The hijacking of a PanAm 747 jetliner Friday in Karachi, Pakistan, may turn out to be an isolated incident in the long history of Middle Eastern turmoil.
Nevertheless, the hijacking deserves special consideration for several reasons: It came in the wake of April attack on Libya, apparently terminating the relative lull produced by the U.S. raid; it demonstrated anew the increasing sophistication and global reach of terrorists, and most importantly, it indicated that the United States has reemerged as a major target of Middle Eastern radicals.
The likelihood of a new wave of anti-American terrorism should not be viewed with equanimity. The popular notion that Palestinian "frustrations" are a harbinger of future terrorism seems largely irrelevant in determining the probability of a new radical assault on United States interests in the Middle East and elsewhere.
On the contrary, recent terrorist attacks against America largely have been sponsored by the radical axis of Iran, Syria and Libya. The specific aim has been the elimination of Washington's influence and presence in the region--especially by derailing the U.S.--sponsored Middle Eastern peace process. In the words of Iranian President Ali Khamenei, American diplomacy in the Middle East serves an "imperialist conspiracy" aimed at spreading Washington's domination in the region directly by way of its "agent" regimes--Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Morocco.
Popular notion would have us believe that progress toward the resolution of the Arab-Israeli problem, including its Palestinian component, should reduce the likelihood of anti-American terrorism. But the opposite, in fact, could be expected.
Among the leaders of Syria, Libya and Iran, the perception that U.S. diplomatic efforts might be gaining momentum could likely lead to intensification of radical activities--including terrorism--designed to undermine the process.
Many may agree that the peace process in the Middle East is currently at an impasse. But what counts in determining the imminence of a new terrorism wave is radical, rather than Western, perceptions. In recent months there have been indications that militant leaders increasingly were thinking that a new American "plot" was about to unfold in the Middle East.
For example, Syrian President Hafez Assad, responding to Vice President George Bush's trip to the Middle East, spoke on Aug. 1 of "the escalation of the imperialist-Zionist onslaught against the Arab nations." This was one day after Damascus Radio highlighted Washington's role in recent Middle Eastern contacts, including the meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres and Morocco's King Hassan II and the upcoming Egyptian-Israeli summit.
"We must remind ourselves," Assad said, that Israel's expansionist plan "is supported by U.S. imperialism. By fulfilling this dream, U.S. imperialism and world Zionism seek to dominate the Arab homeland. . . ." The Syrian president went on to recall the "blood of the Martyrs" who had given their lives in the struggle, saying "let us respond to the cry of martyrs who are examples to emulate."
Similar statements have come from Tehran and Tripoli. The Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, for example, in a message to Iranian pilgrims to Mecca, said that the U.S.-supported talks between Peres and King Hassan had been an "irreparable betrayal" to Muslims. "It is therefore a duty on the shoulder on Muslim and Arab peoples and their governments to cut off the hands of this betrayal of their cause." Moreover, Khomeini went on to point out the role of another such "agent" (King Hussein) "who is a treacherous door-to-door broker pitting the governments of the region into the trap of the great Satan (the United States)."
In plain English, the leaders of the radical axis in the Middle East have been inciting their followers to intensify their revolutionary struggle against the United States and its interests in the region.
But rather than being triggered spontaneously by "frustration," the unleashing of the new assault could come because in some quarters, America is seen as once again on the verge of wresting the diplomatic initiative in the area.