Monday, April 13, 2009

Gerry Adams & the Easter Bunny

Monday - Pirates, bunnies and fanatics


Both the Easter Bunny and the Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams spent the weekend handing out goodies - the fairy-tale rabbit distributed gifts to children; the Irish republican politician handed out fairy tales about Hamas wanting nothing more than to live harmoniously alongside a Jewish state.

But the real news was elsewhere: Cairo's decision to crack down on blatant Hizbullah operations on Egyptian soil; the foiling of a terrorist plot in Britain; and piracy off the Somalia coast.

The struggle between Egypt and Hizbullah reflects, in part, Cairo's suspicion that Hassan Nasrallah - acting as Iran's proxy - may be creating an infrastructure within Egypt that could endanger the Mubarak regime. Egypt also has an eye on the June 7 Lebanese elections, where Shi'ite Islamists are the most powerful force. Cairo knows that if the Hizbullah-Syria-Iran bloc does well at the polls, as is feared, the Sunni world will be that much closer to writing off Lebanon as a total loss.

BUT IT is to the suspected Easter Monday plot against targets in the Manchester area and the continuing assaults against shipping off the horn of East Africa that we turn our attention here.

Both pirates and terrorists hatch their plots in failed states - Somalia and Pakistan, respectively; both exploit young Muslim men who "have nothing to lose," and both target primarily Western interests. And like Hamas and Hizbullah, British-based al-Qaida operatives and Somali pirates might all plausibly claim that they face foes who are disproportionally armed.

According to a RAND study, Somali pirates have earned an estimated $50 million in ransom beyond the value of the hijacked cargoes. Dozens of ships and hundreds of crew members are being held. The initial reaction to Somali piracy, as in the 2008 case of the Saudi tanker Sirius Star, was capitulation. But surrender emboldened the pirates and the international community has been forced into resistance.

The pirates, including those who were holding Captain Richard Phillips, are dispatched in speedboats to corner their prey, by warlords who are tipped off by local port authorities. Clambering up grappling hooks, the outlaws board the ships, overpower those on board and report to their masters ashore. The brigands are a motley crew of former fishermen (who know the sea), thugs from local gangs and technical experts who operate the satellite phones, GPS and military hardware necessary to carry off the attacks.

THE British media seemed more obsessed by the ineptitude of (now former) assistant commissioner Bob Quick, of the Metropolitan Police - who, in full view of photographers equipped with telescopic lenses, carried a top secret memo into 10 Downing Street outlining plans to stop Muslim extremists from killing large numbers of shoppers on Easter Monday - than with the plot itself.

Quick's gaffe necessitated accelerating raids in Manchester and Liverpool before suspects could get wind that authorities were on to them. UK police are now holding 11 Pakistani "students" and one UK-born Muslim. Prime Minister Brown acknowledged that "there are links between terrorists in Britain and terrorists in Pakistan."

A 2006 plot to down airliners using liquid bombs, a 2007 attempt to ram a car loaded with petrol into Glasgow airport and an attempted bombing of an Exeter eatery in 2007 all failed to come off as planned.

The last major successful al-Qaida-inspired attack in Britain took place on July 7, 2005, claiming 52 lives. Authorities say, however, that more than 4,000 British Muslims have received anti-civilian warfare training in Pakistan. Many of the 10,000 Pakistanis currently in Britain on student visas have been only cursorily vetted.

While piracy and terrorism are manifestations of the clash between Islamist extremists and the civilized world, neither has anything to do with the Arab-Israel conflict. Moreover, as distinct from the Palestinian cause, there is little profit in apologizing for African piracy or - beyond the fringe - exculpating the intended mass-slaughter of British civilians.

The violence off Somalia, the threatened mayhem in Britain and the relentless Palestinian terror against Israel all argue for enduring resolve by the international community. This has to be combined with a clearsighted willingness to rebuild the failed polities that spawned the fanatics in the first place.

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