Remembrance: Lingering Hell and Remembered Heroism
I learned two huge historical facts emerging from the horror of the Islamist terror atrocities of September 11, 2001: (1) the toll of premature deaths caused by the lingering toxins at Ground Zero is now within sight of the nearly 3,000 deaths caused instantly and in the attack’s immediate aftermath, and likely eventually to surpass it, and (2) Americans mounted a maritime rescue operation that rescued 500,000 of their brethren trapped in Lower Manhattan — a greater number than the 335,000 British troops rescued from Nazi slaughter or imprisonment during the heroic June 1940 Days of Dunkirk.
Rebuke: An Islamist Member of Congress Is Called Out
On 2019’s 9/11 anniversary, the somber recitation of names of those deceased was punctuated by a stinging rebuke delivered by Nic Haros, whose mother, Frances Haros, was murdered that day:
Good morning, brothers and sisters in good faith. Listen. “Some people did something?” I am here today to honor my 76-year-old mother Francis on the solemn 18th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Mom, we all miss you and love you very much. This day I also remember over 200 personal friends and co-workers that I knew that died. I remember Virginia Fox, Warren … and Lou …
And I remember your sons and your daughters, your parents and siblings and all first responders. I remember all, I remember them all and pray with you for them today.
“Some people did something,” said a freshman congresswoman from Minnesota, to support and justify the creation of CAIR [the Council on American–Islamic Relations]. Today I’m here to respond to you exactly who did what to whom.
Madam, objectively speaking, we know who and what was done. There is no uncertainty about that. Why your confusion? On that day 19 Islamic terrorists, members of al-Qaeda, killed over 3,000 people and caused billions of dollars of economic damage. Is that clear? But as to whom, I was attacked. Your relatives and friends were attacked. Our constitutional freedoms were attacked, and our nation’s founding on Judeo-Christian principles were attacked. That’s what some people did. Got that now? We’re here today, congresswoman, to tell you who and the Squad just who did what to whom. Show respect in honoring them, please. American patriotism in your position demands it. For God and country, amen.
Omar, hitherto unrepentant as to her odious anti-Semitism and mockery of America’s efforts to combat jihadist Islam in March 2019, felt enough heat from this exceptionally pointed public scolding to tweet:
September 11th was an attack on all of us.… We will never forget the thousands of Americans who lost their lives in the largest terror attack on U.S. soil.… I will continue to fight to make sure we care for the first responders and families who lost loved ones.
But she still equates the trauma of 9/11 with an utterly specious assertion that Muslims in America were subjected to massive “Islamophobia” after 9/11:
It’s important for us to make sure that we are not forgetting the aftermath of 9/11, [when] many Americans found themselves now having their civil rights stripped from them, and so what I was speaking to was that as a Muslim, not only was I suffering as an American who was attacked on that day, but the next day I woke up as my fellow Americans were now treating me as suspect.
In realty, our leftist elites suffer from “Islamophilia”: per multicultural identity politics, they portray Islam as a “religion of peace” and thus largely immune from criticism. No such dispensations are given to Christians and Jews, who face strident attacks. Christians are demonized as intolerant for resisting hyper-secularization of every facet of American life; Jews remain targets for allegedly exercising malevolent economic and political influence behind the scenes.
Aftermath I: The Declining Salience of the Arab-Israeli Conflict
Remembrance should also include the infamous Palestinian 9/11 celebration video. While Israelis mourned the loss of life, Palestinians cheered it. Two days later, Colin Powell, in a PBS interview with Jim Lehrer, had this to say about the Palestinians:
The other day we saw some images from the occupied territories from the West Bank and people cheering what had happened, and that sort of was seared in our mind. But I got a message in from our Consul General in Jerusalem saying that his switchboard is swamped with calls from Palestinians — Palestinian officials, Palestinian people — expressing their distaste for that kind of display, and letting us know that they were expressing their condolences and sympathy to us as well. That is the civilized reaction.
Powell ignored two realities: (1) a public demonstration of any kind in a dictatorship rarely takes place without at least tacit approval of the leadership — clearly the case here, despite public statements to the contrary (belied by Palestinian conduct since), and (2) polls purporting to show Palestinian support for a “two-state” solution never specify that one of them is to be a Jewish state. A look at Middle East attitudes towards the Jews shows how improbable Palestinian support for a Jewish state is. In a 2009 Pew poll, well over 90 percent of Middle East populations sharing a border with Israel viewed Jews unfavorably. But this number includes an only 35-percent unfavorable view of Jews held by Israeli Arabs. Take that out, and the unfavorable numbers are 98 percent in Lebanon, 97 percent in the Palestinian territories and in Jordan, and 95 percent in Egypt. In Lebanon, both Sunni and Shia Muslims were at 98 percent and Christians at 97 percent. Surely after several wars in the past decade, negative opinion of Jews held by publics in Arab lands bordering Israel remains at astronomically high levels.
Jonathan Tobin notes that the demise of Palestinian peace hopes came with the January 9, 2005, election of Mahmoud Abbas, forced by the Bush 43 administration’s view that Palestinian democracy would bring peace:
The election was largely the result of American pressure on both the Palestinians and the Israeli government then led by Ariel Sharon. President George W. Bush and his foreign-policy team had become convinced that the establishment of Palestinian democracy was the necessary prerequisite to peace…. [T]hat Palestinian political culture was capable of sustaining political liberty, let alone choosing peace, was a fantasy.
Bush had rightly rejected Arafat — who had been foolishly embraced by President Bill Clinton and Israeli governments led by the Labor party as a peacemaker — as an unreconstructed terrorist. But … Abbas … was no more interested or capable of ending the conflict with Israel than his predecessor.
The Bush 43 administration made clear that “solving” the Arab-Israeli conflict was a key to addressing the Middle East after 9/11. This echoed the post–Gulf War view of the Bush 41 team that led to the Madrid Conference late in 1991. The Bush 43 version was the Annapolis Conference of late 2007. The Oslo Accords of 1993–95 marked the apogee of hope for reconciliation between Israel and the Palestinians. Palestinian refusal to accept a Jewish state, and Palestinian escalation of terror against the Jewish state, make peace not achievable for the foreseeable future. The Obama years saw more pressure on Israel to make concessions, and then Obama refusing to veto UN Security Council Resolution 2334, which declared all territory outside the 1949 armistice lines (the “Green Line”) to be Palestinian territory — including Israel’s holiest sites. While Trump would love to cut a “Deal of the Century,” it is unlikely he will get a chance — even in a second term. (I discuss many of the Palestinian issues in greater detail in several earlier articles for The American Spectator, which the reader can find on my author page.)
Recognizing this, Israel plans to formalize Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley. The verb “formalize” is not to be confused with “annex.” A country cannot annex territory over which it already has sovereign status. The Palestinians, for their part, plan more illegal construction in Area C of the West Bank, despite being prohibited by the Oslo Accords from even having a population there, let alone building anything.
Aftermath II: OPEC’s Petropower Leverage Is Greatly Eroded
After the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. faced a choice: with 15 of 19 hijackers Saudis, we could have pushed Saudi Arabia into the mortal enemy column, or, given that the U.S. was still highly vulnerable to Saudi/OPEC (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) petropower, we could have given the Saudis a pass and tried to enlist them in the anti-al-Qaeda coalition. We opted for the second option. A glance at U.S. oil production and U.S. oil import charts, focusing on 21st-century numbers, explains much of that decision. (Another factor: when al-Qaeda carried out a major terror attack inside Saudi Arabia in 2003, the Kingdom increased cooperation with the U.S. counter-terror effort.)
In 2001, the U.S. produced six million barrels of oil per day (mbpd). This fell to four mbpd in 2005 and again in 2008. But with the advent of the fracking industry, jump-started by Bush 43, in 2018 the U.S. was the world’s largest oil producer at 13 mbpd. U.S. oil imports rose in that period from 12 mbpd in 2000 to 14 mbpd in 2010 and now stand at 12 mbpd. Our 21st-century oil consumption numbers hover around 20 mbpd for 2000 and 2018 (and most of the time in between). In December 2018, the U.S. became a net exporter of oil for the first time in 75 years.
In effect, the oligopoly power that OPEC wielded for the first time in 1973, when King Feisal of Iraq imposed an embargo during the Yom Kippur War, and then with a second round of price shocks in 1979, has been broken by the rise of fracking. While Barack Obama claims credit for this rise, it was companies started in the Bush 43 years that got fracking going; Obama blocked several avenues of production on pollution and climate-change grounds. President Trump has promoted fracking and offshore oil production.
The value of shifting petropower away from OPEC was underscored by Iran’s attack on Saudi oil facilities, which knocked out 50 percent of the kingdom’s daily oil production (six mbpd out of 12 mbpd). While this represents only 5 percent of global oil supply, the facility targeted is Saudi Arabia’s most critical. Most directly harmed is China, whose economy has hit — in part due to the Trump tariffs — a 20-year low. Iran has offered to sell more oil to cover the Saudi drop, which Clifford May of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) notes is like an arsonist offering to send a fire brigade. Mark Dubowitz, also with FDD, adds that prior U.S. administrations have tried restraint, but Iran has never positively responded to such gestures.
The strongest evidence that Iran and not its Yemeni client carried out the attack on Saudi Arabia’s prime oil field comes from the attack’s sophistication:
[The north/northwesterly direction of the attack and the failure of missile defense batteries to intercept] suggest a low-level cruise missile attack that hugged the ground at altitudes of under 300 feet. The … arrival rate was very high, possibly even 95 percent … routes were carefully planned to avoid obstacles such as power lines and communication towers.
Seventeen individual impact points were struck at the Abqaiq facility, with a smaller number (perhaps as low as two) at Khurais. The weapons were highly accurate — for instance, all twelve of the thirty-meter-wide spheroid gas-oil separation tanks at Abqaiq were hit almost dead center. Much thinner stabilization towers were also accurately struck.
There are even indications of finesse in the strike’s “weaponeering,” the technical term for munition selection and modification. Some “aim-points” were clearly hit with large explosive payloads consistent with an Iranian cruise missile such as the 700-kilometer-range Ya-Ali. Yet the gas-oil separation tanks appear to have been struck with high-velocity kinetic force sans explosions, perhaps signaling an effort to damage but not permanently destroy them. Similar finesse was visible in Iran’s May 12 attacks in the Fujairah anchorage off the United Arab Emirates, where four ships had their hulls expertly holed without causing the vessels to spill oil, sink, or suffer massive fires.
In addition, if it turns out that specialized equipment requiring months to manufacture must be ordered and installed, the damage could keep Arab Light and Arab Super Light grades off the market for up to a year.
The Saudi energy minister announced on Tuesday that 50 percent of production has already been restored.
Aftermath III: Israel’s Rise Helps Saudis and Gulf Arabs versus Iran
As the Palestinian mess goes nowhere, and as OPEC’s hammerlock on global economies is loosened, the Saudis and many Gulf Arabs have finally fulfilled the prophecy of Israel’s iconic prime minister, Golda Meir (1969–74):
We can forgive the Arabs for killing our children. We cannot forgive them for forcing us to kill their children. We will only have peace with the Arabs when they love their children more than they hate us.
Facing the need for economic retrenchment as the OPEC financial spigot turns from gusher to sprinkler, Saudi Arabia and many of the Gulf Arabs have concluded that collaboration with a rising Israel beats futile rejection of the Jewish state. Israel’s advanced economy became supercharged after then–Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu implemented a deregulation campaign during Ariel Sharon’s stint as prime minister (2003–06); within a few years the public sector declined from 60 percent of GDP to 20 percent. Israel now is a world major player in technology, agriculture, environment (global leader in water desalinization), technology (including internet, computing, and military equipment), energy, and medicine.
When Israel was a negligible factor in the world economy, Arab backing of the Palestinians carried no economic penalty. Now that Israel is a global economic and technology powerhouse it can offer the Arabs enormous benefits — very much needed as the OPEC petrodollar bonanza dwindles. In 2017, Prime Minister Netanyahu issued the first national security strategy since David Ben-Gurion did in 1951. Middle East maven Jonathan Schanzer summarizes its four pillars:
Netanyahu asserts that Israel’s security rests on four main pillars. The first pillar is military power, which derives from deterrence, early warning, defense, and offensive capabilities. The second pillar is economic power, which derives from strengthening the private sector, removing obstacles to trade and commerce, and strengthening global economic ties. The third pillar is political power, which derives from strong alliances, deterrence, ensuring that the Israeli military has a free hand to operate, and eroding the reflexively anti-Israel majority in international organizations. The final pillar Netanyahu describes as social and spiritual power, which might be better characterized as human capital, noting the resiliency of the Israeli people.
As this article goes to press, it is unclear if Netanyahu will be able to remain prime minister. It is also unclear what coalition government will replace his. It is even possible that a third round of elections will be held come December. The American Spectator’s Dov Fischer recently summarized the complex set of scenarios. Voters under parliamentary coalition governance frequently endure “Who’s on first?” election farces.
Also spurring rapprochement is the growing menace of Iran. Its attack on Saudi oil facilities is the latest — and biggest to date — alarm bell. Even a decade ago, we learned from the WikiLeaks cables that the Saudis were petrified about the Iranian threat. About five years ago the Kingdom made clear that it would go nuclear if the Iranians did.
And now Iran has demonstrated a novel, potentially devastating conventional capability. Iran’s breakthrough is the price of our deciding not to push regime change or, at least, destroying its nuclear program long ago. Iran now can threaten us — and the world economy — with low-cost, hard-to-defend conventional munitions by holding Gulf oil facilities hostage.
Another factor in the Iran attack was that on August 26 — less than three weeks before the September 14 attack — President Trump reduced his administration’s conditions for reopening negotiations on lifting economic sanctions from 12 (announced May 20) to three — no nukes, no ballistic missiles, and a longer period of time (past 2030). Abandoned were conditions that Iran not engage aggression against its Arab countries and Israel, not threaten freedom of navigation on international waterways, end global support for terrorists, and cease conducting cyberattacks.
The latest signals coming from Team Trump are a start: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called Iran’s September 14 attack “an act of war,” and President Trump instructed Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin to impose additional (as yet unspecified) economic sanctions. And Secretary of Defense Mark Esper stated that the Pentagon “is preparing a response” to the September 14 attacks.
The U.S. has a pivotal role in these developments. Long the premier supplier of military equipment to the Kingdom and the Gulf states, it continues to influence events there. President Trump made four key decisions: (1) exit the Iran nuclear deal that guaranteed Iran an ultimate path to nuclear weapons; (2) move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem; (3) recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights: (4) bypass the failed Oslo pseudo-peace process. These have been coupled with encouraging our Arab allies to strengthen their ties with Israel.
Now the U.S. must assemble a coalition to conduct a significant retaliation against Iran for its dramatic escalation by targeting the Saudi oil fields. It must include a military component, even if the UN takes diplomatic action. And if Iran decides again to up the ante by targeting another major field, the U.S. must make positive regime change its policy goal. Attacking such targets deals a harsh blow to the global economy. We’d surely have Israel and allied Arab states willing, and perhaps others as well. Whether with lots of help or a little, the U.S. must then take the steps needed to effect the demise of Iran’s global jihad — except that a ground presence beyond special ops and intel units is beyond America’s current capability to sustain militarily. In the event, the American public has no appetite for another “boots on the ground” operation after two huge post-9/11 fails.
Bottom Line: Tectonic events have become almost the norm in the Middle East over the past 20 years and figure to continue doing so in the next 20 years. The Middle East over the past century has often produced what Bismarck said of the 19th-century and early 20th-century Balkans: “More politics than can be consumed locally.
Growing Israeli-Arab ties will be crucial to shaping events in the coming decades. This will help counter Iran’s pursuit of nukes, terror, and jihad. Further Israeli-Arab rapprochement is likely if the U.S. plays its cards right — and if American voters next fall re-elect the most pro-Israel president in American history.
John C. Wohlstetter is author of Sleepwalking With the Bomb (Second edition 2014.)