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As it remains unclear who might have actually sponsored the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, if indeed anyone did, a great deal of speculation about motives and resources is perhaps inevitable. If one goes by the traditional “cui bono” standard, who benefits, there are perhaps two possible beneficiaries. One would be a terrorist sponsoring group which would be able to claim credit for a dramatic success against a major western government that is regarded as an enemy because it has been participating in wars against Islamic states. Terrorist organizations routinely make such claims after an attack because it establishes their bona fides and serves as a magnet for volunteers and donations from supporters. Very often the claims are suspect, particularly as many terrorist actions are now decentralized franchise operations that are carried out without direction or support by so-called “loners.”
The other possibility is Israel. Israel would benefit from an Islamist terrorist incident in France and would have powerful motives for allowing or encouraging such an attack to take place. First, it would reverse what it would see as a deplorable trend in France (and in Europe) to support Palestinian statehood, which Paris and other European governments endorsed at the United Nations on December 30th. Second, it would dramatically shift the narrative in the media away from the continued brutal treatment of the Palestinians. And third it would heighten anti-Islamic sentiments and get the Europeans back on board for the perpetual war on terror, which inextricably links Muslims to terrorism and effectively makes Israel’s enemies the enemies of both Europe and the United States.
To demonstrate what the actual Israeli government viewpoint might be, one has only to recall the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s satisfaction when he first heard about 9/11. He said “We are benefiting from one thing, and that is the attack on the Twin Towers and Pentagon, and the American struggle in Iraq, swung American public opinion in our favor.” Netanyahu knew that the attack could be manipulated to inextricably tie the United States to the Israeli view of the nature of Islamic terrorism and what to do about it. In that he was correct and the U.S. has been paying the price for a disproportionate and misguided counter-terrorism policy ever since. Netanyahu’s bizarre performance at the Charlie Hebdo solidarity parade in Paris also suggests that he is prepared to milk the current situation for the maximum political advantage, both for himself and for Israel.
But in spite of the clear evidence that Tel Aviv would like to see more terrorist attacks in Europe, even hypothesizing that Israel might be directly involved or knowledgeable in some way regarding Charlie Hebdo produces the predictable response, i.e. that it is anti-Semites who are making such a suggestion and that Israel is not so cynical or evil as to engage in such activity. One pundit casually dismisses speculation that the attack might have been engineered by “specifically the mystical supermen of Israel’s Mossad. Such a theory is stupid and scurrilous, as well as on so many grounds self-evidently incorrect.” The author does not explain why it is “self-evidently incorrect.”
A false flag operation is one in which the sponsors adopt a false identity, most often pretending to be from a different country or adhering to a different organization than that which they actually represent. Because Israel is reviled in much of the world, Israeli agents do not regularly tell anyone about their true affiliation. And Israel has a long history of both black and false flag operations going back to the Lavon Affair in 1954 in which the Israelis sought to blow up the United States government offices in Alexandria and blame it on the Egyptians. It has also frequently used non-Israeli passports, many provided unknowingly by immigrants from the U.S., Canada, Europe and Oceania, to cover the agents involved in its more creative overseas operations. When operating against Iran, the Israelis have sometimes pretended to be Americans as they knew that few Iranian dissidents would want to cooperate with Israel.
A great advantage Israel has for carrying out black operations is its stable of diaspora Jews who come from Arab countries, speak Arabic fluently and understand both the culture and Islam. Using false passports and identities, they could easily pretend to have links with either al-Qaeda or the Islamic State and it would not be that difficult for them to infiltrate small radicalized groups or connect with disaffected individuals in target countries. In the past when terrorist organizations were tightly controlled from the top it would have been difficult to pass as an adherent of such groups lest one be checked out and exposed, but the decentralization of terrorism over the past ten years has greatly reduced that possibility.
At the heart of the argument against any Israeli involvement is the belief that a false-flag operation would be too complicated to execute. In reality, the greatest difficulty is to avoid getting caught by the local police authorities while one is pretending to be someone else, a risk referred to as blowback.
The targets that one is trying to motivate to undertake some terrorist act will generally be gullible and willing to cooperate once access to a group is attained and credibility is established. An analogy with how the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) operates inside the United States would not be inappropriate. The FBI works with the National Security Agency (NSA) to identify dissidents by monitoring email transmissions and telephone calls. It then insinuates an informant into the group who uses a false identity and pretends to share the views of those being targeted. At that point it all becomes somewhat murky, at least if the FBI account is to be believed.
For the FBI informant to motivate and possibly enable the would-be terrorists to actually commit a crime would be regarded as “entrapment” which is itself an impropriety by law enforcement that would render inadmissible any evidence developed for a possible prosecution. But recent anti-terrorist legislation provides maximum advantage to prosecutors who only have to demonstrate some kind of material or other assistance to terrorism. Consequently, the line drawn regarding encouraging an action and enabling it has since 9/11 become somewhat blurry, even when the informant provides the targets with weapons that do not work or bombs that cannot explode. In practice, most alleged terrorists arrested in the United States are incapable of carrying out a terrorist act but they are nevertheless successfully prosecuted. This is due to the involvement of the informant and it is widely believed that the informant more often than not actually enables the planning for the crime to take place.
In reality, the FBI informant plays the same role that an Israeli or other agent might play in infiltrating a group and motivating it to carry out a terrorist attack. The potential targets could be identified online using Israel’s highly sophisticated technical resources and an agent might wait for an opportunity to make nonthreatening contact. Once contact is made, the relationship would be developed to the point where the agent becomes an active collaborator and makes suggestions about what might be done. He then gradually withdraws from the activity and lets the targets execute their planned attack.
I am not suggesting that either Israel or any other government was behind the two terrorist attacks in Paris but it would be foolish to rule anything out. Knee jerk reactions against conspiracy theories are frequently as irrational as some of the theories themselves but anyone who is open minded should appreciate that some very strange things have happened over the past fourteen years. 9/11 critics are regularly derided as crazy “truthers” but anyone who has read the entirety of the 9/11 Commission Report might very well come to the conclusion that there is a lot missing, to include the redacted section about a possible Saudi Arabian connection. I have in the past noted that the possible leads involving Israel and Pakistan have also failed to be investigated adequately and included in the report. One might reasonably consider that the principal role of government currently is to spin a narrative that exonerates its own behavior, making truth a rarely encountered commodity.