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Imagine there's no September 11

By Mark Vorzimmer
web posted July 1, 2002

What were the men in this white van really doing?
What were the men in this white van really doing?

It may be a bizarre notion, but the only thing more perplexing than the thought of Israel withholding crucial intelligence of the al-Qaida plan to attack the U.S. on September 11 may have been what would have happened had Israeli intelligence had such information and actually passed it on. Recently ABC's 20/20 aired a story suggesting that Israeli Intelligence may have known about the plot to attack the U.S. on September 11 and done nothing. Whether Israel indeed withheld crucial intelligence from the U.S., or what we would have done with such information is a mind-bendingly complicated matter and most certainly two-sides of the same coin.

It now appears likely that someone in government released important information related to a communication intercepted on September 10 (unrelated to anything Israel may have learned), directly related to the attacks on the 11th, that U.S. intelligence operatives failed to analyze until the 12th. Ari Fleisher, the President's spokesperson, explained in brief but sufficient detail implications of such a leak. At best, you blow your source; worst, someone dies. Or, worse yet, many die. It may indeed be worth contemplating the implications of such a porous, open system of debating critical national security policy here in the U.S., but when one undertakes such a task on a much grander scale, concerns grow larger still.

What if Israeli Intelligence uncovered the plot to attack the U.S. in much greater detail months before the communication intercepted on the 10th? Should it be assumed our strong allies would automatically pass on such information? The answer may not be as simple as it sounds. Few marvel at how the entity charged with protecting us on September 11th and failing, somehow ended up engaging in the greatest expanse of governmental authority in over half a century -- greater responsibility over those it failed to protect. Asking whether this would have happened in the absence of such an attack is wholly unnecessary; there hadn't been such an attack and no necessary safeguards were put into place. In fact, many such changes to airport and airliner security that are currently being implemented were proposed back during the halcyon days of the Gore Commission in late 1996, and were all but ignored.

The question is not whether our new found interest in security would have occurred in the absence of an attack such as September 11, but what would have happened if the plot to attack the U.S. had been uncovered and thwarted? Which brings us back to Israel. Whether they uncovered the plot to attack the U.S. or not -- regardless of how long this may have been before September 11 -- may be irrelevant since we were not equipped to act on such information (as is the case today). More importantly, the Israelis may not have been in a position to bear the consequences of releasing such information to the U.S.

Here's where John Lennon's utopian challenge may be instructive -- though not in a way he intended. Imagine if there was no September 11. "It's easy if you try. Nothing to kill or die for. Above us only sky." Prior to September 11, we knew of terrorist training camps in Afghanistan; we knew of Saddam Hussein's attempts to build weapons of mass destruction; we knew of Palestinian terror, and we knew all these were engineered for the purposes of attacking targets of Western democratic capitalism. What did we do then? Do you ignore it as Bill Clinton did and entertain the father of modern terrorism at the White House while your wife calls for Palestinian statehood?

Israel's releasing details of an al-Qaida plot to attack the U.S. could have created very difficult circumstances for their ongoing existence in Arab environs. Regardless of when such information would have been shared with the U.S., the press would have surely learned of it over time and sources much more crucial to the survival of Israel would have been compromised. For what? Besides being physically incapable at the time and very much legally hamstrung, U.S. resolve to act in the absence of an all-out attack is weak where it exists at all. One of the greatest dangers facing the U.S. right now, to say nothing of Israel, is the rising tide of anti-American Islamic elements inside the Palestinian Authority and Palestinian controlled territories. These Islamic elements are already ambivalent over who they hate more, Israel or the U.S., Israeli interference in such a grand al-Qaida scheme could have been seen a greater necessity for these Islamic elements to increase attacks on targets within Israel. The status of Israel, once their attackers become unconcerned with their Uncle Sam, unlike Yasser Arafat, becomes highly questionable (the level of U.S. support under such conditions would also be questionable)? Moreover, what the U.S. would have done with 19 cleanly shaven Arab males, free of criminal records and represented by the Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee -- even if search warrants would have yielded some of the evidence we now know to exist, is anyone's guess. Unfortunately, and as ghoulishly extreme as it may sound, thwarting the plan to attack the U.S. at that time may have only been of temporary benefit, insofar as it would have forestalled the changes in intelligence and law enforcement necessary to prevent future, more devastating terrorist attacks.

Lastly, and most inconceivably, is the matter of educating certain U.S. pols on the finer points of living in an environment such as that which Israel must contend everyday. Although this is an unthinkable proposition, U.S. policy towards Israel has been confusing in the best of times. Politicians are determined to demonstrate their moral confusion as evidenced by their repeated use of phrases such as the "cycle of violence" when speaking about routine Palestinian attacks on innocent Israelis. Attacks such as that which we've now suffered brings the Israeli predicament into clearer focus. And that may be the result of the horrific events of September 11. The U.S. is finally moving toward the type offensive, intrusive, and aggressive action that must be taken in the world in which we now find ourselves. Churchill may have been right "The Americans will always do the right thing...after they've exhausted all the alternatives." In the end, there should be no confusion over the fact that those who despise Israel and the Jews hold equal measures of contempt for Americans, anywhere they may be and whatever they're doing.

The deaths of those who perished on September 11 represented a tragedy like none other. Counting on others to warn us against such threats, if Israel did indeed learn of the plan, belongs in the same category as a failure to learn from our mistakes: Utopian. One can only imagine so long.

Mark Vorzimmer is a frequent contributor to Enter Stage Right.

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