Israeli Army officer I spoke to put it bluntly: "The day after the American attack, we can move."

Both Israel and the United States believe that, at the outset of an American campaign against Saddam, Iraq will fire missiles at Israel—perhaps with chemical or biological payloads—in order to provoke an Israeli conventional, or even nuclear, response. But Hezbollah, which is better situated than Iraq to do damage to Israel, might do Saddam's work itself, forcing Israel to retaliate, and crippling the American effort against an Arab state. Hezbollah is not known to possess unconventional payloads for its missiles, though its state sponsors, Iran and Syria, maintain extensive biological- and chemical-weapons programs.

If Hezbollah wants to provoke Israel, it has other options. Early this year, it tried to smuggle fifty tons of heavy Iranian weapons—including mines, mortars, and missiles—to the Palestinian Authority aboard a ship called the Karine A. The Israeli Navy seized the ship in the Red Sea. Intelligence officials believe that the operation was under the control of a deputy of Imad Mugniyah, the Hezbollah security operative. According to a story in the London-based Arabic newspaper Al-Sharq al-Awsat, King Abdullah of Jordan told American officials that Iran was behind attempts to launch at least seventeen rockets at Israeli targets from Jordanian territory. Hezbollah, meanwhile, is working with Palestinian groups, including Islamic Jihad, which, like Hezbollah, is sponsored by Iran, and which, like Hezbollah, is searching for the means to deliver a serious blow to Israel.

There is no affection for Saddam Hussein among the ruling mullahs in Iran, which lost a vicious war to Iraq in the nineteen-eighties, with hundreds of thousands of Iranians dead; or in the office of President Bashar al-Assad, in Syria. But some American analysts think that both regimes are alarmed by the prospect of Saddam's overthrow. Dennis Ross, the Clinton Administration's Middle East envoy, told me that American success against Iraq would legitimatize American-led "regime change" in the Middle East. It would also leave Iran surrounded by pro-American governments, in Kabul, Baghdad, and Istanbul. "They see encirclement," Ross said. "This explains the incredible flow of weaponry to Hezbollah after Israel left Lebanon."

Ross said that Bashar al-Assad's interest in forestalling an American attack on Iraq by igniting an Arab-Israeli war is more subtle, but still present. "Bashar realizes that if we go ahead and do this in Iraq he runs an enormous risk" by continuing to support terrorist organizations. The State Department lists Syria as a sponsor of terror. Ross also believes that Bashar, unlike his late father, is not thoughtful enough to grasp the cost of a war with Israel. "He still thinks that Israel will stay within certain boundaries," Ross said. "He needs to hear from us that, if he provokes a war, don't expect us to come to your rescue. He's playing with fire." Indeed, in April this year the Bush Administration had to intervene with Syria to halt Hezbollah rocket attacks on Israel.

General Gantz told me that if Hezbollah uses rockets against Israel his forces will be hunting Syrians as well as Lebanese Shiites. Lebanon may be the battlefield, he said, but the twenty thousand Syrian soldiers in Lebanon will be fair targets. "Israel doesn't have to deal with Hezbollah as Hezbollah," he continued. "This is the Hezbollah tail wagging the Syrian dog. As far as I'm concerned, Hezbollah is part of the Lebanese and Syrian forces. Syria will pay the price. I'm not saying when or where. But it will be severe."

The Syrian Army, which used to have the Soviet Union as its patron, is no match for Israel, Gantz said. "I think the Syrians can create a few problems for us. But it's very hard to see in what way they're better than us. I just don't know how Bashar is going to rebuild his army after this. Assad, the father, was a smart guy. He knew how to walk a tightrope. His son is trying to dance on it."

In conversations with people in Beirut, and especially in the Christian areas to the city's north, I found great anxiety about an Israeli counterstrike against Lebanon. Hezbollah understands that the Lebanese have grown used to peace, and that they fear an Israeli attack; many Lebanese would hold Hezbollah responsible for the devastation caused by an Israeli attack. Among some of Lebanon's religious groups, particularly the Maronite Christians and the Druze, there is a feeling that the Syrians have overstayed their welcome in the country. These groups fear Hezbollah, too, but they do not express it; after all, Hezbollah is the only militia that is still armed, long after the end of the civil war.

Israel's foreign minister, Shimon Peres, mentioned these constraints when I spoke to him recently. "Hezbollah must not appear to be the destroyer of Lebanon," he said. Peres noted, however, that Hezbollah is an organization devoted to jihad, not to logic. "These are religious people. With the religious you can hardly negotiate. They think they have supreme permission to kill people and go to war. This is their nature."

When I met with Prime Minister Hariri, he alluded to some of these worries. Hariri, a Sunni, is a billionaire builder who made most of his money in Saudi Arabia. We spoke in a building that he constructed in Beirut, with his own money, to serve as his "palace"; it seems to be modelled on a Ritz-Carlton hotel. Hariri has tense relations with Hezbollah, which has accused him of trying to thwart development in poor Shiite areas. Hariri understands that Israel will make the Lebanese people suffer for any attacks that are launched from Lebanese territory. He loathes and fears Ariel Sharon, and said to me that Sharon was "no different" from Hitler in his belief "in racial purity." The people of southern Lebanon do not want the Israelis provoked, Hariri said. "Look around the South," he said. "Look at all the building."

In recent weeks, the borderland has become even more unstable. An Israeli soldier was killed last month when Hezbollah fired on an Israeli outpost in Shebaa; and the Lebanese government, with the endorsement of Hezbollah, announced plans to divert water that would otherwise be carried by the Hatsbani River into Israel. Israel has said that it will not allow Lebanon to curtail its water supply. General Gantz assumes that internal political considerations will not trump its desire for jihad. As he prepared to board his helicopter and fly to the border, he said, "I was the last officer to leave Lebanon, and maybe I'll be the first one to return."

(This is the first part of a two-part article.)

Part II
Hezbollah sets up operations in South America and the United States.
Issue of 2002-10-28
Posted 2002-10-21

The patrol boat, a Boston Whaler, was worn at its edges, and it was pocked with bullet holes along its starboard side. It had a four-man crew, officers of the Brazilian Federal Police. They carried AK-47s and side arms, and they wore jeans, sunglasses, and bulletproof vests, which made them sweat. The patrol chief steered the boat into the middle of the Paraná River—half a mile wide, muddy, and sluggish. He opened up the boat's two Suzuki engines, and as we moved north the outskirts of the Brazilian city of Foz do Iguaçu came into view on the right; on the opposite side was the Paraguayan jungle, where smoke from cooking fires rose above the tree line. The chief, who was worried about snipers, kept the boat moving fast. He pointed to a series of chutes, dug out from the banks on the Paraguayan side, down which drug smugglers move bales of marijuana to the river.

A decaying iron bridge, the International Friendship Bridge, connects Foz do Iguaçu to its Paraguayan sister city, Ciudad del Este, the City of the East. Ciudad del Este is at the heart of the zone known as the Triple Frontier, the point where Paraguay, Brazil, and Argentina meet, which has served for nearly thirty years as a hospitable base of operations for smugglers, counterfeiters, and tax dodgers. The Triple Frontier has earned its reputation as one of the most lawless places in the world. Now, it is believed, the Frontier is also the center of Middle Eastern terrorism in South America.

From the boat, we could see that the traffic above us on the bridge was at a standstill. Between twenty and twenty-five thousand people cross the bridge each day, Brazilian police officials said. Pedestrians, many carrying huge packages, follow a narrow walkway that runs along the bridge's outer edge; motorcyclists maneuver among trucks and buses. From the river, one sees only a jumble of towers clustered near the edge of Ciudad del Este, and the men on the patrol looked that way with distaste. "It's filthy and disgusting," the chief said. "Everything there is illegal." And the local police? The men smiled, and the chief said, "They do what they do, and we do what we do."

The chief explained that the underworld of Ciudad del Este is dominated by Asian and Middle Eastern mobsters. Many of them prefer to float contraband across the river rather than use the bridge, but the men caught smuggling are invariably poor Paraguayans. As he spoke, we passed, on the Paraguayan shore, a group of shirtless men, who stared at the boat. "They're just waiting for us to leave the river," the chief said. "Then they'll start across." The sun by now was setting, and the police seldom patrol at night. It would be too dangerous, the chief said.

The men on the boat were all residents of Foz do Iguaçu—Foz, as it is usually called—an orderly city that employs street sweepers and traffic police. I asked them if they ever visited Ciudad del Este. One said that he used to go for the shopping. Much of Ciudad del Este is built around vast, canyonlike shopping malls. The better malls sell legitimately acquired products at discounted prices, and the rougher ones specialize in stolen and pirated goods.

Roughly two hundred thousand people live in the Ciudad del Este region, including a substantial minority of Arab Muslims; in the Triple Frontier zone, there may be as many as thirty thousand. According to intelligence officials in the region and in Washington, this Muslim community has in its midst a hard core of terrorists, many of them associated with Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite group backed by the Iranian government; some with Hamas, the Palestinian fundamentalist group; and some with Al Qaeda. It is, over all, a community under the influence of extreme Islamic beliefs; intelligence officials told me that some of the Triple Frontier Arabs held celebrations on September 11th of last year and also on the anniversary this year. These officials said that Hezbollah runs weekend training camps on farms cut out of the rain forest of the Triple Frontier. In at least one of these camps, in the remote jungle terrain near Foz do Iguaçu, young adults get weapons training and children are indoctrinated in Hezbollah ideology—a mixture of anti-American and anti-Jewish views inspired by Ayatollah Khomeini.

In the Triple Frontier, Hezbollah raises money from legitimate businesses but, more frequently, from illicit activities, ranging from drug smuggling to the pirating of compact disks. Unlike the other radical Islamic groups in the Triple Frontier, Hezbollah, it is said, has the capability to commit acts of terror.

A billboard advertising the services of the Kamikaze Tour Company stands near the Foz do Iguaçu entrance to the International Friendship Bridge. It is faster to walk the half-mile span than to drive, and so I joined a line of Guaraní Indians and Brazilian traders who had assembled one morning under a sign on the Foz side that read, "You Are the Strong Ones, Not the Drugs." A Brazilian police helicopter circled overhead.

In Ciudad del Este, there is an immediate sense of heat and claustrophobic closeness. The streets, jammed with people and worked by watch sellers and money changers, give way to alleys, and the alleys open up onto strips of badly built shops. The smallest shops, some barely six feet by six feet, are called lojas, and are crammed with in-line skates and cellular telephones and pharmaceuticals—almost anything that could fall off a truck. Guaraní women sit on the ground, drinking maté through metal straws. The sidewalks are dense with stands selling sunglasses and perfume, and with tables of pornographic videos. Marijuana is sold openly; so are pirated CDs. The music of Eminem came from one shop; from another, there were sounds familiar to me from South Lebanon and the Bekaa Valley—martial Hezbollah music. I bought a cassette recording of the speeches of Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah's leader.

In a shop called Caza y Pesca Monday, or the Monday Hunting and Fishing Store, the owner offered to sell me an AK-47 rifle for three hundred and seventy dollars. For an extra thirty dollars, he said, he could have it smuggled to my hotel in Brazil. I asked whether it was possible to acquire explosives. He said it would be more difficult, though not impossible. The cost of smuggling them would be significantly more than thirty dollars.

A few blocks from the center of town, the Mosque of the Prophet Muhammad occupies the first three floors of an unfinished fourteen-story apartment house. The building is painted green and white and topped by an oversized crescent and star, the symbols of Islam. When I arrived, the mosque was opening for afternoon prayers, and I was introduced to Muhammad Youssef Abdallah, who owns the building and built the mosque. Abdallah, a short, round, voluble man in his fifties, is an immigrant from a village in South Lebanon, near the Israeli border.

He told me that he came to the Triple Frontier more than twenty years ago, in a wave of Lebanese immigrants who had discovered a part of South America that welcomed international traders. Like most Lebanese businessmen in Ciudad del Este, he lives in the more orderly climate of Foz do Iguaçu. He also has a farm outside Foz. For many years, he said, he owned one of the malls in Ciudad del Este, but now he devotes his time to the propagation of the faith. He invited me into his office, on the second floor of the mosque. On the wall was a portrait of Sayyid Muhammad Hussayn Fadlallah, the spiritual leader of Hezbollah; on a shelf was a gun.

I told Abdallah that, a month earlier, I had interviewed Fadlallah in his home in the southern suburbs of Beirut, the Hezbollah stronghold. He asked if I knew his cousin, Hani Abdallah, Fadlallah's spokesman, and seemed pleased when I said yes. In 1994, according to Paraguayan intelligence officials, Fadlallah travelled undercover to Ciudad del Este, on an Iranian passport, in order to bless the mosque. Abdallah was quick to say that Fadlallah plays no official role in the work of Hezbollah—that he is merely a spiritual adviser to poor Shiites throughout the world. Fadlallah and his followers said much the same thing when we met in Lebanon.

Abdallah, who has never been charged with any wrongdoing, was circumspect in describing his activities. "If you touch on Hezbollah, you get a shock," he told me, and added that charges sometimes levelled in the press against the Muslims of the Triple Frontier are untrue. "We are not involved in terrorism," he said. Many of the Muslims who once worshipped in the mosque are afraid to visit now, he said, believing that it is under surveillance by Israel and the United States. Abdallah insisted that he himself had no connection to Hezbollah, but he conceded that, like other Lebanese businessmen, he had given money to the group. "Five years ago, people were expected to give twenty per cent of their income," he said.

I asked him what he meant by "expected."

"Right, expected," he replied. A look of helplessness crossed his face. "What are people supposed to do?" he asked.

Abdallah would not elaborate, but, according to South American investigators and two Lebanese who once worked in the Triple Frontier, such donations were made under duress. At the beginning of each month, they said, a Hezbollah official named Sobhi Fayad or one of his associates would visit shops owned by Lebanese immigrants—Shiites, but also Sunni Muslims and Christians. The shop owner would be handed a certificate thanking him for the support he had provided to various Hezbollah-run charitable groups. A dollar amount would be written on each certificate—a South American investigator showed me one with the figure ten thousand dollars—and the shop owner would be expected to pay that sum. After that, the certificate would be put in his shopwindow—and no more "donations" would be sought for the remainder of the month. Otherwise, the shop owner would be warned, and then his relatives in Lebanon would be warned, that if they didn't comply Hezbollah would spread rumors about them. "People would be told that they are spies for Israel," one South American investigator told me. Some were beaten. "It's a very effective system," the investigator said.

The Fayad operation was expert in laundering money. According to intelligence documents provided to me by regional investigators, Hezbollah has used traders from India to move money from Paraguay to the Middle East. The documents referred to an Indian named Rajkumar Naraindas Sabnani, who does business in the Triple Frontier and in Hong Kong; investigators allege that he arranged to ship goods to Paraguay, receiving payment far in excess of their value. After subtracting his own fee and paying for the actual goods, Sabnani wired the surplus to banks in the United States or in Lebanon. Sabnani is believed to be currently in Hong Kong.

Abdallah, the founder of the Prophet Muhammad mosque, says that people in the Triple Frontier are giving less these days, because the region's economy is in very poor shape. But investigators in South America and experts on the group nevertheless believe that the amount raised in South America over the years is in the tens of millions of dollars; according to one Paraguayan official, two years ago Hezbollah raised twelve million dollars in the Triple Frontier. Hezbollah's annual budget is more than a hundred million dollars, provided by the Iranian government directly and by an international network of fund-raisers.

Besides Sobhi Fayad, several other figures in the Triple Frontier's Arab community play important roles in raising money for Hezbollah. One of the most notorious is a fugitive: Ali Khalil Mehri, a man considered by Paraguayan authorities to be a leading distributor of pirated compact disks. According to Paraguayan investigators, Mehri left for São Paulo, Brazil, then moved on to Europe and, finally, to Lebanon, where he is today. Sobhi Fayad is in jail in Asunción, the Paraguayan capital, awaiting trial on tax charges and on charges of associating with a criminal organization. Paraguay has no anti-terror law, and so it is not illegal to donate money to terrorist groups, as it is in the United States. "It's exactly the same as Al Capone," one investigator told me. "You have to get them on tax evasion."

In the days following September 11th of last year, the Paraguayans arrested twenty-three people in the region of Ciudad del Este and in southern Paraguay on suspicion of involvement with Hezbollah or other organizations. But Carlos Altemburger, the chief of the Paraguayan Secretariat for the Prevention and Investigation of Terrorism, told me that most of these detainees have been released and many have left the country. Even though the Paraguayan government is considered among the most corrupt in South America, the terrorism secretariat is thought by American officials to be free of corruption. Altemburger told me that he would like the government to impose strict controls on the border region, which would make it more difficult for Hezbollah members who live in Brazil to travel so freely into Paraguay. His requests, he said diplomatically, are still being weighed by the government.

The openness of the borders in the Triple Frontier, as much as its free-for-all ethos, makes the region particularly inviting for terrorists. (When I ran into a bureaucratic problem entering Paraguay, I was advised to sneak in by riding a motorcycle with Brazilian plates, and wearing a helmet to disguise my face. It worked perfectly.) The open borders provide politicians and senior law-enforcement officials of the three nations with a ready excuse for the presence of terrorists in cities under their nominal control.

Joaquim Mesquita, the chief of the Brazilian Federal Police in Foz do Iguaçu, dismissed the idea that his third of the Triple Frontier was a haven for terrorists. "We have a marijuana problem, and cigarette smuggling," he said. But, he continued, "we don't have any concrete evidence that this is a terrorist region." In Asunción, I met with the interior minister, a former chief of the national police named Víctor Hermoza. "Most of the Arabs live on the Brazil side, I should point out," Hermoza said, and added, "Anyway, the Arabs are all moving to Chile."

Hermoza, who has an open, friendly face, insists that his country is doing everything it can to aid the American war on terror. In fact, he said, with a suggestion of pride, he takes his orders from American diplomats. "The national police cannot do anything without the American Embassy," he said. "We rely on their intelligence."

We met in his office at the Interior Ministry, in downtown Asunción. Paraguay is small and poor, and perhaps best known for the longtime rule of Alfredo Stroessner, who made the country a hideout for Nazi fugitives, including Josef Mengele. Crime is rising, and the economy has been badly hurt by the collapses in Brazil and Argentina. Some Paraguayans have taken to spray-painting walls with the slogan "Stroessner Vuelve!," or "Stroessner Will Return!" Stroessner was deposed in 1989, and now, at the age of eighty-nine, lives in exile in Brazil.

Hermoza, who began his career during Stroessner's regime, suggests that the country is no different from its neighbors. "There's corruption in all three of the countries" that share the Triple Frontier, he said. "Even America has corruption. That's why you have internalaffairs departments in your police."

I asked Hermoza why the Interior Ministry didn't institute more stringent border controls. He listened to the story of my own illegal crossing, and said, "You're probably going to have to pay an extra fee at the airport." He did not seem bothered by the fact that a foreigner could sneak into his country by hiding inside a motorcycle helmet, but he said that he had raised the question of bridge security with local officials recently when he visited Ciudad del Este. "They showed me why they couldn't do it," he said. "They started to check cars, and within four or five minutes there was a line that was as long as the bridge." Economic considerations would outweigh security needs for the time being.

Like Hezbollah, Al Qaeda does considerable fund-raising in Ciudad del Este, investigators told me, and they named the Al Qaeda point men as Ali Nizar Dahroug and his uncle. Ali Dahroug is in jail in Ciudad del Este awaiting trial on tax-evasion charges; his uncle is a fugitive. The Dahrougs came to the attention of local investigators when the uncle's name was found in an address book belonging to the highest-ranking Al Qaeda official to be captured so far by the United States, Abu Zubaydah. According to investigators and intelligence files, Ali Dahroug owned a small perfume shop in Ciudad del Este. The entire enterprise was worth no more than two thousand dollars, so investigators were startled to learn that he was wiring as much as eighty thousand dollars each month to banks in the United States, the Middle East, and Europe. Hamas's chief fund-raiser in the Triple Frontier is Ayman Ghotme, who collected funds for the Holy Land Foundation, a Texas-based organization that sent money to Hamas but was closed down by American officials after September 11th. Ghotme lives in São Paulo, according to investigators. But the dominant terror group in the region is Hezbollah, and its ability to carry out terror operations in South America, investigators say, is due to one man: Imad Mugniyah.

Until September 11th of last year, Mugniyah was considered by American officials to be the world's most dangerous terrorist, and many terrorism experts still believe this to be true. For a decade, the American and Israeli governments have made repeated attempts to capture or kill him. The Israeli Air Force, which frequently dispatches fighter jets across Lebanon, has equipped many of its airplanes with advanced signal intelligence "packages," and it uses these to track his whereabouts. Several years ago, the Israelis killed Mugniyah's brother, and allegedly set a trap for Mugniyah at the funeral, but he didn't appear. Some believe that he has had plastic surgery, and that, in recent years, he has not moved beyond Lebanon and Iran, for fear of capture. Sources told me that Mugniyah will not even travel through the Beirut airport, believing that paramilitary officers commanded by the C.I.A.'s Counterterrorist Center have the airport under permanent surveillance.

Mugniyah's operation—known as the external security apparatus—is Hezbollah's most lethal weapon. It is commonly believed that Mugniyah is behind nearly every major act of terrorism that has been staged by Hezbollah during the last two decades; he is thought to have agents not only in South America but in Europe, Southeast Asia, West Africa, and even the United States. His operatives in the Triple Frontier include Assad Ahmad Barakat, an important fund-raiser for Hezbollah. (Paraguayan police discovered a letter in which Hassan Nasrallah, the Hezbollah leader, thanked Barakat for his efforts on behalf of children orphaned when their fathers became suicide bombers.) Terrorism experts say that Ali Kassam, who runs a Shiite religious center in Foz, is a close contact of Mugniyah's as well, and so is a sheikh named Bilal Mohsen Wehbi, a Lebanese who was trained in Iran, and who reports to the Iranian Cultural Affairs Ministry. The Ministry often provides diplomatic cover for both Hezbollah operatives and Iranian intelligence agents. It is believed that Mugniyah takes orders from the office of Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, but that he reports to a man named Ghassem Soleimani, the chief of a branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps called Al Quds, or the Jerusalem Force—the arm of the Iranian government responsible for sponsoring terror attacks on Israeli targets.

Mugniyah is believed to have established European cells; in the nineteen-eighties, he recruited operatives in France and Germany. In South America, his reach goes beyond the Triple Frontier. A cell in Incarnación, a city south of Ciudad del Este, was run until recently by a man named Karim Diab; a regional investigator said that Diab has been sent to Angola to start a Hezbollah cell there.

Unlike Osama bin Laden, Mugniyah does not give interviews or issue statements on the Arab satellite channel Al Jazeera. There are only two known photographs of Mugniyah, and even these have been called into question. He is believed to have been born in the Lebanese village of Tir Dibba, near Tyre, on July 12, 1962, into a prominent family; his father, Sheikh Muhammad Jawad Mugniyah, is thought to have been a Shiite scholar. According to Robert Baer, an ex-C.I.A. officer who spent a good part of his career tracking Mugniyah, even the basic details of his childhood are unknown to intelligence services. "Mugniyah systematically had all traces of himself removed," Baer says. "He erased himself. He had his records removed from high school, and his passport application was stolen. There are no civil records in Lebanon with his name in them."

By his middle teens, Mugniyah was a gun-carrying foot soldier in the Lebanese civil war, which began in 1975. He received his early training not with his fellow-Shiites, who were then unarmed and not very radicalized, but with Yasir Arafat and the Fatah movement of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Until 1982, when Arafat was expelled from Lebanon as a result of the Israeli invasion, his power was concentrated in South Lebanon, along the border with Israel, much as Hezbollah's is today. Fatah maintained training camps not only for Palestinians but for members of other, international terror groups as well. Many of the Iranian Shiites who later overthrew the Shah were trained there.

Mugniyah became a member of Arafat's personal bodyguard unit, Force 17. (It still exists in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.) In the early nineteen-eighties, after the P.L.O.'s departure from Lebanon, Mugniyah became a bodyguard for Sayyid Muhammad Fadlallah, Hezbollah's spiritual leader. Then, suddenly, according to Baer and another intelligence source, Mugniyah appeared, along with Hassan Nasrallah, as a central figure in the Islamic Jihad Organization, one of the names under which Hezbollah operated when, in the early eighties, it was still a clandestine group. The first major act of terrorism attributed to Mugniyah was the April, 1983, bombing of the United States Embassy in Beirut. Sixty-three people died, including six C.I.A. officers. It is believed that Mugniyah was involved in the simultaneous bombings, six months later, of the Marine barracks in Beirut, in which two hundred and forty-one died, and the French military barracks, a short distance away, in which fifty-eight died. Mugniyah is also thought to have been behind much of the hostage-taking in Lebanon in the mid-eighties, and some reports claim that he was personally involved in the torture of William Buckley, the C.I.A. Beirut station chief, who died in Hezbollah captivity. He has also been tied to the Khobar Towers bombing, in Saudi Arabia, six years ago, in which nineteen American servicemen were killed.

In 1985, two of Mugniyah's men hijacked a T.W.A. airplane, a Boeing 727, on a scheduled run between Athens and Rome. Almost immediately after seizing control, the hijackers, Hassan Izz-al-Din and Muhammad Ali Hamadi, began searching the plane for American servicemen. They soon discovered a group of Navy divers and a thirty-eight-year-old Army Reserve major named Kurt Carlson.

The hijackers were demanding the release of Shiite prisoners in Kuwait and more than seven hundred Shiite prisoners in Israel. Their behavior was erratic; they forced the plane to land in Beirut, then go to Algiers, and then fly back to Beirut. In Beirut, Izz-al-Din and Hamadi executed one of the divers, Robert Stethem, and dumped his body on the airport tarmac.

Carlson today lives in Rockford, Illinois; he is a builder, a friendly, small-boned man, who talks easily about his experience. On the tarmac in Algiers, Carlson said, Hamadi would preach the virtues of the Shiite revolution in Iran from the cockpit window to whoever happened to be listening below. "Every time Hamadi said the name Khomeini, Izz-al-Din would kick me in the back," Carlson said. Carlson was beaten steadily for several days, and his beatings intensified when the hijackers' demands for fuel weren't met. "They kept yelling, 'One American must die, one American must die,' " he said.

At one point, Carlson was dragged into the cockpit. "All of a sudden, I felt a blow, and I heard the captain yelling, 'They're beating and killing Americans! I need fuel!' Meanwhile, Hamadi was screaming in Arabic. He was hitting me with a steel pipe. When he got tired of hitting me with a pipe, he would drop-kick me two or three times. I wasn't making any sound, but I realized that the captain had kept the mike open, and that he wanted me to make sounds, to convince the tower to get us fuel. So I started grunting."

After the plane flew to Beirut the second time, American intelligence officials believe, Mugniyah boarded it; his fingerprints were reportedly identified in one of the bathrooms. American hostages were taken from the plane and dispersed around Beirut. Carlson, along with four of the surviving Navy divers, was put in the custody of the Shiite Amal militia, a less extreme radical group. The hostages were held in a basement, where they were subjected to mock executions and were fed intermittently.

"One day, we were told we had to speak to a visitor from Hezbollah," Carlson recalled. "They took us into another room. There was a bunch of guys there. One was a short guy with a beard. He just looked at us. The Amal guys who were our guards kept close to us. I felt like they were trying to protect us. This guy started asking us questions. Where we're from, what unit. All of a sudden, he let loose with a tirade. He spoke some English. I remember that his eyes were like glass. You could feel the hate coming out of him. He started screaming about the Israelis, how they're supported by the U.S. The Israelis were so bad they wouldn't consent to Red Cross visits to the Shiite prisoners. He was just screaming.

"One of the divers, Stuart Dahl, answered him," Carlson went on. "He said, 'If you believe in the rights of prisoners, you'll let the Red Cross see us.' This guy, the one who was screaming, just about fell over. He didn't expect anyone to answer him. They started talking among themselves, the Hezbollah guys. Now, there was the guy just behind the one who was screaming. I hadn't noticed him before. All of the Hezbollah guys turned to him. They spoke, and then he led them out of the room. I believe that that man was Imad Mugniyah." After seventeen days, Carlson and the remaining four Americans were freed.

Argentine police believe that Hezbollah worked in concert with its Iranian sponsors to bomb the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires in 1992, an attack that killed twenty-nine people. Investigators suspect that Mugniyah may have visited the Triple Frontier two years later, when Hezbollah allegedly planned the suicide bombing of the Argentine-Jewish Mutual Association, or Jewish community center, known by its Spanish acronym, AMIA. The attack on the AMIA building, the deadliest anti-Semitic attack since the end of the Second World War, killed eighty-five people. The bombing profoundly disturbed Jewish communities throughout Latin America, and forced Jewish leaders to turn their synagogues and community centers into virtual fortresses. There are approximately two hundred thousand Jews in Argentina—it is South America's largest Jewish community—and today, spurred by the worst economic crisis in the country's history, many are leaving for Israel.

Twenty men have been on trial since late September of last year on charges related to the bombing, but these men—all of them Argentines—are considered by investigators to be secondary players in the attack. Alberto Nisman, one of the prosecutors, believes that the bombing succeeded in part because of lax oversight by the Paraguayan and Brazilian governments; Argentine officials believe that key participants in the attack entered Argentina through the Triple Frontier. Víctor Hermoza, the Paraguayan interior minister, was skeptical. "The bomb could have been built anywhere," he said, adding that he does not believe that Hezbollah maintains terror cells in Paraguay. But Hezbollah is so deeply rooted in the Triple Frontier that, one Paraguayan official said, he believes that the bomb was almost certainly built in the area of Ciudad del Este. "It's impossible to believe that it wasn't," he said. "People were absolutely free here to do whatever they wanted."

Argentine officials have openly accused Iran of involvement in the bombing, and they have accused Hezbollah of carrying it out (the court has identified the man believed to be the suicide bomber but his name has not yet been released). Four of the defendants are police officers, who are accused of collaborating with the bombers. Charges that the police force in Argentina harbors officers with anti-Semitic tendencies have circulated for years.

The trial is being held in an Art Deco-style theatre in the basement of a courthouse near the harbor of Buenos Aires. Heavy mauve drapes cover the walls, and bulletproof glass separates the spectators from the defendants. On the day that I visited, early this year, the building was watched by snipers in flak jackets and police on horseback. In the courtroom, a survivor of the bombing was describing what had happened when a white Renault van holding a six-hundred-pound bomb was driven into the seven-story AMIA building—and the explosion sheared off its front.

Earlier this year, it was disclosed that a man calling himself Abdolghassem Mesbahi, who claimed to be an Iranian intelligence official, had told investigators that former President Carlos Saúl Menem of Argentina maintained close relations with Iran and took a ten-million-dollar bribe to cover up Iran's involvement in the bombing. Menem, who is of Syrian descent, has denied the charge. He hopes to run again for President.

Lawyers for the Jewish community have used Mesbahi's testimony, along with information gathered in Argentina and abroad, to construct a time line of activities leading up to the bombing. The head lawyer, Marta Nercellas, described to me a plot that was set in motion at 4:30 P.M. on August 14, 1993, in a Tehran office belonging to the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence. According to the time line, the Ministry, with the involvement of the minister, Ali Fallahian, asked a team made up of Lebanese Hezbollah operatives and its own agents, many of whom worked under diplomatic cover, to plan the attack.

An important figure in the plot, according to Nercellas and other investigators, was Mohsen Rabbani, an Iranian who was appointed to the Buenos Aires Embassy as a cultural attaché just a few months before the bombing. Rabbani, who was barred from Argentina after evidence of his involvement began to emerge, is believed to have been a few blocks away from the AMIA building in the minutes before the attack.

Alberto Nisman hopes that information will come out during testimony that will allow Argentine authorities to pursue the actual conspirators, including Rabbani. But Nisman says that he is focussed on the man who they think orchestrated the bombing: Imad Mugniyah. Standing outside the courtroom during a recess, Nisman said, "Mugniyah would be the ultimate. That is our target."

Not only Mugniyah has eluded capture; so have his associates. Hamadi, the T.W.A. hijacker believed by Carlson to have shot Robert Stethem, was captured several years ago in Germany, and he is now in prison there, but Izz-al-Din is, like Mugniyah, thought to be in either Lebanon or Iran.

The United States has come close to arresting Mugniyah at least twice. In 1985, American intelligence learned that Mugniyah was in Paris. According to Duane Clarridge, a former chief of the C.I.A.'s Counterterrorist Center, the French refused to help, apparently because they were negotiating with Mugniyah for the release of French hostages in Lebanon. Several years later, American officials informed the Saudi government that Mugniyah was due to arrive in Saudi Arabia; in an effort to keep the United States from acting against Mugniyah on Saudi soil, the Saudis refused to let the plane land.

When I spoke to Hezbollah officials in Beirut, they denied knowing anything about Mugniyah; Hezbollah's allies call him a figment of the Israeli-influenced American imagination. Only one person in the Hezbollah orbit acknowledged even having heard of Mugniyah: the leader of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a man named Ramadan Abdallah Shallah. Palestinian Islamic Jihad is closely allied with Hezbollah; both are on the payroll of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.

In Damascus in February, I asked Shallah about Mugniyah and Hezbollah. Shallah is not unschooled in public relations. (Before becoming the leader of Islamic Jihad, he served as an adjunct professor at the University of South Florida in Tampa.) He laughed when I asked about Mugniyah's current role in Hezbollah. "That's a name from history," he said, before summarily ending the conversation.

The Prime Minister of Lebanon, Rafiq Hariri, told me that Mugniyah was not in his country. But in Lebanon it is rumored that Mugniyah sits on the eight-member ruling council of Hezbollah and that he is active under various names, including Jawad Nour-al-Din. Intelligence officials, while unsure—or unwilling to talk—about Mugniyah's day-to-day operations, believe that he is in charge of Hezbollah's worldwide network of cells. They also say that in recent years he has paid more attention to operations inside Israel. For instance, in 1996 a man whose passport identified him as Andrew Jonathan Neumann nearly killed himself when a bomb he was preparing in an East Jerusalem hotel detonated prematurely. Neumann, Israeli investigators learned, was a Lebanese Shiite named Hussein Mohammad Mikdad, who told the Israelis that he had been sent to Israel by Mugniyah to blow up a civilian airliner.

Mugniyah's name came up early this year during the Karine-A affair, in which a ship loaded with Iranian weapons intended for the Palestinian Authority was intercepted by Israel in the Red Sea. Intelligence officials believe that Mugniyah helped organize the shipment, which suggests that he has maintained contacts with Yasir Arafat, his original employer.

Terrorism experts say that Mugniyah's organization is hard to penetrate because it is in certain ways a family business. Many of the men under his command—there are thought to be several hundred—are from one of three Lebanese Shiite clans, one of which is his, and another that of a brother-in-law, Mustafa Badr-adeen. The men are trained in camps in the Bekaa Valley and Iran; intelligence sources told me that Mugniyah, in coöperation with Iran's Ministry of Intelligence, also has a base on the Iranian shore of the Caspian Sea, where his men are trained in SEAL-style operations. Although Mugniyah has concentrated on anti-Jewish activities, he is believed to have the capability to strike at America; his agents have conducted video surveillance of possible American targets in South America and Southeast Asia, and he is suspected of having established links with Al Qaeda. According to the testimony of Ali Mohamed, a former U.S. soldier who conspired in the Al Qaeda bombings of the American Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and who trained Osama bin Laden's security detail, Mugniyah met with bin Laden in Sudan in the mid-nineteen-nineties to discuss joint strategy. "Hezbollah provided explosives training for Al Qaeda and Al Jihad," he said. "Iran supplied Egyptian Islamic Jihad with weapons. Iran also used Hezbollah to supply explosives that were disguised to look like rocks."

Bush Administration officials have suggested that the United States will strike at Hezbollah in what some are calling "Phase Three" of the war on terror, and there is pressure within the government to settle accounts with Mugniyah. Any action taken against him, however, would almost certainly bring a Hezbollah response. After Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage declared, in September, that Hezbollah would eventually become an American target, the group's chief spokesman, Hassan Ezzeddin, issued a statement on Nasrallah's behalf. "The American administration will be held accountable for any offensive against Lebanon," the statement read, "and we emphasize that we are in full readiness to confront any eventuality and defend our people."

But others believe that Hezbollah might attack American interests regardless of American actions in Lebanon. "Any number of things could provoke Hezbollah," Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism expert at the RAND Corporation, says. For example, Iran could activate Hezbollah terror cells to carry out attacks. The Iranians might do this, Hoffman and others say, if they felt threatened by America's anti-terror campaign. "We see our role as bringing stability, and in situations like Lebanon stability rewards the status quo," he told me. "Stability is anathema to a revolutionary movement like Hezbollah."

One intelligence official suggested that Iran sees Mugniyah's overseas network as a kind of life insurance. "If Iran becomes the focus of Phase Three, it could send a message to the U.S. that it is not like Iraq, that it has the means to strike us at home, with a network of cells that it placed here a long time ago," he said. "The Iranians wouldn't take credit for blowing up a McDonald's, but we would know, and they would know we know."

It is not unusual for the JR Tobacco warehouse in Statesville, North Carolina, to sell cigarettes in great quantities. Federal law allows a person to buy up to two hundred and ninety-nine cartons of cigarettes at one time, and few people in North Carolina, a tobacco-growing state, object. Still, in the mid-nineteen-nineties, when a group of olive-skinned men began visiting JR Tobacco, carrying shopping bags filled with cash and walking out with two hundred and ninety-nine cartons each, Bob Fromme, an off-duty detective with the Iredell County Sheriff's Office who was working as a security guard at the warehouse, found it worthy of note.

"I thought they were Mexicans at first," Fromme told me. "There was a group of six of them who would come in on a regular basis. They would go through the store, get the cigarettes, one guy would stand at the register, and each person would then get two hundred and ninety-nine cartons. The one guy would just keep paying for all of them." Fromme said he realized that these men were not speaking Spanish: "I knew soon enough that it was Arabic."

On his own time, Fromme began following the men, and trying to interest law-enforcement agencies in what he thought was a gang of cigarette smugglers. "I called the State Attorney General's office and told them what we had, but they didn't want the case," Fromme said. "The State Bureau of Investigation didn't want it, either."

But the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms opened an investigation, and brought Fromme into it. "In the spring of 1999, we were set to go, with searches and warrants and indictments," Fromme said. "Then the F.B.I. came and said, 'We're working these guys from a different angle. Give us everything you've got. We can't tell you what we're doing.' "

Fromme and the A.T.F. investigators soon learned what the F.B.I. knew: that the smugglers, led by a Lebanese immigrant, Mohamad Youssef Hammoud, were members of a Hezbollah cell in Charlotte, North Carolina, that in the course of a year and a half sold $7.9 million worth of cigarettes illegally in Michigan and sent some of the profits to Hezbollah in Lebanon. About a year after the F.B.I. entered the picture, ten members of the ring were arrested on racketeering charges. Eight of the ten pleaded guilty before going to trial; in June, a federal jury found Hammoud guilty of providing aid to a terrorist organization.

According to Kenneth Bell, the lead prosecutor, the case was built this way: Mohamad Hammoud ran a prayer meeting every Thursday—a meeting attended by Said Harb, a longtime friend of a man named Mohamad Hassan Dbouk. Dbouk was receiving instructions from Hassan Hilu Laqis, a Hezbollah official based in Lebanon, who was in charge of Hezbollah's North American procurement operation. A fax intercepted by Canadian intelligence suggested that Dbouk worked for Imad Mugniyah. In the fax, Dbouk "is assuring Laqis that he is doing everything he can" for Hezbollah, Bell told me. "At one point, he says that he is willing to do anything—and he says, 'I mean anything'—for someone they refer to as 'the father.' I believe 'the father' is a reference to Mugniyah." Dbouk was indicted in the North Carolina case, but he is now thought to be in Lebanon.

According to the indictment, Hezbollah officials in Lebanon asked the cell members in North America to buy such items as computers, night-vision equipment, mine-detection devices, global-positioning devices, and advanced aircraft-analysis software. Bell said he did not know how much of the equipment requested by Hezbollah was shipped to Lebanon. Wiretaps revealed that Hezbollah members discussed buying life-insurance policies for operatives who "might in a short period of time go for a 'walk' and 'never come back,' " the indictment reads.

The North Carolina operation is not the only Hezbollah cell to have been discovered in the United States. Asa Hutchinson, the director of the Drug Enforcement Administration, told me recently that his agents discovered a drug-trafficking ring in the Midwest that was sending some of its proceeds to Hezbollah.

There is no proof that the cells are capable of violent acts. But investigators in North Carolina found anti-American propaganda among the belongings of several of the cell members. "I believe that the structure was in place to carry out a command," the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina, Bob Conrad, says. Among the items investigators found when they broke up the Charlotte group was a series of photographs taken in Washington, D.C. In one of them, a member of the cell stands in front of the Washington Monument, smiling. In another, two members are posing in front of the White House.

(This is the second part of a two-part article.)


September 02, 2006

Besieged in Tyre by Scott Anderson NYT Sunday Mag Sept. 3, 2006

Besieged in Tyre
New York Times Sunday Magazine
September 3, 2006

Things were getting back to normal in Tyre. The bomb craters in the main streets had been filled in with dirt, which slowed traffic but at least made passage possible. Some of the town’s more spectacular ruins were already being shoveled into great heaps of rubble. Under the blanching sun of late August, the Lebanese port city — 12 miles north of the Israeli border on the Mediterranean coast — was returning to its usual dog-day rhythms. In the mornings and again in the late afternoons, shoppers crowded the central market, families strolled the corniche, the old seaside promenade, and traffic along Jal al Baher Street, the main thoroughfare on the east side of town, was a honking, barely moving mass. The midday hours, however, were given over to a heat-imposed somnolence. In the old city, residents settled in their leafy courtyards or brought chairs out to the narrow alleys to while away the time with neighbors. The outdoor cafes along the marina filled with men who appeared able to muster only enough energy to smoke. It was a city at rest. Even Tyre’s multitude of cats took part, gathering in bunches to sleep under the shade of parked cars.

But there was also something new in Tyre. Spanning the highway at the northern outskirts of the city stood a high, triumphal arch quickly constructed from wood and yellow cloth. That color featured prominently on the scores of new posters and banners that lined Jal al Baher Street — that were to be found on lampposts and billboards throughout the east side of the city, in fact. The images on these posters varied, as did their slogans, but all ultimately echoed the same thing: praise for Hezbollah, praise for “the divine victory” just won.

It was Aug. 8, and the city had been under attack for 24 days. Sitting on the veranda of her elegant house overlooking the marina of old Tyre, 46-year-old Madona Baradhi was extolling the virtues of her hometown. From a prominent Christian family whose members can trace their roots in Tyre back centuries, Baradhi, an effervescent and congenitally cheerful customer-service representative for the Libano-Française bank, explained that she had traveled much of the world and found no place better.

“Always when I am on vacation,” she said, “the last few days, I just want to come home because I miss Tyre so much.” She waved a hand out over the bay. “Every day I swim, I walk to my job in downtown, I go to the market. And the people here are wonderful — very tolerant and easygoing. We’ve never had any of the difficulties between the different groups like other places in Lebanon.”

Three days earlier, Baradhi’s veranda had afforded her a panoramic view of a predawn, three-hour battle across the bay. Israeli commandos, apparently dropped by helicopter, attacked Hezbollah positions, killing at least eight, then covered their withdrawal by strafing the oceanfront promenade a half-mile away with helicopter gunships. The previous afternoon, she watched as four apartment buildings in the northern, predominantly Shiite suburbs were brought down by heavy Israeli bombs in great clouds of black smoke and brown dust. Even on that early evening, as she sipped espresso on her veranda, the concussion of the explosions on the east side of town, two miles away, were powerful enough to occasionally rattle her home’s windowpanes, to cause its old joints to creak.

“My friends in Beirut keep calling me,” she said. “ ‘Come stay with us. Tyre is so dangerous.’ But no. How can I leave all this?” She waved her hand again over the picturesque marina: no one was moving on its stone walks; the colorful fishing boats had sat in their moorings for weeks.

What appeared to be an almost delusionary optimism may actually have been a practical fatalism, an understanding of the city’s violent history. Tyre’s very geography was formed by war. During the Phoenician era, the heart of the city was an impregnable island fortress just off the coast that withstood countless sieges — until 332 B.C., when one of its besiegers, Alexander the Great, came up with the idea of building a massive stone causeway to the island. The city fell to his men, and over the centuries, drifting sand built up around his causeway, forever linking the island to the mainland.

Tyre’s history is a dizzying saga of rise and fall, periods of splendor followed by ones of abject ruin; the Egyptians, the Romans, the crusaders and the Ottomans all passed through the city, and all left their mark for good or ill. This march of civilizations and armies made Tyre into a complex mosaic of cultures, religious sects and ethnic groups, a multicultural checkerboard that is both the enduring promise and the enduring tragedy of the place: promise because the city’s extraordinarily resilient people always rebuild and patch things over; tragedy because they always have to. In just the past 31 years, the city has endured a civil war, a foreign military occupation, a half-dozen air or naval bombardments and at least two massive suicide bombings.

Despite this sad legacy — perhaps because of it — Tyre has long had a reputation as a relaxed and open-minded place. Residents of all sectarian and political stripes tend to echo Baradhi’s view of their city as a haven of comity and tolerance. What’s more, until mid-July of this year, Tyre appeared on the cusp of a very bright future, about to catch the economic boom that had so transformed Beirut and other Lebanese coastal cities in recent years. Designated a Unesco World Heritage site for its profusion of Hellenic, Roman and Byzantine monuments — among other archaeological highlights, Tyre can lay claim to the world’s largest Roman hippodrome — the municipal government had just embarked on the construction of a new stretch of oceanfront promenade along the neglected south shore of the old city, workers laying tiles and erecting lampposts. Along Jal al Baher Street, construction was under way on a modern shopping mall, while on Tyre’s south bay a small vacant lot had just sold to a hotel consortium for nearly $2 million, a figure that astounded locals but testified to the city’s growing tourist industry and dearth of decent hotel rooms. Tyre did not yet have a Starbucks — so far in Lebanon, those symbols of the arriviste city were limited to Beirut — but by this summer it was easy to imagine that that blessed day was close at hand.

And then, quite literally, a bomb dropped. It happened at about 5:30 on the afternoon of Sunday, July 16, while Madona Baradhi was swimming with her nieces and nephews at the fine, white-sand beach beside the Tyre Rest House, the city’s most exclusive hotel. “It was a very nice day,” she recalled, “hot but not too humid, and a lot of people were in the water. Suddenly, we heard a very loud boom, and when I looked to the city, I saw this great cloud of black smoke rising up from downtown. That’s when we knew Tyre was to be targeted also.”

The signal event that set this in motion came four days earlier, when Hezbollah guerrillas launched a bold assault on an Israeli Army border outpost, killing three soldiers and taking two others prisoner. The Israeli response was predictably swift, if unexpectedly fierce. That same day, the Israeli military carried out airstrikes on some 40 suspected Hezbollah strongholds throughout southern Lebanon, then expanded their targets the following day to include the runways of Beirut’s international airport and highways and bridges throughout the country. When the heavy bomb dropped on Sunday afternoon — it destroyed the top four floors of an apartment building and killed at least 11 — the residents of Tyre knew that, once again, war had come for them.

“Within minutes,” Baradhi said, “everyone had left the beach, and by that night, everyone was leaving Tyre. I could see them from here.” On her veranda, she pointed to a headland four or five miles away. “A solid line of red taillights, everyone going north.”

As it turned out, Baradhi’s decision to stay was not based on simple blithe disregard. By way of explanation, she led me into her study and took a framed photograph down from a bookshelf. In the fall of 1982, when fighting between Israeli troops and Palestinian guerrillas turned the old city of Tyre into a pitched battlefield, the Baradhi family was evacuated to the Tyre Rest House. The photograph was taken there: her father looking somewhat befuddled in the foreground; a pensive, young Madona behind; and in the background, a large crowd of other displaced people.

“We were only there a few days,” she said, “but even that was enough to show me what it was like to be a refugee. When we returned, the house had been badly damaged — you can still see the crack in the wall outside. This is why I will not leave now, because in Lebanon you can leave your home and never come back.” She carefully set the photograph back on the shelf. “I look at it very often. I always keep it close to me.”

Baradhi’s decision also pointed up one of the fault lines that runs through the city. In the days after that first bomb was dropped on Tyre, and under a rain of Israeli leaflets ordering its inhabitants to leave, an estimated 95,000 of the city’s 110,000 residents fled north. The pattern of exodus was not uniform, however; instead, it appeared that many calculated who this war’s principal victims were likely to be and made their choice accordingly. The overwhelming majority of Shiite civilians living in the Hezbollah strongholds at the east end of town — close to 100 percent in some districts — understood that they were at ground zero and left. In other parts of the city — in al-Bass, the Palestinian refugee camp closer to downtown, and in the Christian quarter at the westernmost tip of the coast — perhaps half the population remained. As time went on and the violence intensified, this phenomenon lent Tyre a surreal quality: vast urban stretches where nothing moved and no one was seen interspersed with pockets where a modicum of normal life continued, where stores were open and old men gathered in cafes to observe the destruction occurring elsewhere.

To the question of why she supported Hezbollah, Amira Khassem, a 58-year-old shopkeeper, seemed perplexed, as if the answer was utterly self-evident. “Because they are the resistance.” She shrugged. “Because they have brought order.” Khassem evidently saw no contradiction between those two words, “resistance” and “order.” Nor did she seem to appreciate that the “order” Hezbollah had brought to south Lebanon had precipitated a war that had turned much of the region into a battlefield and all but crippled the small grocery store that she and her husband ran in downtown Tyre. Just around the corner from their shop on Abu Deeb Street, two weeks into the war, Israeli warplanes flattened a six-story building reported to be one of Hezbollah’s local command centers, turning the surrounding commercial district into a ghost town. For Khassem, “order” was a good deal simpler.

“As a woman, I used to be very afraid walking alone around here after dark,” she told me in the fourth week of fighting. “With Hezbollah here, I know that now I am completely safe, that nothing will happen to me.”

When I asked her who patrolled the streets prior to Hezbollah, Amira shrugged again. “No one.”

One of the consequences of the 18-year cat-and-mouse war between Hezbollah and the Israeli occupying army in south Lebanon was the collapse of virtually all Lebanese government institutions in the region. It was a void Hezbollah deftly filled. Using money funneled from Iran, Hezbollah established an elaborate social-welfare apparatus — schools, soup kitchens, medical clinics, even law enforcement — designed to meet the needs of its Shiite constituency throughout the country, but most especially in the war-torn south. By the time Israel finally withdrew from Lebanon in 2000, Hezbollah had become the de facto government in the region. The party had already joined the Lebanese political process; today, with a tenth of the seats in Parliament, Hezbollah has earned a place in the current coalition government and also, given Lebanon’s political patronage system, the ability to ensure that greater economic benefits flow to its supporters. In essence, then, the Party of God (the literal translation of Hezbollah) has emerged as the bringer of order and services to a chaos and ruin it helped create.

And yet, according to many residents I spoke to, until mid-July of this year, Hezbollah was neither particularly popular nor trusted in the progressive and easygoing streets of Tyre. While Hezbollah members were respected for their social-service programs for the poor and their personal code of conduct — as part of a general morality checklist, members are not supposed to smoke or drink — many city residents felt a lingering unease over the party’s ultimate intentions. The Party of God had long since muted its more radical rhetoric, including its call for an Iranian-style Islamic government in Lebanon, but was it all a ruse to lull their opponents to sleep?

Such fears extended into the Shiite community. In the most recent elections for Tyre City Council, Amal, the other principal Shiite political party in Lebanon, ran a quiet scare campaign suggesting a Hezbollah victory would mean segregated beaches and a ban on outdoor cafes serving alcohol. The tactic apparently worked; in the council elections, the Amal slate (with the support of the Christian minority) swept Hezbollah. Even into the first days of this summer’s war, some in Tyre admitted to a quiet satisfaction that, at last, Hezbollah was getting theirs, that however hard the Israelis might strike their enemies, the Party of God had brought it on themselves by their reckless cross-border adventurism.

That attitude soon changed. With Hezbollah giving Israel a far better fight than anyone had anticipated, and with Israeli warplanes engaging in what most in Tyre viewed as the wanton destruction of Lebanon’s infrastructure — highways, bridges, gas stations and power plants throughout the country were bombed — national pride and national anger fused together in support of Hezbollah. In Tyre, the catalyzing moment came with the July 16 apartment-building bombing; the following day, three children were critically injured when Israeli warplanes blew up the canal they were swimming in. After that, even most Hezbollah critics in the city came to regard the Israeli offensive as an attack on the entire Lebanese nation. The militiamen who launched their Katyusha rockets on Israel from the farm fields surrounding Tyre were no longer viewed as the cause of the city’s woes, but as the city’s only defenders.

This sense of civic unity played out in myriad ways. After keeping a lower profile in the early days of the war, the Hezbollah auxiliaries — the teenage spotters on their motor scooters, the bearded functionaries in their 20’s with their walkie-talkies — suddenly were to be found throughout the city, lounging on street corners, calmly walking past police checkpoints. Defiant posters bearing the Hezbollah logo or the likeness of its bearded and bespectacled leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, were pasted to more and more walls and city monuments. Even Chucrallah Nabil Hage, the Maronite archbishop of Tyre and a man who would seem unlikely to be a fellow traveler of Islamic fundamentalism, allowed that Hezbollah was now seen as the chief protector of the city and the nation. “I’ve always had very good relations with them,” he explained to me as we sat in the stone courtyard of his church in the Christian quarter. “They are very forthright and decent men.”

What did not change was the elusiveness of the actual fighters. As arguably the world’s most disciplined and hierarchical guerrilla organization, Hezbollah’s military wing operates with both a cell structure and a pyramid structure: small units of salaried “soldiers” maneuvering independently of one another, occasionally coming together for joint missions ordered by the next rung up the chain of command, their security and secrecy maintained from below by an army of spotters, couriers and neighborhood patrolmen. A walk down a city street that might conceivably lead to a Hezbollah outpost would invariably end — for a journalist, anyway — in a young unarmed man stepping from the shadows to politely, but very firmly, announce that the path forward was “blocked.” In this war, the fighters in the streets were determined to remain almost as invisible as their enemies in the sky.

This vast “neighborhood watch” apparatus also made it very difficult to tell where support left off and coercion began. Any interviews attempted in public settings — in a refugee camp, for example — would usually lead to a young man with a close-cropped beard suddenly appearing at the periphery, casually taking note of the questions asked and the answers given. Even Hezbollah supporters who lauded the movement’s social-services programs in their district became visibly nervous if asked for help in locating an actual recipient, as if even this benign peek into the organization might be a breach of the rules on the street.

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this code of silence centered on the conflict’s victims. In their “all front” war with Israel, Hezbollah had meticulously planned for the psychological dimension, and it appeared that a crucial component in this was to minimize the reporting of their battlefield casualties. On this front, they were able to rely on the support — or acquiescence — of the local medical establishment. While journalists were routinely allowed access to those hospital wards containing wounded women and children, other wards — presumably those housing adult males — were off-limits, blocked by orderlies or the requisite bearded young men. The same pattern extended to the dead: occasionally ghoulish public displays of the torn bodies of obvious civilians and a curious absence of those of fighting-age men.

Each car in the long convoy was crammed to overflowing — women, children, the elderly — and as they passed, all stared back with wide, uncomprehending eyes. They were coming from a cluster of villages at the extreme southwest corner of Lebanon, flush on the border with Israel, and for the past two and a half weeks, they had sheltered in basements and root cellars as their communities on the war’s front lines were pounded into rubble. Taking advantage of a lull in the fighting, they had chosen that day — July 31 — to make their escape, fastening strips of white cloth to their cars’ antennas and falling in behind a small United Nations convoy heading for Tyre.

The reason for the lull was itself rooted in tragedy. The previous morning, Israeli warplanes bombed a home at the edge of Qana, a small town eight miles southeast of Tyre, in the basement of which two extended families had taken shelter; by the time rescue workers were finished, 28 bodies — 16 of them children — had been pulled from the ruins. By perverse coincidence, Qana was the same town where Israeli artillery killed 108 residents seeking refuge in a United Nations compound during the 1996 incursion known as Operation Grapes of Wrath.

In response to the outcry over the bombing, Israel had announced a 48-hour suspension of “offensive” aerial operations. While no one was quite sure what that meant, throughout south Lebanon, rescue workers struggled to reach those who had been trapped by the fighting and get them out. Where many of them were taken was to the four-story U.N.-administered school in al-Bass, the Palestinian refugee camp in Tyre that had long ago become more like a Palestinian neighborhood. If it struck anyone as ironic that Lebanese should seek sanctuary in a Palestinian refugee camp, it was actually an irony that didn’t end there; al-Bass was originally a refugee camp for Armenians escaping the genocide in Turkey in 1915, a purpose that changed only with the flood of displaced Palestinians into Lebanon following the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.

Farouz Atamian, a 51-year-old sanitation worker for the municipal government and one of the last Armenians in al-Bass, has lived there his entire life. “It’s very nice here,” he told me during the war, while sitting in the small garden of his ramshackle home. “We have more room than most of the others because we are one of the original families in the camp.”

Among the estimated 10,000 Palestinian inhabitants of al-Bass, there seemed to be a kind of collective discomfiture over what was happening in their adopted home, a sense that while this wasn’t technically their fight, perhaps it should be. After all, Hezbollah was taking on the “Zionist entity” and doing very well, and this was the same enemy the Palestinians had battled with far less success for 58 years.

Their sideline status in this fight could partly be attributed to the historical schism that runs through Islam — Hezbollah is Shiite, Palestinians are overwhelmingly Sunni — but it also underscored the troubled position they hold generally in Lebanon. Seen by many Lebanese of all persuasions as a destabilizing force in the country, Palestinians are often held to blame for the 1975 civil war and even more for historically using Lebanon as a base to attack Israel, then offering only feeble resistance in the face of Israel’s periodic and ruinous retaliatory attacks. As many Shiites in Tyre will point out, usually with a touch of pride, it was the Palestinian presence that provoked the 1982 Israeli invasion that so devastated their city, while it was Shiite militiamen — precursors to Hezbollah — who dealt the invaders their greatest blow: the successive bombings of Israel’s two command centers in downtown Tyre in 1982 and 1983 that together killed 135 Israeli soldiers, events still referred to in Israeli military circles as the first and second Tyre catastrophes.

“In this war against Israeli aggression, we all have our roles to perform,” explained Abu Hussein Ali Salem, a craggy-faced man of 66 who is one of the “civic leaders” of al-Bass camp. “So far, Hezbollah has taken the lead on the battlefield, and we” — the Palestinians — “are contributing from behind: by taking care of the wounded, the refugees. That, of course, could change at any time. If we feel our place is on the battlefield, we are all prepared to go.”

As a younger man, Salem explained, he had been a fighter for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the militant Palestinian guerrilla organization responsible for many of the more spectacular terror attacks against Israel in the 1970’s. He claimed to have taken three Israeli soldiers prisoner during the bitter battle for Tyre in 1982 and subsequently to have executed them. “It was at the north end of the city,” he said, “and I was cut off from my unit. The Israelis were advancing, and I had to leave, so I just turned to them with my machine gun — pffft.” He swept a gnarled finger before him. “I had tried to talk to them before, but they never said a word. They died right there.”

There was something slightly unconvincing about this story — or perhaps it had just dulled in the telling over the years. In any event, Salem professed to be more interested in the future. “If the Israelis come to al-Bass, it will be their graveyard. All of us here are ready to fight — and we will fight them as well as Hezbollah.”

During Israel’s air-war suspension, several thousand refugees had come into Tyre from the southern villages. Most continued up the coastal highway to Sidon or Beirut, determined to get as far away as possible from the principal battle zone, generally delineated as everywhere south of the Litani River. Nevertheless, a more buoyant mood began to spread among many who remained in Tyre, a seeping optimism that the respite might be the harbinger of a general cease-fire. Those hopes ended when, just before the close of the 48-hour window, Israel resumed its airstrikes on the city’s outskirts.

On the first day of the resumption of the fighting, I dropped by the U.N. school in al-Bass camp to talk with some of the newly arrived refugees. Each classroom had been taken over by several families — usually grouped together by their home village — and set in neat stacks were whatever meager belongings they had managed to grab up in their flight: blankets, plastic bags filled with clothes. In the corridors outside, a surprising number of elderly women paced or sat slumped against the walls, many of them muttering to themselves or to anyone who came into their range.

At about 4 p.m., the building reverberated from the sound of four very loud bangs — apparently nonlethal concussion grenades detonated close by — and at one corner of the school courtyard, girls began running into one another’s arms, screaming and crying. More girls kept rushing in to join the group, the hysteria infectious, until perhaps 40 of them were mashed together in one small, screaming knot. A man hurried over and began pulling the girls free, yanking them from each other’s arms one by one, as if he were breaking up a fight.

On the morning of Aug. 3, a small crowd of doctors, orderlies and volunteers from the Lebanese Red Cross milled about the parking lot of the government hospital in al-Bass. They had gathered there to perform a mass burial. Muslim custom holds that the dead should be buried in their home villages, and quickly — on the day of their death whenever possible. But that tradition had now collapsed in south Lebanon. Because of both the sheer numbers of victims and the exodus from the region that the war had sparked — often, there were no family members around to perform the ceremony — bodies were being brought to the government hospital in al-Bass and warehoused in two refrigerated trucks outside its gates.

Hospital administrators had already performed one mass burial in late July. A backhoe had cut two long trenches in a nearby field, the 72 dead were set down in neat rows — each coffin identified by a number so it could eventually be reinterred in the home village of the deceased — and then the trenches were filled in, the whole task completed in a couple of hours.

By early August, however, the trucks were full again. Off to one side of the hospital parking lot, stacks of coffins for future victims were piled five and six high, maybe 100 in all. As proper wood had long since disappeared from Tyre, these were made from cheap shelving material — particleboard topped by a thin veneer of white plastic — and affixed with simple stainless-steel door handles for lifting. The local Palestinian carpenter who had constructed most of the coffins, Ali Hussein Firmawi, estimated that they cost $40 apiece and that he had already built around 185.

“They only take about 10 minutes to make,” he said. “A little longer for the children, because those sizes aren’t standard.” He was not at all proud of his work, he explained — to build a proper coffin took weeks — but the need was urgent, and he had no choice in the matter.

After much conferring, the hospital administrators decided to postpone the burial because of “the security situation”; there was a lot of shelling around the city that morning, and a large gathering of people might draw the notice of the Israeli warplanes and drones overhead. Over the coming days, there would be more postponements, and the odor emanating from the trucks would grow until it permeated a wide swath of al-Bass camp.

Tyre now became a city closing in on itself. Against the near-constant thrumming of invisible Israeli spy drones — a sound very much like a lawnmower — the Hezbollah fighters on the outskirts of town and in neighboring villages launched ever more Katyusha rockets toward Israel, drawing ever more Israeli bombing raids in response. As the city grew increasingly isolated from the outside world, rumors became the currency on the streets: there was about to be a peace deal; Israel had finally launched its much-delayed ground offensive; Hezbollah had Israeli forces pinned down just inside the border; the Israelis were sweeping north and might be in Tyre within hours.

The pace of events only added to a general sense of fatigue and disorientation. In the predawn of Aug. 5, there came the Israeli commando raid that Madona Baradhi witnessed, and later that same morning, a missile attack on Jal al Baher Street that killed two young men on their motor scooters. The next afternoon, Israeli missiles hit several cars on the coastal road, their occupants apparently trying to run the gantlet out of the city. Rumors floated back that a family was killed trying to follow an International Red Cross convoy out of town; an alternate rumor held that the car had been coming the other way and traveling alone and that the missile had wounded two.

Along with a cluster of doctors and nurses and other journalists, I was waiting by the emergency-room entrance of Jabal Amel hospital for those coastal-road casualties to be brought in when there came a terrific bang very close by. Two hundred yards down Jal al Baher Street, two Israeli antipersonnel missiles had exploded, and amid a swirl of brown dust and leaves torn from a nearby tree, a wounded man lay on his back in the street. He had just raised his right arm and appeared to be trying to stand when a third missile came in, lifting him six feet in the air and catapulting him face down onto the sidewalk. Incredibly, the man still clung to life, his mouth gasping for air, his severed right arm lying amid a sprawl of plastic coffee cups and shredded leaves. Within minutes, an ambulance arrived to take him up to the Jabal Amel emergency room, where, with one last shudder, he finally died. Nurses quickly wrapped his body in thick plastic sheeting.

The situation just kept getting worse. On Aug. 7, the Israeli military announced a ban on all vehicular traffic south of the Litani River. The sole exception, they said, would be medical vehicles with prior approval — although Israel wasn’t giving approval to anyone, so the point was moot. The ban meant that the city’s problems, already dire, were about to have a cascading effect. With all gas and oil deliveries cut off for nearly a month, its hospitals and ambulances were operating on emergency backup supplies — and they, too, would start running out in another week or so. With stores of insulin dwindling, Tyre’s diabetics might soon start dying. With thousands of refugees crowded into the city’s schools and the sanitation system collapsing — to say nothing of the still-unburied bodies decomposing at the edge of al-Bass camp — there was growing concern of an epidemic.

“So right now, we’re experiencing a humanitarian crisis,” Dr. Ghassan Farran, a member of Tyre’s city council, told me on Aug. 8. “Very soon, it will be a catastrophe.” Somehow things got worse yet — Israeli warplanes destroyed the last small bridge across the Litani. A fallen tree was maneuvered into place to span the breach, but even this merely underscored a remarkable fact: the only way in or out of a city that had once been home to more than 100,000 people was now across a single 18-inch-wide log.

And then on Aug. 12, the Israeli and Lebanese governments finally agreed to a U.N.-brokered cease-fire, Resolution 1701. After one last furious exchange that continued right until the moment the cease-fire took effect, the guns and rockets and warplanes fell silent over southern Lebanon.

Within the air-conditioned confines of her office in the Libano-Française bank, Madona Baradhi was in a fine mood. Just over a week into the cease-fire, most of the residents of Tyre had come back from their temporary exiles. The central market was filled with shoppers, and the candy vendors had returned to their little stands on the northern corniche.

“Everything must come to an end,” she said, “and so it has with this war.” Still, Baradhi admitted, it had been a trying week. Each day since the bank reopened had brought a steady stream of people into her office who had lost everything and were trying to figure out how to rebuild their lives again. “They are taking out their savings, their pensions, trying to arrange loans — so many people. That is why I say the Lebanese are both the winners and losers in this war. We are the winners because we resisted Israel, but we are also the losers for how much we suffered.”

As to the question on everyone’s mind — whether the cease-fire would lead to an extended period of peace, or was merely a prelude to the next round of war — Baradhi, like many in Tyre, was philosophical. “Of course, I hope for peace, but it depends on the people, the choice they make.”

In the Shiite neighborhoods on the east side of Tyre, that choice appeared to have already been made. With its “sacred victory” over Israel, support for Hezbollah had soared, and the Party of God was riding that crest both by maintaining its defiant stand and by, once again, being seen as the chief provider to those in need. In the war-damaged neighborhoods, as in the ruined villages throughout the south, Hezbollah engineers were surveying the damage that had been done and drawing up blueprints for reconstruction, while the party’s field representatives were handing out cash payments to the homeless. As for Hezbollah ever surrendering its weapons to the incoming Lebanese Army and U.N. peacekeepers — both the most crucial and contentious point in the debate over Resolution 1701 — the idea was met with derision by the group’s supporters.

“Why should the winners give up their weapons?” asked Moen Zaidan, an orange-juice seller on Abu Deeb Street. “That never happens in war. No, Hezbollah knows it must keep its weapons to prepare for the next war.” As for when that war might come, Zaidan claimed to have a reliable guide. “We’ll know it’s starting by what happens in Kiryat Shemona,” he said, referring to the town in northern Israel that has been a frequent target of Hezbollah’s rockets. “Because we are in a balance with them. If the Israeli Army moves back there, then we’ll know it’s about to happen.”

In this part of town, few seemed to doubt that war would break out again; the real topic of discussion was when. Perhaps this cease-fire would last for a few weeks, perhaps for a few years, but at some point, the missiles between Hezbollah and Israel would start flying again. In the meantime, Ali Hussein Firmawi, the Palestinian coffin maker, was staying busy. With the cease-fire, his open-ended work order with the municipal government to build temporary coffins had come to an end, but, he said, he had recently been commissioned to build 40 more.

“For Hezbollah,” he explained outside his small carpentry shop in al-Bass. “These are to be of much better quality than the other ones. And the good thing about Hezbollah, they always pay upfront, and in cash.”

Scott Anderson has covered numerous wars for the magazine. His last article was about National Guardsmen returning from Iraq.

"INVENTING AL-ZARQAWI," Mary Anne Weaver in Atlantic Monthly, Jul/Aug2006

"INVENTING AL-ZARQAWI," By: Weaver, Mary Anne, Atlantic Monthly, Jul/Aug2006, Vol. 297, Issue 6

How a video-store clerk and small-time crook became America's nemesis in Iraq

On a cold and blustery evening in December 1989, Huthaifa Azzam, the teenage son of the legendary Jordanian-Palestinian mujahideen leader Sheikh Abdullah Azzam. went to the airport in Peshawar Pakistan, to welcome a group of young men. All were new recruits, largely from Jordan, and they had come to fight in a fratricidal civil war in neighboring Afghanistan — an outgrowth of the CIA-financed jihad of the 1980s against the Soviet occupation there.

The men were scruffy, Huthaifa mused as he greeted them, and seemed hardly in battle-ready form. Some had just been released from prison; others were professors and sheikhs. None of them would prove worth remembering — except for a relatively short, squat man named Ahmad Fadhil Nazzal al-Khalaylah.

He would later rename himself Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Now one of the most wanted men in the world, fur whose arrest the United States has offered a $25 million reward, al-Zarqawi is a notoriously enigmatic figure — a man who is everywhere yet nowhere, I went to Jordan earlier this year to find out who he really is, and to try to understand the role he now plays in the anti-American insurgency in Iraq. I also hoped 10 get a sense of how his generation — the Foreign fighters now waging jihad in Iraq — compare with the foreign fighters who twenty years ago waged jihad in Afghanistan.

Huthaifa Azzam, whom I first met twenty years ago in Peshawar, bridges both worlds. He first went into battle at the age of fifteen, fighting against the Soviets in Afghanistan with his father and Osama bin Laden (to whom his father was a spiritual mentor); three years later on that December night at the Peshawar airport, he met al-Zarqawi for the first time. The two Azzams and bin Laden had fought against the Soviets in the early days of the jihad; al-Zarqawi would fight in the war's second phase, after the Soviets had pulled out Both Huthaifa Azzam and al-Zarqawi would eventually leave Afghanistan to pursue two very different lives, but their paths would once again cross on the battlefields of jihad in Iraq, after the U.S. invasion of 2003.

A self-described jihadist — one who believes in struggle, or, more loosely, holy war — Azzam now lives in the Jordaninn capital, Amman, where he is at work on a doctorate in classical Arabic literature, but he moves routinely between Jordan and Iraq. Seeing him again for the first time since he was a teenager, I was struck, as we chatted in a Friend's drawing room, by how little he resembled the conventional image of a jihadist. He wore jeans, a light denim jacket, and an open-necked shirt, and his light-brown beard was neatly trimmed.

I asked Azzam if he knew who was funding al-Zarqawi's activities in Iraq.

He thought for a moment and then replied without answering, "At the time of jihad, yon can get vast amounts of money with a simple telephone call. I myself once collected three million dollars, which my father had arranged with a single call."

"A bank transfer? I asked.

"No. I collected it on my motorbike.

"I was in Syria when the war in Iraq began," he went on. "People were arriving in droves; everyone wanted to go to Iraq to tight the Americans, I remember one guy who came and said he was too old to fight, but he gave the recruiters $200,000 in cash. "Give it to the mujahideen,' was all he said."

He then told me about a young boy he had met in the early days of the wan

"He was from Saudi Arabia and had just turned thirteen. T noticed him in the crowd at a recruiting center near the Syrian-Iraqi frontier. People would come and register in the morning, then cross the border in the afternoon by bus. I first saw him at the registration desk. The recruiters refused to take him because he was so young, and he started to cry. I went back later in the day, and this same small guy had sneaked aboard the bus. When they discovered him, he started to shout "Allahu Akhbar!' — 'God is most great!" They carried him off. He had $12,000 in his pocket — expense money his family had given him before he set off. "Take it all' he pleaded. "Please, just let me do jihad."

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, barely forty and barely literate, a Bedouin from the Bani Hassan tribe, was until recently almost unknown outside his native Jordan. Then, on February 5, 2003, Secretary of State Colin Powell catapulted him onto the world stage. In his address to the United Nations making the case fur for in Iraq, Powell identified al-Zarqawi-mistakenly, as it turned out — as the crucial link between al-Qaeda and Saddam Husseins regime. Since then, al-Zarqawi has become a leading figure in the insurgency in Iraq — and in November of last year, he also brought his jilmdist revolution back home, as the architect of three lethal hotel bombings in Amman. His notoriety has grown with every atrocity he perpetrates, yet Western and Middle Eastern intelligence officials remain bedeviled by a simple question: Who is he? Is he al-Qaeda's point man in Iraq, as the Bush administration has argued repeatedly? Or is he, as a retired Israeli intelligence official told me not long ago, a staunch rival of bin Laden's, whose importance the United States has exaggerated in order to validate a link between al-Qaeda and pre-war Iraq, and to put a non-Iraqi face on a complex insurgency?

Early one morning with a driver who would also serve as my interpreter, I set out from my hotel in Amman for the forty-five-minute drive to Zarqa — the industrial city where, in October 1960, al-Zarqawi was born into a large family, and (rum which he took his new name. As we sped along the highway, I tried to recall the often contradictory descriptions I had heard of the man. U.S. officials, for example, had often reported that in 2002, al-Zarqawi had had one of his legs amputated in Baghdad, a claim presumably meant to substantiate a link between al-Zarqawi and Saddam Hussein'a regime. But he has since been seen walking in a videotape, clearly in possession of both his legs. Some Bush administration officials have called him a Jordanian-Palestinian, but in fact he comes from one of the Middle East's most influential Bedouin tribes. He has often been reported dead, only to rise again. In recent years, some have even suggested that he doesn't exist at all The man is hard to distinguish from the myth.

One thing that brought me to Jordan was a desire to find out as much as possible about al-Zarqawi's relationship with Osama bin Laden. The two men have little in common: bin Laden, like most of his inner circle, is a university graduate from an influential family; al-Zarqawi like many who follow him, is from an anonymous family (even though they are members of a significant tribe) and an anonymous town — a man who was fired from a job as a video-store clerk and whose background includes street gangs and according to Jordanian intelligence officials., prison for sexual assault. He is a ruthless self-promoter who, U.S. officials claim, has killed or wounded thousands of people in the past three years — in suicide bombings, mass executions, and beheadings that have been videotaped. Me has developed a mythic aura of invulnerability. But he is not the terrorist mastermind that he is often claimed to be.

Zarqa is a shambolic industrial city of some 850,000 people, a sprawl of factories, open fields, and dust Twenty-five miles northeast of Amman, it is Jordan's third-largest city, and one of its most militant. For years it has been a magnet for Islamic activists. Along with the cities of Irbid and Salt, it has sent the largest number of Jordanian volunteers to fight abroad, first in Afghanistan and now in Iraq. AJ-Zarqawi was born and raised in the al-Masoum neighborhood of Zarqa's old city, which sprawls somewhat haphazardly into the al-Ruseifah Palestinian refugee camp. (More than 60 percent of Jordan's 5.9 million inhabitants are Palestinian, as are some 80 percent of the inhabitants of old Zarqa,) When we entered the al-Masoum neighborhood, the first thing that struck me was the sight of three "Afghan Arabs," as the Arab veterans of the jihad in Afghanistan are called. They were easily identifiable by the shalwar kameezes they wore — the long shirts and bloused trousers that are Afghanistan's national dress — and by their long, unkempt beards. Squatting outside a tiny neighborhood shop, they paid us little heed.

Al-Zarqawi keeps a home on a quiet Iane in Zarqa. It's indistinguishable from its neighbors — a two-story white stucco building surrounded by a whitewashed wall. The house is now empty, a neighbor told us; al-Zarqawi's sisters, who still live in Zarqa. come by to look after it. At one point I glanced up at a window, which was slightly ajar Someone abruptly slammed it shut

I learned that the first of al-Zarqawi's two wives had lived in the house until recently. She was his cousin, whom he had married when he was twenty-two. They had tour children, two buys and two girls. But not long before my visit, al-Zarqawi had sent an unknown man to drive them across the border to be with him in Iraq. His second wife, a Jordanian-Palestinian whom he had married in Afghanistan, and with whom he has a son, is reported to be with him in Iraq as well. Al-Zarqawi's mother, Omm Sayel, whom he adored — and who had traveled to Peshawar with him when he joined the jihad — died of leukemia in 2004; although he was the most wanted man in Jordan at the time of her death, al-Zarqawi returned to Zarqa in disguise to attend her funeral.

As I wandered with my driver around the al-Musoum neighborhood — visiting the al-Falah mosque, a tiny green-latticed structure where al-Zarqawi had been "returned" to [slam; searching for the cemetery that had been his favorite childhood playground (which we never Found); and talking to al-Zarqawi's neighbors and friends — it became clear to me that although government officials in Amman had said that al-Zarqawi's popularity had plummeted since he had bombed the hotels there, Zarqa, at least still appeared to be his town. We met three little boys riding their bicycles down an empty lane. When we asked for directions to al-Zarqawi's house, they told us where to go — and then, with large grins on their small faces, they flashed the victory sign. An old man who ran a local grocery looked at us knowingly when we walked in. "You're here for Zarqawi," he said, a statement of fact rather than a question. When we responded that we were, he insisted on giving us free soft drinks and potato chips.

Everyone I spoke with readily acknowledged that as a teenager al-Zarqawi had been a bully and a thug, a bootlegger and a heavy drinker and even, allegedly, a pimp in Zarqa's underworld, He was disruptive, constantly involved in brawls. When he was fifteen (according; to his police record., about which I had been briefed in Amman), he participated in a robbery of a relative's home, during which the relative was killed. Two years later, a year shy of graduation, he bad dropped out of school. Then, in 1989, al the age of twenty-three, he traveled to Afghanistan.

It was the first time he had ever been out of Jordan, and for him it changed everything.

Salah al-Hami, a Jordanian of Palestinian descent is al-Zarqawi's brother-in-law and one of his closest friends. We met him outside the garden of his Zarqa home. Dressed in a long blue robe, and with a red-and-white-checkered kaffiyeh hanging loosely from his head, he sported a full Islamist beard. He was polite but refused to be interviewed; after every interview he'd given, he said, he'd been arrested. But being arrested wasn't what bothered him most. What bothered him was that he had been misquoted repeatedly. As a journalist himself, he was fed up.

I told him that I simply wanted to verify a few dates and facts, and was interested in talking to him not about Iraq but about Afghanistan. He looked at me skeptically but agreed to chat as we stood at his garden gate. He and al-Zarqawi had met in Afghanistan, he said, during al-Zarqawi's first stay there, from 1989 to 1993. Al-Zarqawi was based initially in the border town of Khost which, after both the Americans and the Soviets had left Afghanistan, was the site of intense and heavily contested battles between the mujahideen and the pro-Soviet Najibullah regime. At the beginning al-Hami continued, al-Zarqawi had not been a fighter but had tried his hand at being a journalist. He had worked as a reporter for a small jihadist magazine, Al-Bonian al Marsous, while al-Hami was a correspondent for Al-Jihad magazine, which the mujahideen published in Peshawar. But then one day al-Hami stepped on a land mine and lost one of his legs.

It was during al-Zarqawi's visits to the hospital that he and al-Hami became close friends. I didn't ask al-Hami any personal questions, but I had been told earlier by another of al-Zarqawi's friends that one day in the hospital al-Hami had spoken of the impossibility of ever having a family or a wife. "A one-legged man?" al-Hami reportedly said to al-Zarqawi. "Who would want to marry him?" In response al-Zarqawi offered him the hand of one of his sisters, and al-Hami agreed. So did the sister, and the two were married in Peshawar, in a lavish ceremony presided over by al-Zarqawi, whose father had died when he was young. The video of the reception was the only authenticated footage of al-Zarqawi ever publicly seen — until this April, when, for the first time, al-Zarqawi released a videotape of himself.

Al-Hami moved to Zarqa when he returned from Afghanistan. For a number of years now he has looked after al-Zarqawi's family, as well as his own, while his brother-in-law has traveled on a path that took him to prison, back to Afghanistan, then to Iran, northern Kurdistan, and mow, finally, Iraq.

"If you want to understand who Zarqawi is" a former Jordanian intelligence official had told me earlier, "you've got to understand the four major turning points in his life: his first trip to Afghanistan; then the prison years [from 1993 to 1999]; then his return to Afghanistan, when he really came into his own; and then Iraq." He thought for a moment, "And of course, the creativity of the Americans."

He was an ordinary guy an ordinary fighter, and didn't really distinguish himself," Huthaifa Azzam said of al-Zarqawi's first time in Afghanistan "He was a quiet guy who didn't talk much. But he was brave. Zarqawi doesn't know the meaning of fear. He's been wounded five or six times in Afghanistan and Iraq. He seems to intentionally place himself in the middle of the most dangerous situations. He fought in the battles of Khost and Kardez and, in April 1992, witnessed the liberation of Kabul by the mujahideen. A lot of Arabs were great commanders during those years. Zarqawi was not. He also wasn't very religious during that time. In fact, he'd only 'returned' to Islam three months before coming to Afghanistan. It was the Tablighi Jamaat [a proselytizing missionary group spread across the Muslim world] who convinced him — he had thirty-seven criminal cases against him by then — that it was time to cleanse himself."

A Jordanian counterterrorism official expanded on al-Zarqawi's time in Afghanistan for me. "His second time in Afghanistan was far more important than the first. But the first was significant in two ways. Zarqawi was young and impressionable; he'd never been out of Jordan before, and now. for the first time, he was interacting with doctrinaire Islamists from across the Muslim world, most of them brought to Afghanistan by the CIA. It was also his first exposure to al-Qaeda. He didn't meet bin Laden, of course, but he trained in one of his and Ahdullah Azzam's camps: the Sada camp near the Afghan border inside Pakistan. He trained under Abu Hafs al-Masri." (The reference was to the mom de guerre of Mohammed Atef, an Egyptian who was bin Laden's military chief and until he was killed in an American air strike in Afghanistan in November 2001, the No. 3 official in al-Qaeda.)

Abu Muntassir Bilah Muhammad is another jihadist who spent time fighting in Afghanistan and who would later become one of the co-founders of al-Zarqawi's first militant Islamist group. "Zarqawi arrived in Afghanistan as a zero," he told me, "a man with no career, just floundering about. He trained and fought and he came back to Jordan with ambitions and dreams: to carry the ideology of jihad. His first ambition was to reform Jordan, to set up an Islamist state. And there was a cachet involved in fighting in the jihad Zarqawi returned to Jordan with newfound respect. It's not so much what Zarqawi did in the jihad — it's what the jihad did for him."

With an eye to the future, al-Zarqawi also used the jihad years to begin the process of cultivating friendships that would eventually lead to the formation of an international support network for his activities. "Particularly when he was in Khost, his primary friendships were with the Saudi fighters and others from the Gulf," Huthaifa Azzam told me. "Some of them were millionaires. There were even a couple of billionaires?

But perhaps as important as anything else, it was in Afghanistan that al-Zarqawi was introduced to Sheikh Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi (whose real name is Isam Muhammad Tahir al-Barqawi), a revered and militant Salafist cleric who had moved to Zarqa following the mass expulsion of Palestinians from Kuwait in the aftermath of the Gulf War. The Salafiya movement originated in Egypt at the end of the nineteenth century, as a modernist Sunni reform movement, the aim of which was to let the Muslim world rise to the challenges posed by Western science and political thought. But since the 1920s, it has evolved into a severely puritanical school of absolutist thought that is markedly anti-Western and based on a literal interpretation of the Koran. Today's most radical Salafists, al-Zarqawi decidedly among them, regard any departure from their own rigid principles of Islam to be heretical; their particular haired of Shiites — who broke with the Sunnis in 632 A.D. over the question of succession to the Prophet Muhammad and who now constitute the majority in Tran and Iraq — is visceral. Over the years, al-Maqdisi embraced the most extreme school of Salafism, closely akin to the puritanical Wahhabism of Saudi Arabia, and in the early 1980s he published The Creed of Abraham, the single most important source of teachings for Salafist movements around the world. Al-Maqdisi would become al-Zarqawi's ideological mentor and most profound influence.

"It's not surprising that Zarqawi embraced Salafism," I was told by Jarret Brachman, the research director of the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point. "Jihadi Salafism is black and white — and so is everything that Zarqawi's ever done. When he met al-Maqdisi, he was drifting, trying to find an outlet, and very impressionable. His religious grounding, until then, was largely dependent upon whose influence he was under at the time. And since his father had died when he was young, he'd been seeking a father figure. Al-Maqdisi served both needs."

Al-Zarqawi and al-Maqdisi left Afghanistan in 1993 and returned to Jordan. They found it much changed, la their absence the Jordanians and the Israelis had begun negotiations that would lead to the signing of a peace treaty in 1994; the Palestinians had signed the Oslo Accords of 1993; and the Iraqis had lost the Gulf War Unemployment was up sharply, the result of a privatization drive agreed to with the International Monetary Fund, and Jordanians were frustrated and angry. The Muslim Brotherhood — the kingdom's only viable opposition political force, which had agreed to support King Hussein in exchange for being allowed to participate in public and parliamentary life — appeared Unable to cope with the rising disaffection. Small underground Islamist groups had therefore begun to appear, composed largely of men who had fought in the Afghan jihad, and who were guided by the increasingly loud voices of militant clerics who felt the Muslim Brotherhood had been co-opted by the state.

After the two men returned home, al-Maqdisi toured the kingdom, preaching and recruiting, and al-Zarqawi sought out Abu Muntassir, who had already acquired a standing among Islamic militants in Jordan. "We talked a lot, over a couple of days," Abu Muntassir told me. "He was still pretty much a novice, but very willing, very able, and keen to learn about Islam. I was teaching geography at the time in a government school, so it was easy for me to teach Islam as well After some time, Zarqawi asked me to work with him in an Islamic group; al-Maqdisi was already on board. The idea was there, but it had no leadership and no name. First we called it al-Tawhid then changed the name to Bayat al-Imam [Allegiance to the Imam]. We were small but enthusiastic — a dozen or so men. Our primary objective, of course, was to overthrow the monarchy and establish an Islamic government"

Despite their enthusiasm, al-Zarqawi, al-Maqdisi, and Abu Muntassir did nut appear to be natural revolutionaries. Their first operation was in Zarqa, in 1993, a former Jordanian intelligence official told me, when al-Zarqawi dispatched one of their men to a local cinema with orders to blow it up because it was showing pornographic films. But the hapless would-be bomber apparently got so distracted by what was happening on the screen that he forgot about his bomb. It exploded and blew off his legs.

In another botched operation, al-Maqdisi (according to court testimony that he denied) gave al-Zarqawi seven grenades he had smuggled into Jordan, and al-Zarqawi hid them in the cellar of his family's home. AI-Maqdisi was already under surveillance by Jordan's intelligence service by that time, because of his growing popularity. The grenades were quickly discovered, and the two men, along with a number of their followers, found themselves for the first time before a state security court. Al-Zarqawi told the court that he had found the grenades while walking down the street. The judges were not amused. They convicted him and al-Maqdisi of possessing illegal weapons and belonging to a banned organization. In 1994, al-Zarqawi was sentenced to fifteen years in prison. He would flourish there.

Swaqa prison sits on the southern desert's edge, sixty miles south of Amman, and its political prisoners, both Islamist and secular, are housed in four wings. Al-Zarqawi embraced prison life in the extreme — as he appears to embrace everything. According to fellow inmates of his with whom I spoke, his primary obsessions were recruiting other prisoners to his cause, building his body, and, under the tutelage of al-Maqdisi, memorizing the 6,236 verses of the Koran. He was stern, tough, and unrelenting on anything that he considered to be an infraction of his rules, yet he was often seen in the prison courtyard crying as he read the Koran.

He was fastidious about his appearance in prison — his beard and moustache were always cosmetically groomed — and he wore only Afghan dress; the shalwar kameez and a rolled-brim, woolen Pashtun cap. One former inmate who served time with him told me that al-Zarqawi sauntered through the prison ward like a "peacock." Islamists flocked to him. He attracted recruits; some joined him out of fascination, others out of curiosity, and still others out of fear In a short time, he had organized prison life at Swaqa like a gang leader.

"Zarqawi was the muscle, and al-Maqdisi the thinker," Abdullah Abu Rumman, a journalist and editor who had been in prison with al-Zarqawi, told me one morning over tea. (Abu Rumman had been held for three months in 1996, for a series of articles he wrote that were considered unflattering toward King Hussein.) "Zarqawi basically controlled the prison ward" Abu Rumman went on. "He decided who would cook, who would do the laundry, who would lead the readings of the Koran. He was extremely protective of his followers, and extremely tough with prisoners outside his group. He didn't trust them. He considered them infidels."

There were also confrontations and altercations with prison officials and guards. Whether al-Zarqawi was ever tortured is a matter of dispute: some of his followers say he was; Jordanian government officials, perhaps predictably, say he was not.

When Abu Rumman entered Swaqa, al-Zarqawi was in isolation following a prison brawl. "It was quite extraordinary," Abu Rumman said, "My first glimpse of Zarqawi was when he was released. He returned to the ward as a hero surrounded by his own bodyguards. Everyone began to shout: 'Allahu Akhbar!' By that time Zarqawi was already called the 'emir,' or 'prince' He had an uncanny ability to control almost to hypnotize; he could order his followers to do things just by moving his eyes."

Al-Zarqawi controlled not only his followers but also the ward's television sets. No one could really watch them, however, since he had covered them with black cloth to prevent the display of female forms. All the inmates could do was listen — and only to the evening news at eight o'clock. "Zarqawi and his followers had scant interest in political affairs, except for what was happening in Algeria and Afghanistan," Abu Rumman said. "At the pre-arranged hour; they'd all rush into the television room. When shouts of 'Allahu Akhbar!' reverberated through the ward, we all knew that the Taliban was meeting with success."

Al-Zarqawi and al-Maqdisi's Bayat al-Imam continued to grow, both inside prinson and in Zarqa, Irbid, and Salt. Al-Zar-qawi used his Bedouin credentials to good effect, as his own profile began to ascend. His Bani Hassan tribe is one of the Middle East's most prominent, and its tribal lands spill across the borders dividing Jordan, Syria, and Iraq, In Jordan, many of its members hold high-level positions in the government, the army, and the intelligence service. As a result, many of the prisoners, and many of Swaqa's guards, deferred to al-Zarqawi. Al-Maqdisi, a Palestinian, was also accorded special treatment, but largely as a result of his links to al-Zarqawi and the Bani Hassan, Between mentor and pupil, the roles had subtly begun to shift inside the prison walls.

As al-Zarqawi recruited, al-Maqdisi preached, and using the Internet they broadcast their message of jihad across three continents. Sheikh Abu Qatada, a Palestinian cleric who is one of Salafism's leading ideologues, was also one of al-Maqdisi's closest friends. The two men had been together in Kuwait., then in Zarqa, then Afghanistan. Abu Qatada, after leaving Afghanistan, had moved to London (where he is currently under arrest awaiting possible deportation to Jordan). Now al-Maqdisi's religious tracts were smuggled out of Swaqa by prisoners' wives and mothers, with help from sympathetic prison guards, and they were sent on to Abu Qatada, who posted them on the Web sites of Salafists and jihadists throughout Europe, the Middle East, and the Persian Gulf.

Al-Zarqawi's own religious views became increasingly severe, as did his intolerance of anyone he believed to be an infidel. Al-Maqdisi sometimes angrily disagreed with him. (It was the first portent of what lay ahead. Al-Zarqawi began to eclipse his mentor in prison, and would continue to do so over the coming years, but their final, and public, break did not occur until November 2005, when, un Al-Jazeera, al-Maqdisi criticized his former prorege for the hotel bombings in Amman.) Nevertheless, despite their prison disagreements, al-Maqdisi, from time to time, permitted al-Zarqawi to draft his own religious tracts. Abu Muntassir (who would also later break with al-Zarqawi) was his editor Al-Zarqawi was "a terrible writer," he told me, "and didn't really understand the Koran. He had learned it by rote." Even today, al-Zarqawi cannot write a fatwa. Abu Muntassir said, and as a result has had to set up his own fatwa committee in Iraq.

In 1998, three or four of al-Zarqawi's tracts were posted on the Internet, after heavy editing. Soon they came to the attention of Osama bin Laden, in Afghanistan. It was the first time he had ever heard of al-Zarqawi.

In May of the following year, Jordan's King Abdullah II — newly enthroned after the death of his father, King Hussein — declared a general amnesty, and al-Zarqawi was released from Swaqa. Me had made effective use of his time there. As he had done nearly a decade before — when he befriended wealthy Saudi jihadists in Khost — he had expanded his reach and his appeal during his prison years. Among the fellow inmates he had converted to Salafism and brought into the Bayat al-Imam were a substantial number of prisoners from Iraq.

After returning for a few months to Zarqa, al-Zarqawi left again and traveled to Pakistan. He may or may not have known that Jordan was about to declare him a suspect in a series of foiled terrorist attacks intended for New Year's Eve of 1999. The plan, which became known as the "Millennium Plot," involved the bombing of Christian landmarks and other tourist sites, along with the Radisson Hotel in Amman. Had it succeeded, it would have been al-Zarqawi's first involvement in a major terrorist attack.

Whatever the case, al-Zarqawi planned ahead before he left for Pakistan. He arrived bearing a letter of introduction from Abu Kutaiba al-Urduni, one of Jordan's most significant leaders during the jihad in Afghanistan. Al-Urduni had been a key deputy to — and the chief recruiter inside Jordan for — Sheikh Abdullah Azzam, Huthaifa Azzam's father. (Having worked for years in Peshawar as the leader of the Service Office, or the Maktab al-Khidmat, the sheikh had become the pivotal figure in the Pan-Islamic recruitment of volunteers for the jihad.) Al-Urduni's letter was the first endorsement that al-Zarqawi had received from such a senior figure — and the letter was addressed to Osama bin Laden.

In December 1999, al-Zarqawi crossed the border into Afghanistan, and later that month he and bin Laden met at the Government Guest House in the southern city of Kandahar, the de facto capital of the ruling Taliban. As they sat facing each other across the receiving room, a former Israeli intelligence official told me, "it was loathing at first sight."

According to several different accounts of the meeting, bin Laden distrusted and disliked al-Zarqawi immediately. He suspected that the group of Jordanian prisoners with whom al-Zarqawi had been granted amnesty earlier in the year had been infiltrated by Jordanian intelligence; something similar had occurred not long before with a Jordanian jihadist cell that had come to Afghanistan. Bin Laden also disliked al-Zarqawi's swagger and the green tattoos on his left hand, which he reportedly considered un-Islamic. Al-Zarqawi came across to bin Laden as aggressively ambitious, abrasive, and overbearing. His hatred of Shiites also seemed to bin Laden to be potentially divisive — which, of course, it was. (Bin Laden's mother, to whom he remains close, is a Shiite, from the Alawites of Syria.)

Al-Zarqawi would not recant, even in the presence of the legendary head of al-Qaeda. "Shiites should be executed," he reportedly declared. He also took exception to bin Laden's providing Arab fighters to the Taliban, the fundamentalist student militia that, although now in power, was still battling the Northern Alliance, which controlled some 10 percent of Afghanistan. Muslim killing Muslim was un-Islamic, al-Zarqawi is reported to have said.

Unaccustomed to such direct criticism, the leader of al-Qaeda was aghast.

Had Saif al-Adel — now bin Laden's military chief — not intervened, history might be written very differently.

A former Egyptian army colonel who had trained in special operations, al-Adel was then al-Qaeda's chief of security and a prominent voice in an emerging debate gripping the militant Islamist world. Who should the primary target be — the "near enemy" (the Muslim world's "un-Islamic" regimes) or the "far enemy" (primarily Israel and the United States)? Al-Zarqawi was a near-enemy advocate, and although his obsession remained the overthrow of the Jordanian monarchy, he had expanded his horizons slightly during his prison years and had now begun to focus on the area known as al-Sham, or the Levant, which includes Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and historic Palestine. As an Egyptian who had attempted to overthrow his own country's army-backed regime, al-Adel saw merit in al-Zarqawi's views. Thus, after a good deal of debate within al-Qaeda, it was agreed that al-Zarqawi would be given $5,000 or so in "seed money" to set up his own training camp outside the western Afghan city of Herat, near the Iranian border. It was about as far away as he could be from bin Laden.

Saif al-Adel was designated the middleman.

In early 2000, with a dozen or so followers who had arrived from Peshawar and Amman, al-Zarqawi set out for the western desert encircling Herat. His goal; to build an army that he could export to anywhere in the world. Al-Adel paid monthly visits to al-Zarqawi's training camp; later, on his Web site, he would write that he was amazed at what he saw there. The number of al-Zarqawi's fighters multiplied from dozens to hundreds during the following year, and by the time the forces evacuated their camp, prior to the U.S. air strikes of October 2001, the fighters and their families numbered some 2,000 to 3,000. According to al-Adel, the wives of al-Zarqawi's followers served lavish Levantine cuisine in the camp.

It was in Herat that al-Zarqawi formed the militant organization Jund al-Sham, or Soldiers of the Levant, His key operational lieutenants were mainly Syrians — most of whom had fought in the Afghan jihad, and many of whom belonged to their country's banned Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood's exiled leadership, which is largely based in Europe, was immensely important in recruiting for the Herat camp, although whether it also supplied funds remains under debate. What is clear, however, is that al-Zarqawi's closest aide, a Syrian from the city of Hama named Sulayman Khalid Darwish — or Abu al-Ghadiyah — was considered to be, until his death last summer on the Iraqi-Syrian frontier, one of al-Zarqawi's most likely successors.

I asked a high-level Jordanian intelligence official how important the Herat camp was.

"For Zarqawi, it was the turning point," he replied. "Herat was the beginning of" what he is now- He had command responsibilities for the first time; he had a battle plan. And even though be and bin Laden never got on, he was important to them. Herat was the only training camp in Afghanistan that was actively recruiting volunteers specifically from the Sham, Zarqawi, for his part, is very conceited and likes to show off. In Herat, he called himself the "Emir of Sham'!"

At least five times, in 2000 and 2001, bin Laden called al-Zarqawi to come to Kandahar and pay bayat — take an oath of allegiance — to him. Each time, al-Zarqawi refused. Under no circumstances did he want to become involved in the battle between the Northern Alliance and the Taliban. He also did not believe that either bin Laden or the Taliban was serious enough about jihad.

When the United States launched its air war inside Afghanistan, on October 7, 2001, al-Zarqawi joined forces with al-Qaeda and the Taliban for the first time. He and his Jund al-Sham fought in and around Herat and Kandahar AlZarqawi was wounded in an American air strike — not in the leg, as U.S. officials claimed for two years, but in the chest, when the ceiling of the building in which he was operating collapsed on him. Neither did he join Osama bin Laden in the eastern mountains of Tora Bora, as U.S. officials have also said. Bin Laden took only his most trusted fighters to Tora Bora, and al-Zarqawi was not one of them.

In December 2001, accompanied by some 300 fighters from Jund al-Sham, al-Zarqawi left Afghanistan once again,and entered Iran.

During the next fourteen months, al-Zarqawi based himself primarily in Iran and in the autonomous area of Kurdistan, in northern Iraq, traveling from time to time to Syria and to the Ayn al-Hilwah Palestinian refugee camp in the south of Lebanon — a camp that, according to the former Jordanian intelligence official, has become his main recruiting ground. More often, however, al-Zarqawi traveled to the Sunni Triangle of Iraq. He expanded his network, recruited and trained new fighters, and set up bases, safe houses, and military training camps. In Iran, he was reunited with Saif al-Adel — who encouraged him to go to Iraq and provided contacts there — and for a time. al-Zarqawi stayed al a farm belonging to the fiercely anti-American Afghan jihad leader Culbaddin Hekmatyar. In Kurdistan he lived and worked with the separatist militant Islamist group Ansar al-Islam, ironically in an area protected as pan of the "no-fly" zone imposed on Saddam Hussein by Washington.

One can only imagine how astonished al-Zarqawi must have been when Colin Powell named him as the crucial link between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein's regime. He was not even officially a part of al-Qaeda, and ever since he had left Afghanistan, his links had been not to Iraq hut to Iran

"We know Zarqawi better than he knows himself," the high-level Jordanian intelligence official said. "And I can assure you that he never had any links to Saddam. Iran is quite a different matter The Iranians have a policy: they want to control Iraq. And part of this policy has been to support Zarqawi, tactically but not strategically."

"Such as?" I asked.

"In the beginning they gave him automatic weapons, uniforms, military equipment, when he was with the army of Ansar al-Islam. Now they essentially just turn a blind eye to his activities, and to those of al-Qaeda generally. The Iranians see Iraq as a fight against the Americans, and overall, they'll get rid of Zarqawi and all of his people once the Americans are out"

In the summer of 2003, three months after the American invasion, al-Zarqawi moved to the Sunni areas of Iraq. He became infamous almost at once. On August 7, he allegedly carried out a car-bomb attack at the Jordanian embassy in Baghdad. Twelve days later, he was linked to the bombing of the United Nations headquarters, in which twenty-two people died. And on August 29, in what was then the deadliest attack of the war, he engineered the killing of over a hundred people, including a revered cleric, the Ayatollah Muhammad Baqr al-Hakim, in a car bombing outside Shia Islam's holy shrine in Najaf. The suicide bomber in that attack was Yassin Jarad, from Zarqa. He was al-Zarqawi's father-in-law.

"Even then — and even more so now — Zarqawi was not the main force in the insurgency," the former Jordanian intelligence official, who has studied al-Zarqawi for a decade, told me. "To establish himself, he carried out the Muhammad Hakim operation, and the attack, against the UN. Both of them gained a lot of support fur him — with the tribes, with Saddam's army and other remnants of his regime. They made Zarqawi the symbol of the resistance in Iraq, but not the leader. And he never has been."

He continued, "The Americans have been patently stupid in all of this. They've blown Zarqawi so out of proportion that, of course, his prestige has grown. And as a result, sleeper cells from all over Europe are coining to join him now." He paused for a moment, then said, "Your government is creating a self-fulfilling prophecy."

Western and Israeli diplomats to whom I spoke share this view — and this past April. The Washington Post reported on Pentagon documents that detailed a U.S. military propaganda campaign to inflate al-Zarqawi's importance. Then, the following month, the military appeared to attempt to reverse field and portray al-Zarqawi as an incompetent who could not even handle a gun. But by then his image in the Muslim world was set.

Of course, no one has done more to cultivate that image than al-Zarqawi himself. He committed some of the deadliest attacks in Iraq, though they still represent only some 10 percent of the country's total number of attacks. In May 2004, he inaugurated his notorious wave of hostage beheadings; he also specialized in suicide and truck bombings of Shiite shrines and mosques, largely in Shiite neighborhoods. His primary aim was to provoke a civil war "If we succeed in dragging [the Shia] into a sectarian war," he purportedly wrote in a letter intercepted by U.S. forces and released in February 2004, "this will awaken the sleepy Sunnis who are "fearful of destruction and death at the hands of the Shia." (The authenticity of the letter came into question almost immediately.)

Al-Zarqawi courted chaos so that Iraq would provide him another failed state to operate in after the overthrow of the Taliban in Afghanistan. He became best known for his videotaped beheadings. One after the other they appeared on jihadist Web sites, always the same. In the background was the trademark black banner of al-Zarqawi's newest group: al-Tawhid wa al-Jihad, or Monotheism and Jihad. In the foreground, a blindfolded hostage, kneeling and pleading for his life, was dressed in an orange jumpsuit resembling those worn by the detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Al-Zarqawi's first victim was a Pennsylvania engineer named Nicholas Berg. In the video, five hooded men, dressed in black, stand behind Berg. After a recitation, one of the men pulls a long knife from his shirt, steps forward, and slices off Berg's head. The U.S. military quickly announced that the executioner was al-Zarqawi himself, and although no one doubts that he planned the operation, questions soon arose: the figure seems taller than al-Zarqawi, and he uses his right hand to wield the knife. Al-Zarqawi is said to be left-handed.

Regardless of his growing notoriety in Iraq, al-Zarqawi has never lost sight of his ultimate goal: the overthrow of the Jordanian monarchy. His efforts to foment unrest in Jordan have included the 2002 assassination of the U.S. diplomat Lawrence Foley, and, on a Far larger scale, a disrupted plot in 2004 to bomb the headquarters of the Jordanian intelligence services — a scheme that, according to Jordanian officials,, would have entailed the use of trucks packed with enough chemicals and explosives to kill some 80,000 people. Once it was uncovered, al-Zarqawi immediately accepted responsibility for the plot, although he denied that chemical weapons would have been involved.

Later that year, in October 2004, after resisting for nearly five years, al-Zarqawi finally paid bayat to Osama bin Laden — but only after eight months of often stormy negotiations. After doing so he proclaimed himself to be the "Emir of al-Qaeda's Operations ill the Land of Mesopotamia," a title that subordinated him to bin Laden but at the same time placed him firmly on the global stage. One explanation for this coming together of these two former antagonists was simple: al-Zarqawi profited from the al-Qaeda franchise- and bin Laden needed a presence in Iraq. Another explanation is more complex: bin Laden laid claim to al-Zarqawi in the hopes of forestalling his emergence as the single most important terrorist figure in the world, and al-Zarqawi accepted bin Laden's endorsement to augment his credibility and to strengthen his grip on the Iraqi tribes. Both explanations are true.

It was a pragmatic alliance, but tenuous from the start.

"From the beginning, Zarqawi has wanted to be independent, and he will continue to be," Oraib Rantawi, the director of the Al-Quds Center for Political Studies in Amman, said to me. "Yes, he's gained stature through this alliance, but he only swore bayat after all this time because of growing pressure from Iraqis who were members of al-Qaeda. And even then he signed with conditions — that he would maintain control over Jund al-Sham and al-Tawhid, and that he would exert operational autonomy. His suicide bombings of the hotels in Amman" — in which some sixty civilians died, many of them while attending a wedding celebration — "was a huge tactical mistake. My understanding is that bin Laden was furious about it"

The attacks, which represented an expansion of al-Zarqawi's sophistication and reach, also showed his growing independence from the al-Qaeda chief. They came only thirteen months after he had sworn bayat. The alliance had already begun to fray.

The signs were visible as early as the summer of 2005. In a letter purportedly sent to al-Zarqawi in July from Ayman al-Zawahiri, the Egyptian surgeon who is bin Laden's designated heir, al-Zarqawi was chided about his tactics in Iraq. And although some experts have cast doubt on the letter's authenticity (it was released by the office of the U.S. Director of National Intelligence), few would dispute its message: namely, that al-Zarqawi's hostage beheadings, his mass slaughter of Shiites, and his assaults on their mosques were all having a negative effect on Muslim opinion — both of him and, by extension, of al-Qaeda — around the world. In one admonition, al-Zawahiri allegedly advised al-Zarqawi that a captive can be killed as easily by a bullet as by a knife.

During my time in Jordan, I asked a number of officials what they considered to be the most curious aspect of the relationship between the U.S. and alZarqawi, other than the fact that the Bush administration had inflated him.

One of them said, "The six times you could have killed Zarqawi, and you didn't."

When Powell addressed the United Nations, he discussed the Ansar al-Islam camp near Khurmal, in northern Kurdistan, which he claimed was producing ricin and where al-Zarqawi was then based. On at least three occasions, between mid-2002 and the invasion of Iraq the following March, the Pentagon presented plans to the White House to destroy the Khurmal camp, according to a report published by The Wall Street Journal in October 2004. The White House either declined or simply ignored the request.

More recently, three times during the past year, the Jordanian intelligence service, which has a close liaison relationship with the CIA, provided the United States with information on al-Zarqawi's whereabouts — first in Mosul, then in Ramadi. Each time, the Americans arrived too late.

After I returned from Jordan, in mid-March, what had appeared to be a growing challenge to al-Zarqawi from local Sunni insurgent groups, which had reportedly expelled hundreds of his fighters from the troubled western province of al-Anbar alone, seemed to have been put aside. The upsurge in Sunni-Shiite killings, as the result of the February bombing of Samarra's Askariya Shrine (one of Shia Islam's holiest sites), had led, at least fur the moment, to a newfound unity between al-Zarqawi and the Sunni insurgency. Then, in early April, Huthaifa Azzam announced that the "Iraqi resistance's high command" had stripped alZarqawi of his political role and relegated him to military operations. It was the second time that al-Zarqawi's profile had seemingly been lowered — or that he had lowered it — this year. The first had come in January, when it was announced that al-Qaeda in Iraq had joined five other Sunni insurgent groups to form a coalition called the Mujahideen Shura Council. By early May, U.S. counterterrorism analysts were still puzzling over what the two events meant and what changes they could portend.

As they debated, al-Zarqawi sprang to life again, in a video posted on the Internet on April 24. It was the first time he had appeared in a jihadist videotape, and the first time he had shown his face. Dressed in black fatigues and a black cap, he had ammunition pouches strapped across his chest He appeared fit, if overweight, as he posed in the desert firing an automatic weapon and as he sat with a group of masked aides, apparently plotting strategy. It seemed an extremely risky thing for him to do, and yet it also appeared to be very deliberate. It was a useful tool for recruitment, intending to show al-Zarqawi as both a flamboyant fighter and a pensive strategist More important than anything else, however, it was meant to show the world that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi — the brash young man who had come of age in the rough-and-tumble of Zarqa — remained relevant.

Before leaving Amman, I had asked the high-level Jordanian intelligence official with whom T met whether al-Zarqawi, in his view, was a potential challenger to Osama bin Laden.

"Not at all," he replied. "Zarqawi had the ambition to become what he has, but whatever happens, even if he becomes the most popular figure in Iraq, he can never go against the symbolism that bin Laden represents. If Zarqawi is captured or killed tomorrow, the Iraqi insurgency will go on. There is no such thing as 'Zarqawism.' What Zarqawi is will die with him. Bin Laden, on the other hand, is an ideological thinker. He created the concept of al-Qaeda and all of its offshoots. He feels he's achieved his goal." He paused for a moment, then said, "Osama bin Laden is like Karl Marx. Both created an ideology. Marxism still flourished well after Marx's death. And whether bin Laden is killed, or simply dies of natural causes, al-Qaedaism will survive him."

"The Americans have been patently stupid," a former Jordanian intelligence official said. "They've blown Zarqawi so out of proportion that, of course, his prestige has grown." He paused, then said, "Your government is creating a self-fulfilling prophecy."

Three times during the past year, Jordanian intelligence gave the United States information on al-Zarqawi's whereabouts — first in Mosul, then in Ramadi Each time, the Americans arrived too late.

In December 1999, al-Zarqawi crossed the border into Afghanistan, and later that month he and bin Laden met. As they sat and faced each other across the receiving room, a former intelligence official told me, "it was loathing at first sight."


Mary Anne Weaver is the author of Pakistan: In the Shadow of Jihad and Afghanistan (2002).

August 30, 2006

How he learned radicalism, and may have seen America.
Issue of 2005-12-12 New Yorker Magazine
Posted 2005-12-05

Osama bin Laden’s old school—the Al Thagher Model School—sits on several dozen arid acres lined by eucalyptus trees, whose branches have been twisted by winds from the Red Sea. The campus spreads north from the Old Mecca Road, near downtown Jedda, the Saudi Arabian port city where bin Laden spent most of his childhood and teen-age years. The school’s main building is a two-story rectangle constructed from concrete and fieldstone in a featureless modern style. Inside, dim hallways connect two wings of classrooms. In bin Laden’s day—he graduated in 1976—there was a wing for middle-school students, and another for the high school. Between them is a spacious interior courtyard, and from the second floor students could lean over balcony railings and shout at their classmates below, or pelt them with wads of paper. Most Al Thagher students, including bin Laden, were commuters, but there were a few boarders; they lived on the second floor, as did some of the school’s foreign teachers. It was in this upstairs dormitory, a schoolmate of bin Laden’s told me, that a young Syrian physical-education teacher led an after-school Islamic study group for a few outstanding boys, and it was there, beginning at about age fourteen, that bin Laden received his first formal education in some of the precepts of violent jihad.

During the nineteen-sixties and early seventies, Al Thagher was the most prestigious high school in Jedda; compared with other schools in Saudi Arabia, it had a relatively secular flavor. Many wealthy Saudi parents sent their sons abroad for secondary education—to Lebanon, Egypt, England, or the United States—but for those who kept their boys in Jedda “Al Thagher was the school of the élite,” Saleha Abedin, a longtime Jedda educator, said. (Abedin is now a vice-dean of Jedda’s Dar Al-Hekma College, a private women’s college.) Al Thagher—the name means, roughly, “the haven”—was founded in the early nineteen-fifties, initially in the nearby city of Taif, with support from Faisal bin Abdul Aziz, who became the King of Saudi Arabia in 1964. Faisal was a complicated man; he developed the kingdom’s schools, roads, and hospitals very rapidly, yet he also tried to preserve Saudi Arabia’s austere Islamic traditions, partly as a defense against international Communism. The Al Thagher Model School showcased Faisal’s interest in science and Western methods of education; in the nineteen-sixties, it was the only school in Jedda with air-conditioning. Its students did not wear the national dress, a thobe and cloth headdress, but, rather, a uniform that imitated the styles of English and American prep schools: white button-down shirts with ties, gray slacks, black shoes and socks, and, in the winter months, charcoal blazers.

Each year’s graduating class numbered about sixty boys. Among them were young princes from the Saudi royal family, as well as privileged commoners like bin Laden. Every morning, the students would assemble in rows for a military-style call to order; on a stool to one side sat a schoolmaster with a cane, ready to discipline boys who misbehaved, by beating them on the soles of their bare feet. The school’s curriculum included English-language instruction given by teachers from Ireland and England and demanding courses in mathematics. At the same time, as with all institutions in Saudi Arabia, Al Thagher adhered to Islamic ritual. At midday, students would kneel together for the Zuhr, or noon prayer.

Assuming that bin Laden is still alive, he is now forty-eight years old. He developed his vision for his global jihad organization, Al Qaeda, over the course of more than three decades, and his formative experiences have included participation in combat during the anti-Soviet Afghan war of the nineteen-eighties; prolonged exile from Saudi Arabia; the survival of at least two assassination attempts; at least four marriages, which produced at least a dozen children; and, lately, the trials of being the world’s most wanted fugitive. (Several American intelligence officers and diplomats have told me in recent months that they assume bin Laden is hiding somewhere in Pakistan, or perhaps in a remote area of Afghanistan, but there has been no visible progress in the effort to locate him. His most recent videotaped speech was a rambling diatribe broadcast four days before the last United States Presidential election. A few weeks later, the Al Jazeera television network broadcast an audiotape attributed to bin Laden, in which he praised Al Qaeda’s new leader in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Since then, bin Laden has not been heard from, and there has been speculation—not for the first time—that he is dead. Late last month, the Senate Democratic leader, Harry Reid, told a television interviewer, “I heard today that he may have died in the earthquake that they had in Pakistan.”)
Bin Laden has never spoken publicly about his time at Al Thagher, and the record of other reliable testimony is thin. Still, from interviews with people who knew him as a teen-ager, or who knew his family or the school, a portrait of bin Laden’s high-school years has begun to emerge, one that may help to explain some of the earliest sources of his beliefs.

In a 1998 interview, later broadcast on Al Jazeera, bin Laden said that he was born in Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, on March 10, 1957. “Then God was gracious to us as we went to Holy Medina six months after I was born,” he continued. The rest of his youth, he said, was spent in the western Saudi Arabian province known as the Hejaz, which lies between the Red Sea and central Arabia; it is the site of the two holiest cities in Islam, Mecca and Medina, where the most important events in the life of the Prophet Muhammad occurred.

Bin Laden is the only child of the marriage between Alia Ghanem, who was born in Syria, and Muhammad bin Laden, who was born in Yemen but migrated as a child to Jedda, where he made his fortune as a building contractor for the Saudi royal family during the nineteen-fifties and sixties. Osama’s parents divorced soon after he was born, according to Khaled M. Batarfi, a Saudi journalist who knew Osama during the nineteen-seventies. Osama’s mother then married a man named Muhammad al-Attas, who worked at her former husband’s company. The couple had four children, and Osama lived in the new household with three stepbrothers and one stepsister. Bin Laden’s natural father, who had more than fifty children by more than a dozen wives, died on September 3, 1967, when his company airplane, a twin-engine Beechcraft, which was being flown by an American charter pilot, crashed as it attempted to land on a mountain airstrip in Saudi Arabia’s southern Asir province, where bin Laden had been overseeing road-construction projects.

The next year, Osama bin Laden enrolled at Al Thagher, according to Brian Fyfield-Shayler, a Briton who taught English at the school at the time. Fyfield-Shayler has said that when bin Laden arrived at the school he was already unusually tall (today, his height is estimated at six feet four). He was not, however, a particularly forceful personality. In an intermediate-English class, “I was trying to push the spoken aspects of the language,” Fyfield-Shayler recalled in an interview for a documentary film produced in Britain last year. “To succeed, the student needs to be prepared to make mistakes. They need to make a bit of an exhibition of themselves, and Osama was rather shy and reserved and perhaps a little afraid of making mistakes.” Seamus O’Brien, an Irishman who taught English at Al Thagher, told me that he remembers Osama as “a nice fellow and a good student. There were no problems with him. . . . He was a quiet lad. I suppose silent waters run deep.”

A schoolmate of bin Laden’s told me that during the eighth or ninth grade, around 1971 or 1972, bin Laden was invited to join the Islamic study group. In that period at Saudi high schools and universities, it was common to find Syrian and Egyptian teachers, many of whom had become involved with dissident Islamist political groups in their home countries. Some of these teachers were members of, or were influenced by, the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist organization founded in Egypt in 1928 by a schoolteacher, Hassan al-Banna. The Brotherhood was initially a religious-minded movement opposed to British colonial rule in Egypt; later, following Britain’s withdrawal from the region, the Brotherhood’s leaders continued their struggle against the secular, socialist Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser, who took power in 1952. In his approach to the Brotherhood, Nasser alternated between periods of accommodation and brutal crackdowns. Some of the Brotherhood’s organizers were forced into exile, and they began to form new chapters across the Muslim world.

Their aim was to replace secular and nationalist Arab leaders with Islamic governments, and they often operated clandestinely. Today, the movement typically recruits its members from élite, well-educated families; its goals include the imposition throughout Muslim societies of sharia—law as set forth in the Koran—and the empowerment of Islamic scholars as cultural arbiters and dispensers of justice. Brotherhood members have openly held seats in elected parliaments in Kuwait and Jordan; last month, the movement’s members made a strong showing in parliamentary elections in Egypt, despite being formally banned there. Over the years, the Brotherhood has operated both in the open and in secret, through peaceful political campaigning and through support for terrorism.

In Saudi Arabia during the nineteen-sixties, King Faisal welcomed exiled teachers from Syria, Egypt, and Jordan, even if they were influenced by the Brotherhood, because he believed that they had been unfairly persecuted for their religious and political beliefs. He also hoped that their emphasis on Islamic teachings might help to inoculate Saudi Arabia against ideas such as socialism and secular pan-Arab nationalism, which were then spreading through Arab societies. Moreover, as he expanded Saudi Arabia’s schools, Faisal faced a shortage of qualified instructors of all kinds. The King “needed teachers,” Khaled al-Maeena, a prominent Jedda newspaper editor, told me. “Where would you get them?” Egypt and Syria offered Saudi Arabia a ready source at a time when the kingdom, barely a generation removed from widespread poverty and illiteracy, was struggling to produce teachers from its own population.
Formal political activity was banned in Saudi Arabia, so the Brotherhood-influenced teachers had to be careful. “When they came here, they realized the system does not allow any association” that might smack of politics, said Muhammad Salahuddin, a magazine publisher and journalist in Jedda who came to Saudi Arabia from Egypt.

Rather than organize a political network, the teachers often introduced their students more informally to the Brotherhood’s precepts of Islamic activism, political consciousness, and violent jihad against Christian occupiers or secular leaders. The principal mission at Al Thagher, as laid out by the headmaster and wealthy supporters in the Jedda merchant community, was to prepare élite young Saudis for roles in the kingdom’s modernizing economy; it had nothing to do with the Brotherhood’s goals. The after-school Islamic study group that bin Laden joined was initially offered to exceptional students with the promise of earning extra credit.
Bin Laden’s experience in the group was described for me during several interviews with a schoolmate who is now a successful professional in Saudi Arabia, and who asked not to be further identified, because, he said, he did not want to risk reprisals from bin Laden’s sympathizers. The schoolmate had never given interviews about Al Thagher’s after-school Islamic study group, but he decided to do so, he said, because he hoped his account might warn other Saudi parents about the potential dangers of such informal tutoring, particularly of the young and impressionable. His specific account of the group’s meetings is in accord with the more general recollections of several other Saudis who knew bin Laden during his Al Thagher years.

The Syrian physical-education teacher who led the group at Al Thagher was “tall, young, in his late twenties, very fit,” the schoolmate recalled. “He had a beard—not a long beard like a mullah, however. He didn’t look like he was religious. . . . He walked like an athlete, upright and confident. He was very popular. He was charismatic. He used humor, but it was planned humor, very reserved. He would plan some jokes to break the ice with us.

“Some of us were athletes, some of us were not,” the schoolmate said of the group’s initial membership, which, besides bin Laden, included the sons of several prominent Jedda families. The Syrian “promised that if we stayed we could be part of a sports club, play soccer. I very much wanted to play soccer. So we began to stay after school with him from two o’clock until five. When it began, he explained that at the beginning of the session we would spend a little bit of time indoors at first, memorizing a few verses from the Koran each day, and then we would go play football. The idea was that if we memorized a few verses each day before soccer, by the time we finished high school we would have memorized the entire Koran, a special distinction.

“Osama was an honorable student,” the schoolmate continued. “He kept to himself, but he was honest. If you brought a sandwich to school, people would often steal it as a joke or eat it if you left it on the desk. This was a common thing. We used to leave our valuables with Osama, because he never cheated. He was sober, serious. He didn’t cheat or copy from others, but he didn’t hide his paper, either, if others wanted to look over his shoulder.”

At first, the study group proceeded as the teacher had promised. “We’d sit down, read a few verses of the Koran, translate or discuss how it should be interpreted, and many points of view would be offered. Then he’d send us out to the field. He had the key to the goodies—the lockers where the balls and athletic equipment were kept. But it turned out that the athletic part of it was just disorganized, an add-on. There was no organized soccer. I ended up playing a lot of one-on-one soccer, which is not very much fun.”

As time passed, the group spent more and more time inside. After about a year, bin Laden’s schoolmate said, he began to feel trapped and bored, but by then the group had developed a sense of camaraderie, with bin Laden emerging as one of its committed participants. Gradually, the teen-agers stopped memorizing the Koran and began to read and discuss hadiths, interpretive stories of the life of the Prophet Muhammad, of varied provenance, which are normally studied to help illuminate the ideas imparted by the Koran. The after-school study sessions took place in the Syrian gym teacher’s room, on the second floor. The teacher would light a candle on a table in the middle of the room, and the boys, including bin Laden, would sit on the floor and listen. The stories that the Syrian told were ambiguous as to time and place, the schoolmate recalled, and they were not explicitly set in the time of the Prophet, as are traditional hadiths. “It was mesmerizing,” he said, and increasingly the Syrian teacher told them “stories that were really violent. I can’t remember all of them now, except for one.”

It was a story “about a boy who found God—exactly like us, our age. He wanted to please God and he found that his father was standing in his way. The father was pulling the rug out from under him when he went to pray.” The Syrian “told the story slowly, but he was referring to ‘this brave boy’ or ‘this righteous boy’ as he moved toward the story’s climax. He explained that the father had a gun. He went through twenty minutes of the boy’s preparation, step by step—the bullets, loading the gun, making a plan. Finally, the boy shot the father.” As he recounted this climax, the Syrian declared, “Lord be praised—Islam was released in that home.” As the schoolmate recounted it, “I watched the other boys, fourteen-year-old boys, their mouths open. By the grace of God, I said ‘No’ to myself. . . . I had a feeling of anxiety. I began immediately to think of excuses and how I could avoid coming back.”
The next day, he stopped attending the after-school sessions. Eventually, after an awkward period of pulling away from his study-group friends, he joined a different circle of boys. During the next several years, he said, he watched as bin Laden and the others in his former group, who continued to study with the Syrian, openly adopted the styles and convictions of teen-age Islamic activists. They let their young beards grow, shortened their trouser legs, and declined to iron their shirts (ostensibly to imitate the style of the Prophet’s dress), and, increasingly, they lectured or debated other students at Al Thagher about the urgent need to restore pure Islamic law across the Arab world. It is unclear whether the Syrian teacher was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood or was simply influenced by some of its ideas about political activism and violent jihad against unbelievers; his whereabouts today are unknown. Bin Laden’s schoolmate said the teacher left Al Thagher twenty-five years ago.

Khaled Batarfi is a soft-spoken man in his mid-forties who works as a senior editor at Al Madina, an Arabic-language newspaper in Jedda, and who also writes a weekly column for Arab News, an English-language paper in the city. He earned a doctoral degree at the University of Oregon and, since September 11, 2001, has become an occasional interlocutor for American journalists and diplomats who visit the kingdom. Batarfi is sometimes invited to participate in foreign-policy seminars sponsored by the United States government; last month, he joined a roundtable discussion in Jedda with Liz Cheney, a Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, and a daughter of Vice-President Cheney’s. In addition to his work as a Saudi political journalist and commentator, Batarfi has emerged during the past several years as a source of detailed, firsthand information about bin Laden as a teen-ager. He has talked about his recollections of Osama and has published an interview with bin Laden’s mother, and remains in touch with other members of the family.

In 1971, Batarfi moved in a few doors down from bin Laden, and they played on the same club soccer team. (When he could, Batarfi said, he encouraged bin Laden to play forward, so that the tall youth could use his head to send balls into the opposing team’s goal.) Although Batarfi did not attend Al Thagher, he saw bin Laden frequently during Osama’s years there. Over the course of several interviews, Batarfi told me that he witnessed his friend’s emergence during those years, at about age fifteen or sixteen, as an increasingly committed schoolyard Islamic activist. “In Al Thagher, he was part of an Islamic group,” Batarfi recalled. “He was a prominent member. . . . That group was influenced by the Brotherhood. He was influenced by this philosophy.”

Batarfi’s recollection is corroborated by Jamal Khashoggi, a former acquaintance of bin Laden’s who is now an adviser to Prince Turki al-Faisal, the Saudi Ambassador to the United States. The longtime Middle East correspondent Jonathan Randal, in his 2004 book, “Osama,” quoted Khashoggi as saying that Osama “grew up as a Muslim Brother” and did not split from the movement until the mid-nineteen-eighties. The Brotherhood’s influence on bin Laden was particularly striking, Batarfi told me, because the movement’s emphasis on the need for political transformation in the Muslim world differed from the more introspective Islamic theology then prevalent in Saudi Arabia.

The kingdom’s dominant school of Islam is often called Wahhabism by non-Saudis, in reference to Muhammad bin Abdul Wahhab, an eighteenth-century desert preacher who allied himself with the al Saud family when it first established political control over the Arabian Peninsula, and whose descendants are still among Saudi Arabia’s most important official clergy. Many Saudis reject the term “Wahhabism” as pejorative; they regard Wahhab’s ideas as Islam itself, properly interpreted, and they argue that no other label is required. Some Saudis acknowledge their country’s dominant theology as a distinct school of Islamic thought, but they will typically refer to this school as Salafism, a term that refers to the beliefs and practices of the earliest followers of Islam. With some exceptions, adherents of the Salafi school steer away from purposeful political organizing; instead, they often emphasize matters of personal faith, such as the strict regulation of Islamic rituals, and of an individual’s private conduct and prayer. Bin Laden’s group at Al Thagher, Batarfi said, was influenced to some extent by Salafi ideas, because there was no escaping the presence of such ideas in Saudi society, but bin Laden’s group adopted “a more activist or a political agenda,” as Batarfi put it, which was drawn largely from the Muslim Brotherhood’s advocacy for political change in Islamic countries.

In this respect, bin Laden’s years at Al Thagher appear to have been an intellectual prelude to his better-known experiences as a student at King Abdul Aziz University, in Jedda, where he studied during the late nineteen-seventies. At the university, bin Laden was influenced by several professors with strong ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. Among them was Muhammad Qutb, an Egyptian, whose brother Sayyid Qutb had written one of the Brotherhood’s most important tracts about anti-Western jihad, “Signposts on the Road.” (Sayyid Qutb was hanged for treason by the Egyptian government in 1966.) Bin Laden’s early exposure to the Brotherhood’s ideas and recruiters may help to explain why later, in Afghanistan, he was attracted to the causes of so many Egyptian exiles, including his future deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, whose experiences also included early exposure to the Muslim Brotherhood.
High school shaped bin Laden’s future in another way as well. In Afghanistan, he worked at times with a former Al Thagher biology teacher, a Saudi named Ahmed Badeeb. During the nineteen-eighties, Badeeb took up a new job, as chief of staff for Prince Turki al-Faisal, who was then the head of Saudi intelligence and whose department, in collaboration with the C.I.A., sent hundreds of millions of dollars to support the Afghan war effort. In describing his occasional work with bin Laden on the Afghan frontier, Badeeb has said that they enjoyed a warm personal relationship, one that had its origins in their shared experiences at Al Thagher.
As a young man, bin Laden drove a white Chrysler and a gray Mercedes, often very fast, according to Batarfi. On occasion, he joined gatherings of the larger bin Laden clan. By the early nineteen-seventies, this group, on his father’s side of the family, included a number of half brothers who had studied abroad, in places such as Lebanon and England. Some of Osama’s older half brothers had travelled to Europe and, occasionally, the United States. The leader of this side of the family then was Muhammad bin Laden’s eldest son, Salem, an ebullient, guitar-playing graduate of an English boarding school. By the mid-nineteen-seventies, Salem had acquired a private jet, and he travelled widely, to Switzerland, England, and Texas. At about that time, Osama’s mother arranged for her teen-age son to marry a first cousin, who was from Syria.

The subject of Osama’s youthful travels has been muddled by a number of accounts of his teen-age years, published shortly after September 11th. These have included reports, for example, that bin Laden attended boarding school in Lebanon, where he supposedly engaged in drinking and disco dancing. Some of bin Laden’s half brothers did attend school in Lebanon, but no credible evidence has surfaced that Osama ever did. There have also been published reports that bin Laden joined his family on vacation in Sweden, and that he enrolled in a summer language course in England, but there is some uncertainty about these reports; several people who have met bin Laden say the reported trips amount to cases of mistaken identity.

Khaled Batarfi offered a new account of bin Laden’s travels during the nineteen-sixties and seventies. He said that, as far as he knew, bin Laden had ventured outside the Middle East as a young man only three times. The first time, when he was about ten, he went to London with his mother to receive medical treatment for an eye condition. Bin Laden stayed in England for at least a month and did some sightseeing, according to Batarfi. On a second trip, as a teen-ager, bin Laden joined some friends and relatives on a big-game safari in East Africa. And, finally, according to Batarfi, Osama bin Laden made one trip to the United States, in about 1978.

According to Batarfi, the trip to America came about because bin Laden’s first child, a son named Abdullah, who was born in about 1976, had a medical problem—apparently cosmetic. Bin Laden, his wife, and his toddler son travelled together to the United States for treatment, Batarfi said, although he is not certain where the procedure took place. By his account, only one aspect of the journey made a particularly strong impression on bin Laden: On the way home, Osama and his wife were sitting in an airport lounge, waiting for their connecting flight. In keeping with their strict religious observance, his wife was dressed in a black abaya, a draping gown, as well as the full head covering often referred to as hijab. Other passengers in the airport “were staring at them,” Batarfi said, “and taking pictures.” When bin Laden returned to Jedda, he told people that the experience was like “being in a show.” By Batarfi’s account, bin Laden was not particularly bitter about all the stares and the photographs; rather, “he was joking about it.”

If Batarfi is correct, bin Laden’s American visit took place before he travelled to Afghanistan to participate in violent jihad, and about ten years before he founded Al Qaeda; it might never have surfaced in intelligence and law-enforcement investigations of bin Laden, which began in the midnineteen-nineties. Spokesmen at several government agencies, including the C.I.A. and the F.B.I., said that their Al Qaeda specialists had no information about a visit by bin Laden to the United States. A State Department spokesman said that its consular section had no record of ever having issued a visa to bin Laden, but that the department no longer has complete records of visas that were issued that long ago.

Abdullah bin Laden, Osama’s son, today lives in Jedda and enjoys good health, according to several people who know him. (He did not respond to requests for an interview.) In a story published in a London-based Saudi-owned newspaper in 2001, Abdullah said that he left his father’s household in the mid-nineties, when Osama was preparing to leave Sudan, where he had been living in exile, for a new and uncertain exile in Afghanistan. Not wishing to endure such hardship any longer, Abdullah sought and received his father’s permission to return to Saudi Arabia, where he has since taken up a career in advertising and public relations.
Abdullah runs his own firm, called Fame Advertising, which has offices near a Starbucks in a two-story strip mall on Palestine Street, one of Jedda’s busiest commercial thoroughfares. “Fame . . . Is Your Fame” is the company’s slogan, according to its marketing brochures. Among the firm’s advertised specialties is “event management,” which refers to the staging of attention-grabbing corporate galas and launch parties for new products or stores. The firm makes this promise: “Fame Advertising events are novel, planned meticulously, and executed with efficiency.” On the back of this brochure is printed a single word: “Different.”

Many Saudis follow the search for Abdullah’s father with fascination, and this is particularly true of alumni of the Al Thagher Model School. Some of Osama’s former classmates are now doctors or lawyers; others have followed their fathers into business. They use the Internet to stay in touch. On January 31, 2001, Al Thagher’s Class of 1976 started a message group on Yahoo, where they exchange news about old friends and occasionally discuss questions about religion and politics, a participant told me. That Yahoo group requires a moderator’s permission to join, but a second Al Thagher group for all alumni has publicly posted messages that give the flavor of the group’s discussions, particularly in that autumn after the September 11th attacks. Posted message titles include “Taleban,” “Northern Alliance Atrocities,” “Salman Rushdie article,” and, suggestively, “9 Unpopular Ideas, important to read.”

Al Thagher’s Class of 1976 is approaching the thirtieth anniversary of its graduation; no reunion has been scheduled. The class held its most recent reunion at a beach resort on the Red Sea. The party took place on a wintry night; in all, about fifty Al Thagher alumni turned up to mingle and share a meal. There was no word from Osama.

"Its About Oil Security," Jeffrey Sachs 30/08/2006

"The politics of extremism override reason"
By Jeffrey Sachs
Financial Mirror/Project Syndicate

Despite the fragile ceasefire in Lebanon, the risks of a widening war in the Middle East remain. Too many political leaders, including President George W. Bush, Prime Minister Tony Blair, and the leaders of radical groups in the Middle East, prefer military solutions to peaceful compromise.

When Bush paints the Middle East as a struggle of good versus evil, or terror versus freedom, he abandons politics. When Israel attempts vainly to defeat Hezbollah, it tries to avoid painful but necessary political compromises over disputed territory.

The problems of the Middle East are much more about politics and culture than about terror versus freedom. Part of the problem is Israel’s continuing occupation of the West Bank as well as a piece of southern Lebanon. Until Israel agrees to return to the 1967 borders with minor modifications, and to end its political control over millions of West Bank Arabs, unrest will continue.

Another part of the problem is the brazen manipulation of the Persian Gulf region by the UK and US to ensure their oil security. There can be little doubt that the current war in Iraq is fundamentally about oil. For nearly 100 years, first the British empire and then the US manipulated Middle Eastern governments, launched coups, bought puppet regimes, and supported wars, with the main purpose of controlling the region’s oil flows.

This approach continues despite its persistent failure. The key to oil security is peace, not military occupation and puppet regimes. The US embraced the Shah of Iran, and got the Iranian Revolution. The US embraced, and later toppled, Saddam Hussein, inciting chaos, with an unintended boost for Iran. The US stationed troops in Saudi Arabia and thus helped to create al-Qaeda’s political agenda. The US pushed for elections in Palestine, but then championed the financial strangulation of the newly elected Hamas government.

These factors, together with the obvious failings of many Middle Eastern governments, have fueled the surge of fundamentalism among Muslims, American Christians, and some Israeli Jews that has now boiled over to rampant extremism, terror, and messianic visions of good versus evil. True, fundamentalists are a minority everywhere, but they are stoking widespread fear, loathing, and dreams of salvation, provoking violence and war while weakening moderates forces.

Many warmongers in Washington, including apparently some in the White House, are seeking to expand their endless military campaign to Iran and Syria. Indeed, the daily demonizing of Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah is the same as the morbid demonization of Saddam before the Iraq War. The war party appears to be trying to whip up American public opinion in support of a wider conflict. Political operatives may also judge that an increased sense of danger and insecurity will tilt votes to the Republicans in the US congressional elections in November.

We need to reject “us-versus-them” logic, in which Israel is pure and the Arabs are evil (or vice versa). Every state in the region must embrace compromise and mutual respect as the basis of a lasting settlement. Israel will not be able to avoid territorial withdrawals to the 1967 borders by exercising its military might; the US will not be able to ensure oil security through continued military occupation in the Middle East; and terrorists will not be able to destroy Israel or foist their fundamentalist ideas by force on moderate societies.

This is no pipe dream. In my work throughout the world, as an economist and development practitioner, I find that the vast majority of individuals and political leaders of all religions, races, and creeds are ready to work together to achieve the shared goals of prosperity and wellbeing for their children. The claim by many Israelis that there are “no partners for peace” is absurd. Israel’s neighbors will make peace on the basis of fair borders and fair play.

Similarly, the claim that we are headed toward an inevitable clash of civilizations is sheer madness, propounded by people who think the worst of other groups but don’t really know them through personal contact or shared experience. What unites us is vastly greater than what divides us.

We can’t depend on our political leaders to do what is needed, because many of them are captives or promoters of extremist views. Our independent media need to seek out voices not only of the warmongers who make so much noise, but also of civil society leaders whose voices we do not regularly hear. American newspapers need to publish op-ed pieces not only by Americans “interpreting” the Middle East, but also by representative thinkers from the Middle East itself. Scientists in Europe, the US, Asia, and the Middle East need to deepen their contacts and work together. The same is true with artists, musicians, sports teams, and community leaders.

Crass tribalism now threatens to overwhelm all that unites us in our common care for our children, our planet, and our future. This is a challenge far too important to be left to Bush, Blair, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, and Ehud Olmert. Peace will be won by the moderate voices around the world that demand an end to senseless violence and to the tragic illusions of those who believe in a “final victory” over their foes.

Jeffrey Sachs is Professor of Economics and Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University

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