Analysis: Islamic Terror, America and Israel – 17 years after 9/11

The future of the world will be determined both in the deserts of the Middle East and in the capitals of the West.

By: Daniel Krygier

Seventeen years have passed since Islamist terrorists murdered nearly 3000 people in New York. The date September 11, 2001 still brings traumatic memories of human suffering amidst images of the collapsing World Trade Center skyscrapers.

Where do America, Israel and the free world stand today compared to 17 years ago? What are the new challenges and opportunities in a post-9/11 world? Much of the last seventeen years have been shaped by Islamic terrorism and dramatically different responses from three different US presidents.

President Bush’s response to the 9/11 attack was to declare “War on Terror”. Much of the free world joined the US-led military campaigns in Afghanistan and in Iraq. President Bush saw Israel as an important ally in the war against terrorism. According to the Bush doctrine, the remedy was to spread freedom and democracy throughout the Muslim Arab world.

While well-intended in theory, it failed considerably in its execution. From the Muslim world’s perspective, America and the West were imposing alien and incompatible values and government systems on the Muslim Middle East. While Bush remained relatively sympathetic towards Israel, he was also influenced by European allies who insisted that NATO’s war on terrorism was somehow different from Israel’s war on terrorism.

By contrast, President Obama considered terrorism to be a consequence of Muslim victimhood and Western arrogance. While Bush linked terrorism to radical Islam, President Obama consistently denied any links between terrorism and Islam. By pulling-out most US forces from the Middle East, Obama created a power vacuum that was quickly filled with local and international players like Iran and Russia. Obama advocated closer ties with the Muslim world through appeasement.

This eventually led to the controversial nuclear deal with Iran, which greatly enhanced the Tehran regime’s influence throughout the Middle East. A central component in Obama’s Middle East strategy was to create distance between Washington and allies like Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Obama’s White House increasingly saw Israel as a liability rather than an ally.

While Obama’s relations with Israel were largely cold, they were considerably warmer with the Palestinian Authority (PA) in Ramallah and with Europe. Meanwhile, a pragmatic Israeli-Saudi alliance emerged against Iran’s imperial nuclear ambitions.

Unlike his two predecessors, President Trump’s Middle East policies are less ideological and more pragmatic. At their center are American interests. Like Bush, President Trump sees Israel as a valuable US ally. However, unlike Bush, Trump is not interested in imposing Western values and political systems on the Muslim world.

Trump has also rejected Obama’s political correctness by identifying Islamism as the source behind most global terrorism. Under Trump, Israel’s war on terrorism has become indistinguishable from the West’s wider war on terrorism.

The Trump administration has restored close relations between Washington and Jerusalem. At the same time, the gaps between Europe and America have widened considerably. Trump’s Middle Eastern policy is based on supporting US allies like Israel and punishing foes like Iran, Syria and PA.

While the threat from Islamic terror remains, it has changed considerably since 9/11. The relatively hierarchical al-Qaida terrorist-network was replaced by the much more decentralized ISIS terrorist-network. Losing most of its territory in Syria and in Iraq made ISIS even more flexible and its terrorist operations increasingly moved from the Middle East to the heart of the West and especially in Western Europe.

While ISIS is diminishing as a terrorist force, it continues to inspire homegrown Islamic terrorists in Europe and in America. Today, the West is both better and worse equipped to confront Islamist-inspired terrorism. On one hand, the West’s anti-terrorism experience and capabilities have grown. There is a much wider anti-terrorism cooperation between Washington, Jerusalem and Western European capitals. On the other hand, the West is ideologically more divided than ever since 9/11.

The Islamist capabilities to carry out large-scale terrorist attacks in Western capitals are gradually eroding. However, it has become increasingly more difficult to stop determined homegrown Islamic radicals in the West. The long-term impact from Trump’s Middle East policies are still unclear.

The direction in which the world is moving in, will be determined both in the deserts of the Middle East and in the capitals of the West.