Did Israel crack Bush assassination cell?

Israel charged six Arabs today with conspiracy to assassinate George Bush during one of his visits to Jerusalem.  According to the report, the men didn’t exactly keep themselves well-hidden.  They attempted to contact al-Qaeda through posted queries on websites, including requests for assistance in shooting down helicopters:

Israel’s Shin Bet counter-intelligence agency said one of the suspects had used his mobile phone to film helicopters at a sports stadium in Jerusalem that was used as a landing site for Bush’s delegation.

The suspect then posted queries on Web sites frequented by al Qaeda operatives, asking for guidance on how to shoot down the helicopters, the agency said in a statement. …

The Shin Bet said the men had met several times at Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque, seeking to organize a local al Qaeda network. The agency said computers seized from several of the suspects contained bomb-making manuals.

If al-Qaeda starts using the Al-Aqsa Mosque to coordinate its operations in Jerusalem, all hell will break loose. The Israelis would have to start restricting access to it, and the Palestinians would react violently to any such move. Even archeological efforts in the area of the mosque and temple can touch off riots.

In this case, though, it looks like Israel captured highly motivated amateurs and not AQ operatives. Four of the members came from Arab East Jerusalem, and two were Israeli Arabs. Given the access that Hamas and Hezbollah have to missiles and rockets, and how easy it is to find at least Hamas in the area, getting anti-helicopter missiles shouldn’t have required a pro to give away the plot by begging for assistance on websites that counterterrorist agencies patrol.

Whatever the threat level actually was, the Israelis kept Bush secure and kept this cell from fulfilling its mission. The danger of AQ comes more now from these highly-motivated amateurs rather than professionals crawling out of the hills of Pakistan. That’s why it’s so important to track communications on websites and other paths known to be used by terrorists or their supporters — to stop these attacks before they have a chance to reach fruition.