Saturday, November 12, 2005

Many in Jordan See Old Enemy in Attack: Israel

ZARQA, Jordan, Nov. 11 - The Maktoum Mosque was crowded with worshipers for Friday Prayer as the imam sharply criticized the suicide attacks on three hotels in Amman, saying those who committed the crimes were not Muslims, no matter what they called themselves.

Afterward, on the street, people agreed that whoever committed such an act could not be a Muslim. But many meant this literally, that the attack must have been carried out by outsiders, namely Israeli agents.

"Who said it is them?" asked Ahmed al-Zawahrah, referring to claims that members of a radical Islamic group were behind the blasts. "It could be Israel."

Zarqa is the birthplace of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia. His relatives and neighbors prayed in the mosque, so one could imagine that it might be especially hard for them to accept that Mr. Zarqawi had taken responsibility for killing so many civilians. But the sentiment heard here is echoed across this country and region.

While most Arabs have long viewed Israel as their enemy, the extent to which Israel weighs on the regional psyche and diverts attention away from social, political, religious and economic issues that cannot be ignored, many social and political analysts say. Blaming Israel is not just a knee jerk, they say; for many Arabs, it is their reality.

In Egypt, Israel was also widely blamed for the bombing attacks in Taba and Sharm el Sheik over the last year, and for the recent sectarian violence between Coptic Christians and Muslims in Alexandria. In Syria, officials at the highest levels of the government have blamed Israel for killing Rafik Hariri, the former Lebanese prime minister.

"Israel is the only country in the region that does not want Egypt to be stable," said Muhammad al-Badrasheni, the member of Parliament. "It wants to cause sectarian strife that would result in international intervention like what is happening in Iraq now."

Gen. Fouad Allam, former director of state security in Egypt, said, for example, that the attack on a Hilton Hotel in Taba last year - in which mostly Israelis were killed - had to be the work of the Israeli secret service, the Mossad. "It was very well planned, studied, professional, and with a very high capacity," he said. "We never had this kind of capacity over the past 50 years."


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