Israel warned the CIA of the potential danger posed by Osama Bin Laden in 1988, but the Americans failed to attribute significance to the report, Dr. Shmuel Bar, a senior researcher at the Institute of Policy and Strategy (IPS) at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya and a member of the Israeli intelligence community for three decades, said Tuesday.
"This was the first time ever that the arch-terrorist's name was mentioned as a risk factor by an intelligence body, but the Americans did understand what this was about, until it blew up in their faces on September 11," he added.
The name Bin Laden became familiar to the Israeli Mossad in the years 1986-1987, Bar said. At that time Israel had been gathering written material in Gaza and the West Bank, and came across the name of Bin Laden, who was described in one of the documents as a Saudi millionaire who joined Sheikh Abdullah Azzam's Mujahidin that ventured to Afghanistan to aid in the war against the Soviets.
The document referred to Bin Laden's preaching and his fatwas (Muslim law rulings). Mossad investigators realized at that point that Azzam's movement represented a problem, and that anyone involved in it could represent a threat to the western world.
The information was presented by the Mossad to the CIA, which practically ignored the report.
"It's no wonder the Americans did not realize the menace," Dr. Bar said. "Until September 11, or worse, until the London bombings, the Americans and the western world as a whole failed to comprehend the threat."
"While in Israel, alarm bells rang in the 1980's and the local intelligence community warned of the great danger of the Mujahidin and Bin Laden in particular, the western intelligence communities realized it only after the big catastrophe," he added.
Dr. Bar also said that "today we know a number of new things about Bin Laden and members of the radical Islamic organizations. We know, for example, that their big plan is to establish a global Islamic caliph (Arab leader) in Iraq, which was the first cradle of Islamic caliph. We know today that they are operating in hundreds of organizations, which are not necessarily connected, excluding that radical essence of Islam."
'U.S. intelligence facing significant problem'
Bin Laden's role has also changed, Dr. Bar said.
"We know that he is not the top commander of the entire operation known as 'al-Qaeda' in the Arab world. We know that the command has been handed over to junior commanders in the field, who may be influenced by the spirit of Jihad and Bin Laden, but do not accept his authority," he added.
According to Dr. Bar, the American intelligence organizations are now facing a significant problem in dealing with Bin Laden and Islamic terror, especially due to the language barrier.
"The situation there is so serious, that in the entire United States there are only six doctorate graduates a year who are capable of coping with material in the Arab language. Therefore, also today the Americans and other western countries are using Israel's services," he said.
"We provide academic studies conducted by former members of the Israeli intelligence community, at the Institute of Policy and Strategy at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzilya. These are state institutions that order and fund studies about the radical Islam and Islam in general. They know where we are coming from. They are also aware of our loyalty to the Israeli intelligence community," he added.
The institute's studies have gained global reputation due to the research method, which is not based on the accepted academic method. In other words, the studies are not conducted by reviewing books and articles, but by a lot of field work.
The institute members, headed by Dr. Bar and Dr. Israel Altman, conduct dynamic research, including interviews with Islamic people all across the world, in order to present a reliable situation report on the conflict between Islam and the West from a Muslim point of view.
"Already today we understand that we are not only talking about Islamic terror, but about a way of life and an outlook. We understood this and warned that it is a global problem more than 15 years ago, but the world is only today beginning to understand it," Dr. Bar concluded.