The Pakistani Threat: Why is Israel Blind to What’s beyond Iran?

Pakistan poses a real and significant threat to Israel. Why then is Israel preffer to focus on a nuclear threat that does not yet exist? 

Pakistan poses a real and significant threat to Israel and the Western world • Since its establishment and until very this day it has been home to many different sects hostile to each other, and as a result, there has existed a widespread culture of hating the ‘other’ • It possesses over one hundred nuclear warheads and long-range missiles; the arch-terrorists of Al-Qaeda are, and have been, operating from its territory; Countless Jihadists have emerged from it, carrying out attacks all over the world; Furthermore, Pakistan is a very anti-Semitic country • Why then is Israel blind to the dangers east of Iran and why does it choose to focus instead on a nuclear threat that does not yet exist?

Pakistani long-range missiles. Credit: SyedNaqvi90, by Wikipedia

Being a Muslim who defends the right of Israel to exist as a ‘Jewish State’ within secure internationally guaranteed borders does not help me generate a fan club among followers of Hamas. However, the fact I oppose the continuing presence of the IDF in the West Bank and my unapologetic support for a Palestinian State also ensures that many Jews see me with suspicion, thus ensuring an unenviable position where what I say has little resonance on either side of the debate.

As a friend of the Jewish people as well as the Arabs, the thought of a nuclear device exploding over Israel gives me the jitters. The fact is that it won’t just be Jews who will die in such an attack; millions of Arabs will be eviscerated, too. The problem is made worse by the fact that Israel is obsessed solely with the Islamic Republic of Iran that does not have a single nuclear warhead, while completely ignoring the real threat lying just east of Iran in the form of a fanatical army of Islamic zealots in nuclear-armed Pakistan.

In meeting with leading Jewish intellectuals and academia in North America and meeting some in Israel itself, I am struck by the lack of knowledge about Pakistan, its nuclear program and the internal dynamics of the country which has emerged as the world’s number one source of Jihadi suicide bombers and ground zero for the training of Islamic terrorists.

Culture of violence

Pakistan is not an easy subject. It is a multi-ethnic country with a multi-lingual population dominated by Punjab; a civil war in Balochistan; a disputed border with Afghanistan; hundreds of thousands of troops on a war footing at the Kashmir Line of Control against India; a slow slaughter of the country’s Shia population and China’s strategic interests at the mouth of the Straits of Hormuz. All of this makes the Pakistan a daunting task for any outsider to grasp. Even Britain and the USA, who helped create the country as a buffer state between the advancing USSR and India after the Second World War, have not been able to read the tea leaves with any degree of accuracy.

As I write this essay, Pakistan produces more nuclear bombs and develops longer-range missiles than any other nuclear power. On paper these nuclear warheads and missile are India-centric and pointed towards the east. However, Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is not at a static location and the warheads as well as missiles are constantly on the move; if there is one country that the country’s politicians, on the Right and the Left, hate more than India – it is Israel.

Pakistan is a society based on the hatred of the ‘Other’. Since its creation, the Hindu and the Jew, (‘Hanood wa Yahood’ in the popular street lexicon of the Urdu language) has been cultivated as the enemy of the country and Islam. In a culture of violence, three million fellow Muslims were killed in the 1971 genocide in Bangladesh. With the liquidation of the Hindu population and the total absence of Jews, the addiction to killing the ‘Other’ is now consuming the Pakistanis from within.

Just in the three years leading up to the 2011 capture and death of Osama Bin Laden in Abbotabad, Pakistan, there were 225 suicide bombings in the country killing over 3,900 people – all of them in politically motivated attacks by Sunni Muslim Jihadis. All the victims — from Ahmadi Muslims to Shia Muslim — are accused of serving the Zionist cause and thus eliminated.

Pakistan map

`Petri dish` of international terrorism

The irony is that while Israel considers Shia Iran as its primary enemy and nurtures a cold peace with Jordan and Egypt, the Shias of Iran are often branded as a secret Jewish sect by Sunni Muslim clerics in both Egypt and Jordan. Jews around the world seem to oblivious to this fact as they read about the slaughter of Shias in Pakistan and open hostility towards them from places as far apart as Indonesia to Indiana (home to America’s Islamist organization, ISNA).

If one were to study the sources of Jew hatred, they are invariably rooted in Pakistan and the Arab World. When it comes to terrorist attacks carried out around the globe, almost all of them have either originated in Pakistan, were carried out by young men of Pakistani ancestry or by Jihadi terrorists who were trained on Pakistani soil or were planned and executed by Islamabad’s intelligence agency, the ISI and its sponsored terrorist organizations. Yet, in the eyes of Israel and the Jewish Diaspora, it is Iran that is the anti-Semitic capital of the world hell-bent on destroying the Jewish State.

Let me catalogue the role Pakistan has played in international terrorism, long before its territory was used by Osama Bin Laden and Khaled Sheikh Mohammed to plan and execute the 9/11 attack on the United States:

1. September 1986: Armed men attempt to hijack a Pan Am jet on the tarmac of Karachi airport killing 20 people. Among the arrested are five Palestinians belonging to the Abu Nidal group and seven Pakistanis.

2. January 1993: CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia is attacked, killing two CIA employees and wounding three others. The perpetrator is a Pakistani, Ajmal Kansi. Four years later he is captured by FBI agents, returned to the United States to stand trial and executed by lethal injection in 2002.

3. February 1993: The World Trade Centre is attacked using a truck bomb. The mastermind of the attack, Ramzi Yousef is later arrested in 1995 in Islamabad, Pakistan.

4. August 1998: American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania are bombed, killing 223 people and wounding over 4,000 others. One of the planners of this terror attack, Ahmed Khalf an Ghailani, is arrested in 2004 in Gujrat, Pakistan.

5. October 2000: Jihadi terrorists carry out a suicide attack on the United States Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Cole while it is harbored and being refueled in the Yemen port of Aden. Seventeen American sailors are killed, and 39 injured. The Saudi mastermind behind this attack, Walid Bin Attash, is later captured on April 29, 2003 in Karachi, Pakistan.

6. May 2002: A suicide bomber kills 11 French naval engineers outside The Sheraton Hotel in Karachi, Pakistan. Three years later the bomb maker, Mufti Muhammad Sabir, is arrested 2005 in Karachi, Pakistan.

7. October 2002: Jihadi terrorists attack the Indonesian tourist resort of Bali killing 202 people and injuring another 240. Nine years later, the chief suspect in the bombing, Umar Patek of the militant group Jemaah Islamiah, is arrested in 2011 in Abbotabad, Pakistan.

8. July 2005: Jihadi terrorists carry out the now infamous 7/7 suicide bombings in London, UK, killing 52 people and injuring 700 others. Three of the four suicide bombers are of Pakistani ancestry. In January 2009, one of the planners of the London 7/7 bombings, Saudi national Zabi uk-Taifi, is arrested in a village just outside Peshawar, Pakistan.

9. December 2008: Pakistani jihadi terrorists carry out a sea-borne suicide attack on Mumbai, India, killing 166 people including a rabbi and his pregnant wife at a Jewish Centre (Beit Chabad), and injuring 308 others. The mastermind of the Mumbai attack is Pakistani-American David Coleman Headley (born Daud Sayed Gilani) and his Pakistani-Canadian accomplice Muhammad Tahwwar Rana, both working for the Pakistan ISI backed terror group, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT).

10. May 2010: A bombing at New York Times Square is foiled when street vendors discover smoke coming from a vehicle and alert an NYPD patrolman. The bomb ignites, but fails to explode, and is disarmed before causing any casualties. Two days later federal agents arrest a man at John F. Kennedy International Airport after he tries to board an Emirate Airlines flight to Dubai. He is Faisal Shahzad, a 30-year-old Pakistani-American.

Practicing terrorism long before the 9/11 attack. Credit: MATEUS_27:24&25, by flickr

Nurturing violent Jihadists

In addition to the above list of international jihadi terror attacks associated with Pakistan, the country has been home to most of the Al-Qaeda leadership, including Osama Bin Laden. They include the following five:

• Abu Zubaydah, a Saudi citizen currently held in U.S. custody, was arrested in March 2002 in Faisalabad, Pakistan.

• Ramzi bin al-Shibh, a Yemeni citizen being held by the United States as an enemy combatant detainee at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. He was captured in September 2002, in Karachi, Pakistan.

• Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is currently in U.S. military custody in Guantanamo Bay for acts of terrorism, including mass murder of civilians, as he has been identified as “the principal architect of the 9/11 attacks”. He was captured in March 2003 in Rawalpindi, Pakistan.

• Abu Faraj al-Libbi is the nom de guerre of a Libyan who is a senior member of al-Qaeda. (His real name is thought to be Mustaf a al-‘Uzayti). Al-Labibi was arrested in May 2005 in Mardan, Pakistan.

• Mustaf a-Nasar, also known as Abu Musab al-Suri is a Syrian-born leader of Al-Qaeda who holds Spanish citizenship. He is wanted in Spain for the 1985 El Descanso bombing that killed 18 people, and in connection with the 2004 Madrid train bombings. Nasar too ended up in Pakistan where he was captured in October 2005 in the Pakistani city of Quetta.

The only time Britons have been involved in a suicide bombing attack inside Israel involved men of Pakistan ancestry. In May 2003 a suicide bomber and his accomplice murdered three people and wounded scores at a Tel Aviv bar. The 21-year-old bomber, Asif Mohammed Hanif, died in the attack while his accomplice, Omar Khan Sharif, failed to detonate his bomb. Both were born to Pakistani parents in the UK. Hanif was not the first Pakistani-Briton to commit terror against Jews. In 2002, Omar Saeed Sheikh of the UK masterminded the kidnap and murder of Wall Street Journal journalist Daniel Pearl in Pakistan.

Compared to the acts of international terror that have a Pakistani link, terrorism that originates in Iran is few and far between. The first international atrocity that can be traced back to Iran was committed in 1994 when the Asociacion Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA) Jewish Centre in Buenos Aires was bombed, killing 85 people and wounding 300 more. There is little doubt that senior Iranian officials were behind the attack and that their Lebanese-based Hezbollah allies carried it out. The only other major act of Iranian international terror was in February 2012 when a bomb targeted an Israeli diplomat in New Delhi, India.

Iran more dangerous than Pakistan? Grand ayatollah Ali Khamenei (Left) and Prsident of Iran Hassan Rouhani. Credit: & BotMultichillT, Wikipedia

Lack of Pakistani Jews = Lack of interest

Why then is Israel so obsessed with Iran, but not Pakistan?

One of the reasons may be the presence in Israel of an influential Persian Jewish community with roots in Iran, and who have a particularly nasty experience with the regime of the Ayatollahs, compared to the era when a close relationship between Israel and Iran existed during the reign of The Shah until 1979.

Iranian Jews in Israel are estimated to be 200,000 to 250,000 strong and have a far greater role in the country’s public policy making then their numbers. From Dan Halutz, the former chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) to the now disgraced former president of the country Moshe Katsav, Iranian Jews in Israel pull more than their weight in the affairs of the country. Today, former Israeli minister of transport Shaul Mofaz, leads the Kadima Party while Michael Ben-Ari and Mordechai Zar were members of the Knesset.

Compared to Iranian Jews in Israel, Pakistani Jews do not exceed 2,000 in number, and their claim to fame is that they introduced cricket to Israel. They mostly live in the city of Ramla and do not have any prominent role or figure in Israeli political discourse. Few of these Pakistanis have any links or even memories of Pakistan, and unlike their Iranian counterparts, lack any insight into the current political nature of their former homeland.

While Israel Radio runs a daily Farsi language service since the 1950s, it has no such broadcast in Punjabi, Urdu, Balochi, Puhstu, or Sindhi, the languages of Pakistan. It is no wonder that in Israel there is such a dearth of scholarship on Pakistan and its plunge into international jihadi terrorism. While the 180-million population of Pakistan and its diaspora is almost universally anti-Semitic and hostile to Israel, the opposite may be true about Iran, where the ordinary Iranian is not that obsessed with Jew hatred and convoluted theories of Jewish conspiracies as their next-door Pakistani neighbors.

Nuclear weapon of Allah

Israelis are justifiably worried with the rabid rhetoric that emanates from the Iranian ayatollahs. However, they need to recognize that it is Pakistan that has 100 nuclear warheads and missiles that can reach Israel, not Iran. Pakistan leading nuclear scientist, MIT-educated Pervez Hoodbhoy, warns about the dangers of his country’s nuclear program in his book, “Confronting the Bomb.” He writes that Pakistani army insiders in collusion with an external Islamic group could be plotting to appropriate nuclear assets, unknown to authorities entrusted with protecting these assets.

As early as February 2000, Pakistan’s former military dictator, Gen. Pervez Musharraf created a nuclear command, which included what is called the Strategic Plans Division (SPD) that is supposed to have the physical custody of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. However, Prof. Hoodbhoy warns, “Mindsets and intentions matter more than” the procedures Pakistan may adopt. He adds:

The fear of loose weapons comes from the fact that Pakistan’s armed forces harbor a hidden enemy within their ranks. Those wearing the cloak of religion freely walk in and out of top security nuclear installations every day.

He describes the Pakistani army as “a heavily Islamicised rank-and-file brimming with seditious thoughts.”

Hoodbhoy maintains that there are two Pakistani armies; one led by military chief General Pervez Ashraf Kayani and the other by Allah. “It is difficult to find another example where the defense apparatus of a modern state has been rendered so vulnerable by the threat posed by military insiders. Even non-fundamentalist elements are “soft Islamists,” he says.

One army, Two generals; General Pervez Ashraf Kayani (Left). Credit: isafmedia, by flickr

Wake-up call from the East

Are Israelis aware of the vulnerabilities in Pakistan’s nuclear program that make it possible for non-state jihadi actors to strike at the Jewish State?

Obsessing with Iran while shrugging off the threats posed by Pakistan and its Jihadi sponsor Saudi Arabia may be a mistake that Jerusalem can still correct while it has a chance. Already there are reports that Saudi Arabia’s former intelligence chief, Prince Turki al-Faisal, is in support of cooperating secretly with Pakistan in developing a Saudi-based nuclear program. This initiative has the backing of the current director of the Saudi intelligence agency, Prince Bandar Bin Sultan.

Israel needs to realize that while Iran and Syria may be the dogs that bark, it is Saudi Arabia and Pakistan who are the ones most likely to bite.


Tarek Fatah is a Pakistani-born Canadian author and anti-Islamist activist who has written two books on the topic. He contributes to a range of outlets and broadcasts for Canadian radio. We are grateful for his willingness to write for Mida.

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