This week was a particularly violent one, with terror rearing its ugly head throughout the world.
In Kenya, a Somalia-based, al-Qaida-linked rebel group, al-Shabab, burst into Nairobi's Westgate shopping mall and murdered dozens of victims in cold blood, not before calling on fellow Muslims to run away.
Elsewhere on the continent, in Nigeria, at least 160 people were massacred in two attacks by the radical Islamist organization Boko Haram.
Meanwhile, in Pakistan, a terrorist blew himself up outside a church in the city of Peshawar, killing at least 60 members of Pakistan's Christian minority.
Here in Israel, terror struck as well. Over the Sukkot holiday, two soldiers paid with their lives. On Sunday, Sgt. Gal (Gavriel) Kobi took a single lethal bullet to his neck in Hebron. Forty-eight hours earlier, Sgt. Tomer Hazan had been murdered by his Palestinian host, Nidal Amar.
This was the same week during which Iran, a country that supports and finances terrorism, sent their president to the U.N. General Assembly as if he were a beacon of peace.
The attack in Kenya, which began on Saturday and lasted several days amid a hostage standoff, should ring alarm bells for the world. Osama bin Laden may be dead, but al-Qaida and its satellite organizations are alive and kicking. There is something very symbolic about the fact that Kenya is once again the target of a terror attack. This captivating country, so beloved of tourists, was the target of an attack in 1998 that served as a harbinger of the global terrorism we have experienced since the twin towers attack on September 11, 2001.
The 1998 attack in Kenya was the first salvo in a global terror war that has been raging for more than a decade, a war that affects many countries, and creates strange alliances, even between countries that don't have diplomatic relations. A war where the alliances are well hidden and there is more going on than meets the eye.
On Saturday August 7, 1998 at 10:40 a.m., a loud explosion was heard in central Nairobi coming from the direction of the U.S. Embassy. At almost the same time, a near identical explosion occurred near the U.S. Embassy in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. A total of 213 people were killed and 4,000 were injured in Nairobi on that day.
The two truck-bomb explosions in the two cities were the starting signal of al-Qaida's war on the West as a whole and the U.S. in particular.
Still, no one saw the (bloody) writing on the wall. In Europe, anyone speaking of global terrorism was considered paranoid. University students turned out theses on the theme of tolerance, merely repressing the danger. They explained that terrorism is the weapon of the weak, because what other choice do weak people have? No one believed that within a few years, those same jihadists would operate in Madrid, London and Toulouse.
No one really understood what was about to happen. Nor did they understand the fact that six months earlier, in February 1998, bin Laden, from his lair in Afghanistan, had declared the establishment of a World Islamic Front for Jihad against Jews and Crusaders. This was bin Laden's declaration of war against the infidels.
Even before the twin towers attack, al-Qaida began seducing jihadist organizations from Egypt, Pakistan and Bangladesh to join him. But even this activity did not help us understand what was coming. Intelligence agencies around the world began discerning the awakening of terror cells around the world, but still we did not understand.
The roots of terror
Before the mega-attack on New York in 2001, in October 2000, al-Qaida had sent a clear signal. Two terrorists in a small boat blew themselves up next to the USS Cole destroyer, anchored in Yemen. Analysts in the U.S. said at the time that the attack was in response to unrest in the Palestinian territories. The attack coincided with the start of the Second Intifada, and there were many Palestinian and pro-Palestinian activists in Yemen at the time.
The president of the U.S., Bill Clinton even said on the morning of the attack, "If [the terrorists’] intention was to deter us from our mission of promoting peace and security in the Middle East, they will fail utterly.”
In hindsight, this statement, uttered almost immediately after the Camp David Summit, was inaccurate, to say the least. In any case, the problem was passed on to the next president, George W. Bush, and the rest is history. Almost history. Unfortunately, the war on terror is still with us.
In 2008, Barack Obama entered the White House, with the promise of ending America's wars abroad. With a Nobel Prize in his pocket, he brought the troops home from Iraq and established a target date (2014) for ending the war in Afghanistan. In a speech to the nation this past February, Obama even explained how America had overcome al-Qaida, following the killing of bin Laden, on his watch.
The main message Obama wished to transmit was that Washington's priorities are changing. The Middle East is out, Asia and the Pacific are in. But once again, ironically, the attack on Nairobi brought Obama back to his roots -- both politically and personally.
In a column in USA Today this week, journalist and novelist Louise Branson wrote that Obama's father was born in Nairobi, and that the half-Kenyan president should support Kenya's efforts to battle terrorism against it. She also suggested that Obama visit Kenya as a sign of solidarity and to exhibit leadership.
"After 9/11, the French newspaper Le Monde famously carried a headline: We Are All Americans," Branson wrote.
"After the Nairobi attack, the message should be 'We Are All Kenyans.' Not just in our sympathy. But also in going all out to prevent another terrorist attack."
Branson also mentioned the terror attack on the Israeli hotel in Mombasa over a decade ago, as well as the fact that Islamic terror is mainly directed at nonbelievers, because "the attackers even called for Muslims to run away."
Branson believes, along with others, that leaving Somalia without intervention would be tantamount to leaving the battered and out-of-control country to the mercy of the al-Shabab terror organization. Starting in October 2011, Kenya, along with Ethiopia and Uganda, sent troops into Somalia, thereby increasing the Muslim terror organization's desire to hit back at them hard.
Modern terrorism is a big problem for the countries where it operates. It hurts not only their security and citizens, but their economies as well. Terror organizations like al-Shabab in the Horn of Africa, Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQMI) in western Africa, and even terror groups in the Sinai Peninsula, all engage in criminal activity to finance their terror activity. AQMI militants, for instance, specialize in smuggling cigarettes and alcohol (which are prohibited by the Muslim religion) via the Sahara desert. Kenya has added al-Shabab to its list of organized crime groups in the country.
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta this week admitted that his country is getting help from "friendly countries." Israel was the first country mentioned as such, after it helped with the hostage crisis in the Nairobi mall, even if some reports misleadingly stated that Israel was on the ground rescuing hostages. In fact, the assistance Israel provided was logistical, advising the Kenyan government.
Israel is a leader in the global terror war, but the diplomatic situation does not allow its involvement to be out in the open. Senior Israeli intelligence officers describe how in the 1990s, they warned friendly countries about the coming global jihad and were repeatedly rebuffed. In the best case, other countries interpreted this advice as self-interested and in the worst case as Israeli paranoia.
In any case, Jerusalem understood even then that the world is changing, that Israel needs partners, and that terror can reach us from further away than previously (for example, Sudan's ammunition factories).
For this reason, Netanyahu's government worked to forge new alliances and to strengthen ties with friendly nations in Africa.
This is how Israel built its new peripheral alliance. If in the 1950s, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion decided to add Chad and Ethiopia to its alliance with Iran and Turkey, when he realized he could not expect good relations with Arab countries in the near future; this time around, Israel forged warm and close ties with countries like Uganda and Kenya, which are of geo-political importance.
What Israel, Kenya and Uganda have in common is the problem of nonfriendly neighboring countries. Somalia, a member of the Arab League, has become a problem for other countries in the region. Some even see it as a new Afghanistan, because it lacks a centralized government that can force its authority on all the factions in its territory.
There is no doubt that al-Shabab, which operates in southern Somalia, scored points this week, even though it has suffered difficult setbacks since regional armies invaded Somalia.
In the meantime, al-Shabab has also severed itself from the country's religious courts and is making an effort to undermine the country that it controlled until recently, just as al-Qaida controlled Afghanistan when the Taliban was in charge.
Another troubling story about the terror attack in Kenya shows just how far Islamic terrorism has penetrated the West: According to reports, some of the attackers were American citizens. Others were Finns, Canadians and Brits, and this is not the first time that foreign citizens have perpetrated terrorism in Africa (e.g., the Algerian natural gas facility in January 2013). The attack in Kenya was perpetrated by Somali immigrants who did not want to assimilate into Western societies.
A prize for destruction
Terrorism cannot defeat the West, but it can definitely disrupt daily life, and we must concede that over the last decade it has not done a bad job of it. Witness the security checks before boarding airplanes or at the entrance to malls.
The Muslim world suffers from jihadist organizations, which make them look bad, but nevertheless they oppose those who seek to fight terror. Witness the double game played by Saudi Arabia.
Terror can destroy a country, especially one that lacks many resources and whose situation is sensitive. This is what is happening in Mauritania, where I served as Israel's ambassador for four years. In the past, this western African country attracted tourists and even the prestigious Paris-Dakar motor race once passed through its territory. After the attacks began in 2006, tourism plummeted and the organizers of Paris-Dakar decided to move the event to South America.
As mentioned, this past week has been a particularly violent one, while at the same time Syrian President Bashar Assad has been granted a grace period and Iranian President Hasan Rouhani arrived in New York for his U.N. speech as if he were the man the world was looking to for salvation. Media worldwide are already hanging a solution to the world's problems on a necessary conversation with these two leaders. After they helped sow terror in the world -- Assad and Rouhani may yet receive a medal for liberating us from it.
In our world, it seems, anything is possible.