“A new world conflict,” realized: an Israeli war crime and the road to 9/11

In a review of John Judis’s new book, Genesis: Truman, American Jews, and the Origins of the Arab/Israeli Conflict, Jesse Singal of the Boston Globe writes that President Truman feared that backing Israel might involve the United States in “a new world conflict.” Philip Weiss over at Mondoweiss picked up on this detail and added:

I especially love this piece because it invites a discussion of all the damage that the special relationship has helped to foster, from the killing of Robert Kennedy to the attack on the USS Liberty to Scott McConnell’s view that Israel has exported its Islamophobia to us, to Trita Parsi’s report that “radical Islam” was something the Israelis began promoting in the 1990s as the “new glue” to keep the US and Israel bonded after the end of the Cold War.

Weiss is right that Americans should discuss what damage has been incurred by unwavering support of Israel. The “special relationship” is one that no other countries enjoy, a relationship in which a client state dictates terms to its Imperial benefactor. Back when he enjoyed American demi-god status, even David Petraeus said that “hostilities between Israel and some of its neighbors present distinct challenges to our ability to advance our interests” in the region, and that “[t]he conflict foments anti-American sentiment.” However, Weiss forgot the most stark example of blowback from the special relationship in American history: how an integral member of the 9/11 attack was motivated by an Israeli massacre.

In 1996, Israel conducted a military campaign in south Lebanon called Operation: Grapes of Wrath. Max Blumenthal describes it as a “brutal military operation… which culminated in artillery strikes that killed 102 Lebanese women and children while they huddled in a UN bomb shelter at Qana” (Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel, p.84). This event is also called the First Qana Massacre, to distinguish it from a subsequent Qana massacre. In a report on the operation, Human Rights Watch said the shelling of Qana “put Israel in violation of international humanitarian law,” and that “Israel’s claims that it had no knowledge that hundreds of civilians were sheltered at the Qana base are simply not credible.” Even the usually restrained NGO said that the massacre, rather than being unique, was part of a pattern of the Israeli military “showing an appalling willingness to conduct military operations in which civilians would bear the brunt of the suffering.”

Like most suffering inflicted by Israel on its browner neighbors, the event went largely unnoticed by Americans, and is scarcely recalled today. For an engineering student in Hamburg, though, the campaign was pivotal. Infuriated by the carnage, a graduate student named Muhammad Atta shifted his pursuit from architecture to martyrdom. From Lawrence Wright’s The Looming Tower:

On April 11, 1996, when Atta was twenty-seven years old, he signed a standardized will he got from the al-Quds mosque. It was the day Israel attacked Lebanon in Operation Grapes of Wrath. According to one of his friends, Atta was enraged, and by filling out his last testament during the attack he was offering his life in response. (p. 307)

Atta would later fly the first plane into the World Trade Center. Atta had been the tactical mastermind of “The Planes Operation,” making plans and arrangements among the hijackers. Though Khalid Sheikh Muhammad was the strategic architect of the 9/11 atrocities, Der Spiegel calls Atta “the essential ingredient” for the plot.

It was Atta who decided to search out soul mates in a foreign world. He was the one who forged the group, inducted its members. He personally embraced the lifestyle that he demanded of others. Atta was the role model and the leader. And it was Atta who trimmed the group when necessary.

The 9/11 conspirators were a cult, and Mohammed Atta was their guru.

The path that lead Atta to the cockpit of American Airlines flight 11 began with a brutal show of Israeli violence, and it’s almost unknown. That even Mondoweiss was unaware of this event goes to show how proscribed criticism of Israel has been in the United States. For an example of the anti-American blowback created by the US’s unstinting military and political support of Israel, Mondoweiss didn’t need to go back in history to Sirhan Sirhan, they needed only look back a decade to the worst terrorist attack in history.