Terrorism and Nuclear Dreams

“I participated in battles and some shrapnel are still inside my body. But, I find today’s world far more scarier than any other day before. I am a military-man and it is not easy for me to admit that I am scared. Earlier, you knew your enemy and his location. You could attack him. Now, the enemy can emerge from anywhere. Every time my children travel to this capital or that, I impatiently wait their return. Never have never experienced this level of anxiety,” said a retired general.

The general reminded me that the September 11 attacks took place 16 years ago, and up until now the world has failed to put an end to the war that sprung from it. He stated that the expenses paid following that dark day are equivalent to a great war, taking into consideration the hundreds of billions of dollars the US spent in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

He noted that terrorism is not the only problem. He mentioned that some suicide bombers wear explosive belts and there are insane people, who turn their countries into explosive belts as is the case with Kim Jong-un.

The general’s statement bears the hint of truth. We live in a terrifying world. Who can count the lives taken in the September 11 world? Who can count all of those killed in an explosion here or there? It is a wandering war, killing people in several cities, countries and continents. Also, who can calculate the sums countries have paid to enhance security measures in airports, cities and on borders. And who can estimate the tremendous losses caused by terrorists when they occupied this village or city?

A scary world indeed. Predicaments whose solutions are tough to find.

What will the world do, for example, with the North Korean leader, who insists on sleeping on a nuclear pillow in spite of threats and sanctions?

Is it really in the world’s interest to appease this man and let him possess a nuclear and missile arsenal that would be difficult to deter with any restrictions or agreements? Does the world’s interest demand to address this man with destructive force that is only available to the US military machine?

What about China, which has its own very complicated calculations in the North Korean crisis. Beijing doesn’t want to cut off Korea’s last economic lifeline. It fears the system will collapse and millions of refugees will flock into its territories. Beijing is also concerned that a Kim-less North Korea will end up in South Korea’s arms, which will create a major regional US ally.

China doesn’t want to witness the toppling of the North Korean regime under US army strikes similar to what happened with Saddam Hussein’s regime. It is not in Beijing’s interest to have such a US victory near its border which would renew certain regional countries’ bet on US.

Currently, there are two major issues haunting the world: tyrants’ lust for nuclear weapons as an “insurance policy” against any foreign invasion or international military punishment, and the ongoing terrorist wars, which the September 11 attacks relaunched and expanded to new territories.

Unluckily for us, the Middle East is an arena for terrorist appetites and, occasionally, a place for anyone interested in owning an “insurance policy” that can be used in the ongoing process of establishing a local major power that violates its neighbors’ borders. Such nuclear dreams came to Saddam Hussein, Gadhafi and Khomeini’s disciples.

Often, both of these “appetites” got mixed together in the Middle East.

One of Saddam Hussein’s aides once knocked on his door. The man told Saddam that something was happening in the US and that airplanes crashed into residential towers. Saddam asked him to turn on the television and he turned it on CNN. Saddam then asked him to turn to an Arabic channel and they witnessed the horrific scenes on al-Jazeera.

The man then asked Saddam if this incident will affect Iraq. Saddam replied that they are far from that, adding that a crime of this kind is often committed by an organization, not a state, and probably al-Qaeda.

It did not occur to Saddam on that day that the second earthquake would take place in Baghdad and lead to his hanging.

I was once at a coffee shop in an Arab capital and the coincidence would have it that a man sitting next to me was Saddam’s aide, who knocked on his door. He asked if I was the journalist who sometimes wrote about Iraq and I answered, yes. He told me that he had some clarifications to make to serve the truth, not defend Saddam, who had committed major errors.

The man, who stayed with Saddam for over 30 years, told me dozens of stories, including one that is worth mentioning here because it is relevant to nuclear dreams. The man was not a member of Saddam’s tribe or sect. He informed me that on May 13, 1981, the French ambassador in Iraq called for an urgent meeting with Saddam. The man said that this was a bit strange since it was supposed to happen through the Foreign Ministry, which prompted Saddam to summon Foreign Minister Tarek Aziz to inquire about the issue. The minister denied his knowledge of the incident and eventually Saddam agreed to meet the ambassador in the presence of Minister Aziz.

At the meeting, the ambassador took out a letter from then French President Valery Giscard d’Estaing, urgently asking Saddam to dispatch his Foreign Minister to a top-secret visit to the Elysee Palace to inform him of an important issue that concerns Iraq.

The minister went to Paris where President d’Estaing told him that France had accurate intelligence information about an eminent Israeli aerial attack within weeks to destroy Iraq’s nuclear reactor. The president added that intelligence services however failed to find out the exact date of the attack, adding that US intelligence is monitoring the Israeli preparations.

Aziz asked the president what France can do for Iraq in this case, to which the French president replied: “Nothing, we have informed you.”

At the beginning of the following month, Israel destroyed the reactor which Iraq had obtained from France.

The general was right. The world today is far scarier than yesterday’s. ISIS’ loss in Iraq will bring back its sleeper cells and lone wolf methods.

Once in a while, a new tyrant will pop up demanding his right to sleep on a nuclear pillow.

Ghassan Charbel

Ghassan Charbel

Ghassan Charbel is the editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper.

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