The State Department’s top counterterrorism official indicated Tuesday that Israel would not soon be invited to join a global counterterrorism organization comprised of Western and Middle Eastern nations.
The Obama administration decided earlier this year to exclude Israel from the Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF), a coalition of countries that work together to combat terror.
The Jewish state’s omission from the forum prompted a sharp response from the Jewish community and from pro-Israel lawmakers on Capitol Hill who accused the administration of kowtowing to Middle Eastern nations.
Dan Benjamin, the State Department’s coordinator for counterterrorism, said during a public discussion Tuesday afternoon at the Brookings Institution that there are no immediate plans to invite Israel to the forum.
The issue of admitting more members was discussed last week in Abu Dhabi when the GCTF’s 29 members gathered for their most recent powwow.
"This issue was on the agenda in Abu Dhabi and the group has agreed that the co-chairs will put through a proposition, not specifically on Israel, but on how nonmembers are engaged by the GCTF in the future," Benjamin said in response to a question from the audience.
"Different parts of the organization are embracing different practices," Benjamin said, suggesting that Israel still faces great opposition from certain members.
"We [the U.S.] strongly believe Israel has an important contribution to be made … and we have certainly spoken at length to the Israelis about it and simply will continue working this issue and are determined we’ll get a positive outcome on that," he said, declining to speculate on whether Israel will ultimately be invited.
The GCTF has made large strides without Israel, Benjamin said.
"We strongly believe the activities of the group are beneficial to everyone’s security," he said. "The GCTF is making a real difference."
Benjamin also indicated that al Qaeda is losing its popularity and support system across the Middle East.
There is a "clear indication the al Qaeda message continues to wane in popularity," he said, echoing a talking point often articulated by President Barack Obama.
"Al Qaeda’s core has been seriously degraded," Benjamin said, citing the death of terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden. "The al Qaeda core is on the path to defeat."
The assassination of 20 to 30 of al Qaeda’s top figures throughout the region has brought the terror organization to the brink of financial collapse, preventing it from training new recruits and launching attacks, he said.
Benjamin went on to express concern about extremist elements in Syria where a bloody civil war aimed at toppling President Bashar al-Assad has opened the country to radical jihadists.
In Syria, "al Qaeda in Iraq seeks to establish a long term presence" and is "working to hijack a long repressed nation’s struggle to meet their own extremist needs," Benjamin said.
While maintaining that terrorist elements in the Middle East are on the retreat, Benjamin mostly avoided discussing the deadly Sept. 11, 2012 in Benghazi, Libya, that claimed the lives of four Americans.