The Associated Press reports the largest airline in the Middle East, Dubai-based Emirates, has stopped carrying cargo from Yemen in the wake of last month’s interrupted mail bomb plot. Etihad Airways in Abu Dhabi, and Air Arabia from the emirate of Sharjah, made similar announcements, and Etihad also said it would stop accepting cargo from Somalia.
This is not an unreasonable precaution, in light of the last-minute save that kept cargo planes from becoming fireballs. However, it highlights the danger of playing defense against global terrorism. It’s hard enough to provide security for passenger flights. Stuffing bombs into UPS packages is horribly easy to do. The death toll from a successful midair cargo bombing would be relatively small, but the economic damage is another matter… and even thwarted bombings appear to be doing considerable harm to the already shaky economies of Yemen and Somalia. The result could be more of the destabilization that provides rich soil for the weed of terrorism.
Countries that turn a blind eye to the terrorist presence in their midst should study this incident carefully. Ten years ago, Yemeni authorities spent the aftermath of the U.S.S. Cole attack watching the FBI paint chalk outlines on the heaving waters of the Gulf of Aden. Now their ability to ship air cargo has been compromised, an expensive handicap in a fast-moving world. The aggressive pursuit and destruction of terror cells is the only way to prevent them from dishing out this kind of punishment. There are simply too many weak points for them to exploit in a high-tech global economy, if they are given enough time to study their targets.
This incident also illustrates the fragility of an advanced economy. Even unsuccessful terror attacks can deal millions of dollars in damage. A credible dirty-bomb threat over Wall Street would be like pulling the fire alarms in every major financial institution in the world, all at once. There’s an old joke about America bombing the Taliban forward into the Stone Age after 9/11. The terrorists will have a much easier time bombing us back into the 19th century.