Five years after 9/11 the United States is not winning the inaptly named "war" on terrorism. Individual victories have been won, and some enemy capabilities have been significantly degraded. But the larger struggle rages on, and seems likely to continue to do so for a very long time.
Al-Qaeda today has become an ideological movement rather than merely a single entity. Indeed, this transformation may constitute the greatest threat now posed by Al-Qaeda. Ideologies are much more difficult to destroy than organizations. While the strategic threat from what has been called "Al-Qaeda prime" may have lessened, the tactical threat posed by grassroots groups that now operate worldwide under its ideological umbrella has multiplied. As American complacency deepens and memories of 9/11 fade, Al-Qaeda, or its offshoots, wait. Unlike Americans, jihadists have a glacial sense of time.
Osama bin Laden knows all this. And that is why he probably continues to smile. Despite Al-Qaeda's failure to overthrow any Arab regime, or to mount another terrorist attack within the United States, Osama bin Laden undoubtedly believes that the long-term correlation of forces remains in his favor.
From the jihadist point of view, the war of attrition in the Middle East is succeeding in weakening American and Western resolve to keep substantial numbers of military forces in the region. In their judgment, that war of attrition needs only to be sustained for ultimate victory to be attained. Jihadists know that many other parties in the region, for their own reasons, will continue to abet their efforts. That too is a reason for their likely long-term, continuing, geostrategic optimism.
Iran may now be preparing an "army of martyrs" in case the United States attacks its nuclear infrastructure. Forty-thousand suicide bombers are said to have already been trained, out of a projected total of 55,000. This army is reportedly slated to attack U.S., Israeli and Western interests throughout the world, in the event war between the United States and Iran should erupt. Certainly, even without any attack on Iran's nuclear facilities, that army provides Iran another arrow in its quiver for a possible deployment in Iraq, Lebanon, or elsewhere.
In Iraq, reports indicate that Iran now has officers from its Revolutionary Guard and intelligence services spread throughout the southern Shi'a part of the country. In addition, Iranian experts are said to have well-established relationships with Iraqi Shi'a involved in the oil industry in southern Iraq. Iranian agents have penetrated Sadr City in Baghdad and are participating with Iraqi Shi'a in the campaign to ethnically separate Sunnis from Shi'a in Baghdad.
American, Israeli and NATO intelligence services are investigating unconfirmed reports that Iran may have transferred some of its uranium enrichment facilities to such Syrian cities as Latakia, Tartus and Deir el Zour. It is believed by some that Syria has become a dirty and dangerous complex for Iranian nuclear, chemical and biological activities.
The Iranian shadow across the Middle East is long. Iran is already a major power broker in Lebanon, through its control of the Lebanese Hizballah movement. Recently, Hizballah reportedly received a large infusion of military equipment from Iran through Syria, including drones, anti-tank and surface-to-surface missiles. These weapons have clearly been used in the long-prepared Hizballah war against Israel. The 12,000 to 20,000 Hizballah missiles pointed southward toward Israel that are capable of reaching at least as far as Haifa confront Israel with a perhaps unprecedented geostrategic problem.
For its part, the Lebanese army is said to have facilitated the delivery of these arms, arguing that Hizballah remains an indigenous resistance movement against Israel. Hizballah apparently has further reinforced its military position in south Lebanon, facing Israel. For example, Hizballah is said to have recently paid handsome compensation to hundreds of homeowners in southern Lebanon, transforming the former homes into "closed bases for Iranian-supplied missiles." Reports indicate that Hizballah may now have become a "front-line division of the Iranian army." All of this accounts for the heavy price Israel has paid as a result of its thrust into Lebanon.
As if all this were not enough, a variety of groups are reported now to be arming in Lebanon and creating or recreating their own militias or alternative sources of support. Walid Jumblatt, the leader of the Druze community and a strongly anti-Syrian Lebanese politician, is creating a militia in the Shouf Mountains. Samir Geagea, a veteran Maronite commander in the Lebanese Civil War, is doing the same in north Lebanon. For their part, Saad Hariri, the son of the late Rafik Hariri and a leading Sunni power broker in Beirut, as well as the Lebanese Sunni Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, are said to be now pushing to naturalize and enfranchise all of the 400,000 Palestinians in Lebanon in order to ensure that they are political allies. Specifically, and with the support of Saudi Arabia, the Lebanese Sunni leadership is reported to be considering the creation of its own Sunni Palestinian Islamic army to counter the Shi'a and Iranian challenge in the country. Does a reprise of the Lebanese Civil War loom?Essay Types: Essay