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BACKGROUND
Legacy of Gulf War seen to fuel hatred

Anger over forces in Saudi Arabia stirred militants

By Anthony Shadid, Globe Staff, 9/13/2001

WASHINGTON - Arab anger at America has surged during the past year of Israeli-Palestinian fighting, but the hatred that may have spawned the worst-ever terror attack on the United States has roots that date back a decade or more to the 1991 Gulf War, policy makers and specialists said yesterday.

That conflict, which led to the dispatch of a US-led force to Saudi Arabia and the beginning of United Nations sanctions against Iraq, gave rise to the decade-long campaign waged by Osama bin Laden, the Saudi militant exiled in Afghanistan who US officials suggest was behind Tuesday's terror attack.

But more importantly, some analysts suggest, the hostility of bin Laden and his followers that grew out of the 1991 conflict has taken on a life of its own. And the implacable nature of their anger, they say, makes it even more challenging for the United States to craft an effective response without further roiling a volatile region that remains strategically important to Washington.

''They've made a profession out of being at war with the United States, and I don't think they're going to call it off any time soon,'' said William B. Quandt, a Middle East specialist and former National Security Council official in the Carter administration. ''The hard decision for any administration is what we can do that will really be effective.''

The terrorist strikes come at a time of diminished US support in the region.

US support for sanctions on Iraq since then has led to widespread suffering among Iraqis and prompted almost universal opposition in the Muslim world, analysts say. The deployment of US troops to Saudi Arabia - land considered sacred by Muslims - not only has infuriated groups like bin Laden's but has inflamed popular opinion, which sees as humiliating the need for American soldiers to defend the home of Islam's holiest shrines.

Those analysts say the past year of fighting between Israelis and Palestinians has unsettled much of the region, increasingly angry over what it views as unconditional American support for Israel and its use of American-made F-16s and rifles to quell the Palestinian uprising.

''One shouldn't underestimate the extent the Arab and Muslim world have been mesmerized by what's been going on in Israel and Palestine,'' said John Esposito, a Middle East specialist at Georgetown University. ''It has fed a real concern and disaffection over where the United States is coming from.''

That anger led in part to the chilling scenes of groups of Palestinians celebrating in the streets of the West Bank as images of the attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center raced around the world.

''People in the street identify the United States with Israel; they do not distinguish between the two,'' said Hala Mustafa, an Islamic specialist at the Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo.

But the role of those policies in driving bin Laden's campaign is far less clear, the analysts said. Bin Laden himself is believed to be motivated more by the US presence in Saudi Arabia, and his feelings run too deep to be swayed by, for instance, shifts in US involvement in brokering a Middle East peace.

Bin Laden's anger over the US presence led to his flight from Saudi Arabia to Sudan in 1991 and the decision by the Saudi government in 1994 to revoke his citizenship.

Many of his followers were radicalized even earlier. Drawn from Egypt, Algeria, Yemen, Kashmir, and elsewhere, they came together with bin Laden during the fight against Soviet troops in Afghanistan in the 1980s, when many were financially backed by the US government. Their causes and grievances, analysts say, are as disparate as their nationalities.

For many of them, analysts said, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict may be a sideshow. Like Saddam Hussein during the Gulf War, bin Laden and others may denounce Israel in part to mine the discontent in the Middle East.

''He talks about Palestine because Palestine makes him popular. It is a cause that many people feel strongly about,'' said Rashid Khalidi, director of the Center for International Studies at the University of Chicago.

That makes a response even more difficult, challenging US policy makers to devise a course that confronts bin Laden and his followers but avoids further endangering the United States' shaky standing in the region, in particular in the oil-exporting Gulf countries that the US counts among its most important allies.

Some specialists said the attacks should draw the United States closer to Israel and prompt an aggressive campaign to dismantle bin Laden's network.

''If the United States really looked at terrorism seriously, they would have sent an ultimatum a long time ago saying we want bin Laden dead or alive in 10 hours or else,'' said Yonah Alexander, director of the International Center for Terrorism Studies at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies in Washington. ''With these guys, they understand only force.''

But others warned against too hasty a response, one that might further alienate Arab allies that have denounced the attacks.

Georgetown's Esposito said an example was the US strikes against Sudan and Afghanistan in the wake of the 1998 bombings of US embassies in Africa. The target in Sudan, a factory that the Sudanese government contended was manufacturing only pharmaceuticals, is widely thought to have been a mistake, though the US government has only indirectly acknowledged that was the case.

''The risk is that in the rush to respond and retaliate, which is understandable, we may end up hitting the wrong targets and the wrong people,'' Esposito said. ''It's the opposite response that we need.''

This story ran on page A19 of the Boston Globe on 9/13/2001.
© Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company.