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May 30, 2003 - Image 29

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2003-05-30

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Armenian Genocide Slighted


ry as I may, some things
just don't get easier with
time. A few weeks ago, for
the 13th time since immi-
grating to Israel in 1990, I again
grappled with the abrupt switchover
from the sadness and solemnity of
Israeli Memorial Day to the unbri-
dled festivities of Israeli
Independence Day.
But this year, it was not just the
emotional somersault that left me
uneasy. As I watched on TV the offi-
cial ceremony that kicked off Israel's
55th birthday, something else dis-
turbed and disappointed me. Still


Robert Sarner is a senior reporter-editor

on Israel's only English-language daily
TV show. Before moving to Israel in
1990, he was a writer and magazine
editor in Paris and Toronto. His e-mail
address is rsarner@netvision.net.il

Call me naive. Call me myopic.
Call me a misguided party pooper.
Call me whatever you like, but I
expect better from my country.
Every year, shortly after Memorial
Day ends at sunset, Israel begins its
Independence Day celebrations with
a moving open-air ceremony tele-
vised live from Jerusalem's Mount
Herzl. It includes the traditional
lighting of 12 torches, representing
the 12 tribes of the biblical
Israelites. A ministerial committee
selects the torchbearers in recogni-
tion of their contributions to society
and collectively to represent different
segments of the population.
This year, Naomi Nalbandian was
one of the 12 honorees. An Israeli of
Armenian origin, she was selected in
appreciation of her work with terror
victims at Jerusalem's Hadassah
Hospital where she is a senior nurse.
Torchbearers prepare a few sentences
to introduce themselves at the cere-

the Armenians, having long
denied its role in their mass
murder. Armenians charge
that between 1915 and 1923
the Turks killed some 1.5
million Armenians through
executions, starvation and
forced marches.
Most historians — includ-
ing scores of Jewish
Spe cial
Comm entary Holocaust experts — agree
and recognize this as geno-
cide. For its part, Turkey
Shading History
maintains that while some 600,000
Armenians may have died, it was an
Two days before Independence Day,
unfortunate result of war for which
the Turkish Embassy in Tel Aviv got
it was not responsible.
into the act. It had learned than an
The Turkish ambassador in Israel
Israeli Armenian was chosen for the
was furious over the decision to have
ceremony and, horror of horrors,
an Armenian light a torch even
that she intended to refer to the
though she didn't plan to cite Turkey
genocide of the Armenians. In its
by name in her genocide reference.
customary fashion, Turkey threw a
Turkey demanded a clarification
temper tantrum and kicked up a
from Jerusalem on whether allowing
Turkey is especially sensitive about
SARNER on page 30

mony and in the program
distributed at the event.
Initially, Nalbandian wrote
that her grandparents fled
Armenia and settled near
Haifa in 1920 after passing
through Lebanon and Syria
and described herself as "a
third generation survivor of
the Armenian genocide
which took place in 1915."

Al Qaida's Limits

day after suicide bombers
killed 29 persons in
Morocco in mid-May, that
country's interior minister
noted that the five nearly simultaneous
attacks "bear the hallmarks of interna-
tional terrorism." More strongly, the
Moroccan justice minister asserted a
"connection to international terrorism"
and the prime minister spoke of a
"foreign hand" behind the violence.
Westerners were more specific about
the source of terrorism. "Al Qaida is
back with a vengeance," declared Sen.
Robert Byrd, D-WVa., referring to
this attack and one a few days earlier
in Saudi Arabia. "Al Qaida is back on
the rampage," agreed the BBC and
many others.
But the police investigation found
every last one of the 14 suicide bombers
in Casablanca, as well as all of their
accomplices, to be Moroccan nationals.
Local groups such as Assirat Al-
Moustaqim and Salafia Jihadia apparently
carried out the operation. As Newsweek
summarizes the situation, "While
financed by Al Qaida, the Moroccan ter-
rorists were an offshoot group."
This incident points to a routine


Daniel Pipes is director of the Middle
East Forum and author of 'Militant Islam
Reaches America" (WW Norton). His e-
mail address is: Pipes@MEForum.org

overemphasis on shadowy internation-
al networks, Al Qaida in particular, to
the neglect of local groups. Legal doc-
umentation, which provides our main
window onto Al Qaida, points to its
limited role in most instances.
Consider information from two cases:
• East African embassies. In a 2001
New York trial that convicted four
Islamists of plotting the 1998 bomb-
ing of U.S. embassies in Kenya and
Tanzania, testimony established that
Al Qaida serves as an umbrella organi-
zation for such groups as Islamic
Jihad, Al-Gama'a al-Islamiya and the
Armed Islamic Group, each of which
does its own recruitment and opera-
tions. Their leaders met periodically in
Afghanistan and coordinated actions
via Al Qaida. The trial transcripts
showed how this network could sur-
vive the loss of any part of it, even the
Afghanistan headquarters.
• Strait of Gibraltar warships. A 2002
Moroccan indictment of three Saudi
Islamists for planning suicide attacks
against U.S. and British warships in
the Strait of Gibraltar offers insight
into Al Qaida's inner workings. Jason
Burke of London's Observer reports
how the group's leader, Zuher Hilal
Mohamed Al Tbaiti, traveled in 1999
to Afghanistan to request Al Qaida
funding for a "martyrdom mission"
but was rebuffed and told he had to
develop a detailed plan before receiv-

perhaps the recent Casablanca
ing financial support. So
bombings), Al Qaida provided
Tbaiti went to Morocco,
some direction, funding, and
recruited suicide bombers, and
training but left the execution
then returned to Afghanistan
to others. In Newsweek's color-
armed with a specific plan.
ful formulation, Al Qaida "has
Satisfied this time, Al Qaida
always been more of a pirate
granted him funds for an
federation than a Stalinist top-
down organization."
When the Taliban regime
The ultimate worry is not Al
fell in December 2001, Al
but a diffuse, global
Qaida lost most of its training,
Spe cial
Islamic ideology that
communications and funding
Comm entary
predates Al Qaida's creation, is
capabilities. Some Al Qaida
locally organized and con-
personnel moved to northern
stantly recruits new volunteers.
Iraq — until coalition forces took over
Even the usually maladroit Syrian
there; others remain active in Iran.
Bashar al-Assad, under-
Elsewhere, the organization lacks a
stands this: "We blame everything on
secure base, leading some informed
Al Qaida but what happened is more
observers to conclude it no longer
dangerous than bin Laden or Al Qaida
operates effectively; one U.S. intelli-
. . .The issue is ideology, it's not an
gence official calls it "a wounded ani-
issue of organizations."
mal." Burke of the Observer goes fur-
Bin Laden concurs, noting that his
ther: "Al Qaida, conceived of as a tra-
own presence is unnecessary for
ditional terrorist group with cadres
mounting new acts of violence.
and a capability everywhere, simply
"Regardless if Osama is killed or sur-
does not exist."
vives," he said of himself, "the awaken-
Looking back, Al Qaida's role seems
ing has started."
to divide into two: Some attacks
Burke proposes replacing the concept
(Somalia, East African embassies, the
of a structured, hierarchical Al Qaida
USS Cole, 9-11, perhaps the recent
organization with a more amorphous
Riyadh bombings) it ran with its own
"Al Qaida movement." When law
staff, while depending on others for
enforcement and intelligence agencies
the key ingredients — energy, com-
adopt this more flexible understanding,
mitment and self-sacrifice.
they can better do battle against mili-
In most operations (the Millennial
tant Islamic terrorism. ❑
plot, Strait of Gibraltar, London ricin,



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