Were Jews the Target of the Yemen Cargo Bombs?

Fallows links to an interesting Stratfor analysis by Scott Stewart which raises the question, among others, about whether the Yemen cargo bombs were meant to kill Jews. Jim seems to endorse the argument that the attempt was "mainly an anti-Western rather than an anti-Jewish effort." I'm not sure that these two things are easily distinguishable, but that's another subject. In any case, Jim writes:

According to Stratfor's Scott Stewart, the bombs were clearly intended to go off in flight, rather than ever reaching the Jewish congregations in Chicago to which the packages were theoretically being sent. Those addresses were apparently a kind of false-flag, or bonus, intensifying the terrorizing effect. (If the bombs had gone off in flight, presumably the addresses might have been discovered in post-disaster tracking and investigation.) The real objective was to kill whoever happened to be on the plane, which could of course have included Muslims, and to terrorize Westerners in general.

I have my doubts. Since I was in communication with Stratfor's Stewart on another matter (the TSA), I e-mailed him the following question:

I'm troubled by one conclusion -- could it be that you are overthinking one aspect of this? Which is to say, when someone mails bombs to synagogues, isn't it stretching it a bit to conclude that Jews weren't an actual (not the only actual, but an actual) target? What I'm bothered by in all this is the bomb-makers in Yemen could have chosen any institution in America -- financial, government, media, Christian, etc. -- to send their bombs to, but they chose Jewish institutions, even though they would probably understand that sending packages to Jewish institutions in America would heighten the chance that the packages would raise suspicions?

To which Stewart responded:

When I look at something like this from a tactical perspective. I separate the target of the devices from the target of the terror. In my opinion, American Jews were specifically targeted for the terror, but not for the actual devices.  These devices were never intended to make it to Chicago. Of course the rest of America was targeted for the terror too, but the Jews were purposefully specified.

This sounds like a reasonable bit of analysis, though I do wonder if the bomb-makers considered the synagogues back-up targets, in case the bombs did not explode mid-air (which they didn't). I understand that the bombs would likely not have detonated on the ground, either, but this does not mean that the bomb-makers understood that they would definitely not detonate. Which is to say, I agree that the airplanes might have been the sole targets of these devices, but perhaps the makers of the devices hoped that, if they failed to bring down airplanes, they would at least kill some Jews, rather than merely terrorize them. All of this debate, by the way, does not change the basic fact that al Qaeda and its various affiliates are proponents of eliminationist anti-Semitism. Even a cursory reading of their statements and literature would confirm this point.

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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.


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