By Alex Safian, PhD
Now that Osama bin Laden has been killed in Pakistan by US forces, it is important for the media and the general public to remember just what triggered his anti-American obsession – hint, it wasn't Israel.
In fact, as bin Laden made abundantly clear in his writings and statements, his primary grievance was with Saudi Arabia, the Islamic holy land, and the presence and influence there of infidels, namely the armed forces of the United States.
What really sent bin Laden over the edge was the Saudi decision to invite in U.S. troops to protect the Kingdom right after Saddam had invaded Kuwait. Bin Laden urged against what he saw as a deep sacrilege and betrayal – Saudi Arabia is the holy land of the Muslims, and non-Muslims are not even allowed to step foot in Mecca and Medina.
Rather than accept US troops, he implored Saudi leaders to depend on his Afghan mujahadin instead. But Secretary of State James Baker and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Colin Powell visited the Kingdom and convinced Saudi rulers to turn him down and allow in the American army. For inviting in the infidels, the “Crusaders,” as bin Laden put it, the Saudi rulers would never be forgiven.
Indeed, in bin Laden’s famous Declaration of War against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Places, August 23, 1996, the Israelis are given only a few mentions, while the Americans and the Saudis are the primary villains:
The latest and the greatest of these aggressions, incurred by the Muslims since the death of the Prophet (ALLAH'S BLESSING AND SALUTATIONS ON HIM) is the occupation of the land of the two Holy Places [Mecca and Medina] -the foundation of the house of Islam, the place of the revelation, the source of the message and the place of the noble Ka'ba, the Qiblah of all Muslims- by the armies of the American Crusaders and their allies. (We bemoan this and can only say: "No power and power acquiring except through Allah")...
Through its course of actions the regime has torn off its legitimacy:
(1) Suspension of the Islamic Shari'ah law and exchanging it with man made civil law. The regime entered into a bloody confrontation with the truthful Ulamah and the righteous youths (we sanctify nobody; Allah sanctify Whom He pleaseth).
(2) The inability of the regime to protect the country, and allowing the enemy of the Ummah - the American crusader forces- to occupy the land for the longest of years.
Now, bin Laden's deputy, who is likely to succeed him as the head of al Qaeda, is Dr. Ayman al Zawahiri. Dr. Zawahiri is really the operational leader and chief strategist of the organization, so it is crucial to understand his thinking as well.
Zawahiri is from Egypt, and was arrested there more than twenty five years ago for his involvement in the assassination of Anwar Sadat. Of course, the assassination of Sadat, who had so bravely made peace with Israel, failed to destroy the Egyptian government, and failed to achieve its goal, an Islamic revolution. Instead the Islamist plotters who were lucky got long prison sentences; the rest got their heads chopped off. Zawahiri was one of the lucky ones, and he concluded while in jail that the coup failed because Egypt was massively supported by the United States, and therefore that the Egyptian regime and the other infidel Arab states will only be overthrown after the US is humiliated and forced to withdraw from the Middle East. Then the corrupt governments can be toppled by the Muslims, the Arab states can be unified and the caliphate restored. With their control of the Arab world’s oil and wealth, and large populations, al Qaeda and its followers would then be poised to rule the world.
Realistic or not, that was Zawahiris' thinking. And America – not Israel – stood in the way of that goal.
That is, we were attacked on 9/11 not because of our support for Israel, but because of our support for Saudi Arabia and Kuwait and Egypt and Jordan.
That's why through all the attacks by al Qaeda against the US up till 9/11 – the first WTC attack, Khobar towers in Saudi Arabia, the embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, the USS Cole in 2000 – there was not a single attack against Israel or Israeli interests. al Qaeda and bin Laden have much larger goals, and to them Israel is just a small sideshow. Or as the Iranians put it, the US is the “Great Satan,” Israel is the “Small Satan.”