American neoconservatives worried that the pro-democracy wave sweeping the Middle East might take out only "moderate" Arab dictators, but the neocons now see hope that uprisings will topple "enemy" regimes in Libya and Syria.
Yet, in rallying U.S. support for these rebellions, the neocons may be repeating the mistake they made by pushing the U.S. invasion of Iraq. They succeeded in ousting Saddam Hussein, who had long been near the top of Israel's enemies list, but the war also removed him as a bulwark against both Islamic extremists and Iranian influence in the Persian Gulf.
The neocons now are seeking a stronger U.S. military intervention in Libya to oust Col. Muammar Gaddafi (another old Israeli nemesis) and urging more support for protesters in Syria to overthrow the Assad dynasty (regarded as a frontline enemy of Israel).
However, by embracing these uprisings, the neocons are risking unintended consequences, including further Islamic radicalization of the region and deepening anti-Americanism. Indeed, a rebel victory over Gaddafi could put extremists from an al-Qaeda affiliate in a powerful position inside Libya.
So far, the major U.S. news media has aided the neocon cause by focusing on Gaddafi's historic ties to terrorism, including the questionable charge that he was behind the Pan Am 103 bombing in 1988. There has been little attention paid to his more recent role in combating the surge in al-Qaeda activity, especially in eastern Libya, the base of the revolt against him.
Similarly, Bashar al-Assad's Syrian government has repressed Islamic extremism inside its borders, in part, because Islamic fundamentalists despise the Alawite religion of Syria's rulers, considering it a form of apostasy that must be stamped out.
So Assad and Gaddafi have their own political reasons to be enemies of al-Qaeda, the terrorist organization which U.S. officials cite as the greatest national security threat to the American homeland.
As analysts Joseph Felter and Brian Fishman wrote in a report for West Point's Combating Terrorism Center, "the Syrian and Libyan governments share the United States' concerns about violent salafi-jihadi ideology and the violence perpetrated by its adherents."
Source of Jihadists
In their report entitled "Al-Qaeda's Foreign Fighters in Iraq," Felter and Fishman also analyzed al-Qaeda documents captured in 2007 showing personnel records of militants who flocked to Iraq for the war. The documents revealed that eastern Libya (the base of the anti-Gaddafi rebellion) was a hotbed for suicide bombers traveling to Iraq to kill American troops.
Felter and Fishman wrote that these so-called Sinjar Records disclosed that while Saudis comprised the largest number of foreign fighters in Iraq, Libyans represented the largest per-capita contingent by far. Those Libyans came overwhelmingly from towns and cities in the east.
"The vast majority of Libyan fighters that included their hometown in the Sinjar Records resided in the country's Northeast, particularly the coastal cities of Darnah 60.2% (53) and Benghazi 23.9% (21)," Felter and Fishman wrote, adding:
"Both Darnah and Benghazi have long been associated with Islamic militancy in Libya, in particular for an uprising by Islamist organizations in the mid-1990s. ... One group -- the Libyan Fighting Group " -- claimed to have Afghan veterans in its ranks," a reference to mujahedeen who took part in the CIA-backed anti-Soviet war in Afghanistan in the 1980s, as did al-Qaeda founder, Osama bin Laden, a Saudi.
"The Libyan uprisings [in the 1990s] became extraordinarily violent," Felter and Fishman wrote. "Qadhafi used helicopter gunships in Benghazi, cut telephone, electricity, and water supplies to Darnah and famously claimed that the militants "deserve to die without trial, like dogs,'"
The authors added that Abu Layth al-Libi, Emir of Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), "reinforced Benghazi and Darnah's importance to Libyan jihadis in his announcement that LIFG had joined al-Qa'ida.
"'It is with the grace of God that we were hoisting the banner of jihad against this apostate [Gaddafi] regime under the leadership of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, which sacrificed the elite of its sons and commanders in combating this regime whose blood was spilled on the mountains of Darnah, the streets of Benghazi, the outskirts of Tripoli, the desert of Sabha, and the sands of the beach.'"