MENA WATCH: Israel + region continue to feel reverberations of 9/11 two decades later

What began as Israeli intelligence assistance against Al-Qaeda grew into larger cooperation against ISIS • Devastating attacks transformed America’s view of international terrorism • Whether Afghanistan again turns into Sunni terror hub an open question.

BY YAAKOV LAPPIN jewish news syndicate(September 10, 2021 / JNS)

As the world marks 20 years since Al-Qaeda’s terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, the unprecedented events and their aftereffects continue to reverberate throughout the region and beyond.

The events in the two decades that have passed since then have had a significant effect on the Middle East and Central Asia, while also seeing ever-growing intelligence cooperation on counter-terrorism between Israel and the United States.

Looking back at those changes, Professor Boaz Ganor, founder and executive director of the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT) in Herzliya, told JNS that the attacks caused a fundamental shift “in the Bush administration’s approach towards radical Islamic organizations and to all of the elements affiliated with it, or its supporters in the world and the Middle East.”

This, in turn, immediately altered the Bush administration’s approach to Israel, strengthening Israel’s position, as “many in the United States came to regard it as a spearhead and frontline state that that formed a separation l

“The September 11 attacks found Israel at the height of the Second Intifada, dealing with an unprecedented wave of suicide terrorism, and it was easier for the American administration and public to identify with Israeli suffering and to support Israel’s position,” he added. “Israel’s position grew stronger in the U.S., in the government and among the public as a result of its major experience in dealing with terrorism.”

Yoram Schweitzer, an expert on international terrorism and head of the program on terrorism and low-intensity conflict at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, said that before the United States entered a period of acute distress during 9/11, Israel was closely cooperating with it on issues of defense of security.

“After the attacks, Israel enlisted itself to the cause of assisting its American ally as much as it could,” he added. “Salafi jihadist terrorism started before 9/11, and, of course, it grew stronger with time,” said Schweitzer, noting the attack on the USS Cole in 2000, and the 1998 suicide truck-bombers that struck American embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, creating mass casualties.

“The Israeli expertise lies in familiarity with the Arab Muslim world, Salafi-jihadist activity and in its modus operandi,” said Schweitzer, who also served as a consultant on counter-terror strategies to the prime minister’s office and Israel’s Ministry of Defense.