Dangers in the Middle East
Israel's 'War on Terrorism'
most interesting theory in the wake of the weekend attacks in Israel
came from DEBKA-Net-Weekly, advertised as an intelligence service
and carried on WorldNetDaily.com. In its report
Monday, it said that the unspoken upshot of the hurried and quite
private meeting between George W. Bush and Ariel Sharon was that
"the major Israeli offensive under way against Arab terrorism opens
the West's second front against world terrorism."
announcement on Tuesday that the administration is seeking to close
down certain charitable organizations alleged to be closely connected
to Hamas, which claimed responsibility for the attacks, would be
consistent with this view. There are plenty of terrorist organizations
extant, and the most effective undoubtedly have various sub rosa
ways of raising money. But Hamas is the one bedeviling Israel just
now. So perhaps there's a tacit understanding that although the
plans might have been different a few weeks ago, the plan this week
is to make Hamas and probably Hezbollah and the Islamic Jihad
before long the next target for U.S. attention.
It could be that while certain administration underlings and a good
bit of the conservative and neocon establishment are eager to attack
Saddam Hussein as quickly as possible well before matters in
Afghanistan, successful though the early military results seem to
be are even close to resolution. President Bush has responded
opportunistically (which is not necessarily intended to be a denigrative
term in this context) to events and put off a decision about Iraq.
So he'll stick with his personal instincts which are not necessarily
those of the State Department or the foreign policy establishment
and give Israel a green light.
nearly as I can piece things together from a lot of reading and
interviewing, most people in Israel even the former doves
have been champing at the bit to have at the Palestinians for some
time. The brutal suicide-bomb attacks will give Ariel Sharon all
the cover he needs to undertake a serious military campaign against
both the Palestinian Authority and the outright terrorist groups
that have been active recently. It might not do much good in the
long run, but this is the Middle East.
attacks over the weekend have certainly raised the stakes in the
ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, staining the region with more
innocent blood and rising anger on both sides. It seems likely that
certain elements in Israel and probably some in the United States
would like to see the responses mark a new phase in the conflict,
leading to either discrediting Yasser Arafat or pushing him from
their fantasies many Israelis might even imagine a decisive military
campaign that will discourage future terrorism for years or even
decades to come. It is almost impossible to determine whether such
an outcome is likely, but it would be wise to bet against it.
have had comments from presidential press secretary Ari Fleischer
suggesting a tilt toward Israel and perhaps something of a green
light for whatever the Israeli government thinks it has to do now.
"Nightline" on Monday suggested that in the wake of the World Trade
Center bombing (interesting that hardly anybody mentions the Pentagon)
most Americans see Israel in a different and more sympathetic light.
We've had the move to cut some of Hamas's finances.
these moves might make Mr. Bush and his advisers feel useful. But
the simple fact is that beyond some tilting and maybe sending more
money or weapons, there is surprisingly little the United States
can do to affect the outcome of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Some commentators suggest that by siding more openly with Israel
the US might be giving up its potential as an "honest broker" of
a peace agreement. But the United States has not been perceived
in the region as an honest broker for a long time, if it ever was.
inserting US military forces undertaking overtly military action
(rather than pretending to be "peacekeepers") an action that
would outrage most Arab countries and probably alienate Israel as
well the United States has little real influence over the situation.
So while it may bluster and opine, it has little real choice but
to sit back, cheer and boo, and hope for the best assuming anybody
in the foreign policy establishment has anything resembling a coherent
notion of what the best outcome might be.
talked on Monday to Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, a senior fellow at
the Hoover Institution at Stanford and a professor in the Department
of Politics at New York University, whose expertise is more in the
politics of conflict than in the Middle East per se. His belief
is that the weekend attacks, while relatively large-scale in the
deaths and injuries they caused, were not all that surprising. "Every
time there is substantial pressure for Palestinian Authority-Israeli
negotiations, groups like Hamas [which claimed responsibility for
the weekend bombings] believe they have to derail the process through
violence," he told me.
it is possible that Ariel Sharon might be able to bestir Israel
to a period of more aggressive outright military activity, it seems
more likely that we will see the usual tit-for-tat reprisals that
have characterized Israeli-Palestinian relations for most of living
memory. Even if the US weighs in on Israel's side with more actions
like the cutoff of funds to certain organizations alleged to funnel
money to terrorist groups, the effects of such actions are likely
to be marginal. And the US will have to be somewhat careful even
in these actions, let alone more overt military actions.
basic problem, when considering whether or not the US should abandon
pretense and act as Israel's military ally, is uncertainty about
what kind of authority would replace Yasser Arafat if he were to
be ousted from power. The evidence is that if Palestinian public
opinion means anything and compared to the force of arms
it might not mean much in the short run the next most likely
candidate would be Hamas leaders. Or there might be a war-of-all-against-all
chaos. Such disorder would inevitably spill over into terrorist
incidents in Israel even if, as an increasing number of Israeli
politicians, including Labor Minister Dalia Itzik suggest, a
fence were erected between Israel and the West Bank.
Arafat is undoubtedly a scoundrel who has used the existence of
terrorist groups to his advantage, but the fact that he has stayed
in power for so long indicates that he is a shrewd scoundrel. Even
if he were killed, he might be viewed as a martyr and rallying point
more effective in inspiring anti-Israel terrorism than the mere
human being he is when alive.
a good deal of debate about just how effectively Arafat might be
able to control Hamas and other groups if he were inclined to do
so. I don't claim to have any secret insight. Mr. Bueno de Mesquita
believes he has some influence over more militant groups but nothing
close to effective control. Indeed, Hamas, he thinks, is a rival
to Arafat, who has not moved to destroy Hamas in part because he
is not sure he would win.
Bueno de Mesquita thinks that perhaps just perhaps the best
hope for ultimate accommodation in the Middle East would be if Al
Fatah, the Arafat wing of the PLO, engaged in an outright civil
war with Hamas and won. But he doesn't expect that to happen. So
Israel is likely to have to face Arafat, the devil it knows, for
some time to come.
curious. The US campaign against Afghanistan seems to have emboldened
Israel to think about more aggressive military activity after a
period of pretending to be involved in an illusory "peace process."
After all, the United States didn't simply target Osama bin Laden
and a few of his henchmen after September 11. It went after the
Taliban regime that it claimed provided support, aid and comfort
to the terrorist networks and not just with a few special forces
infiltrated into key areas, but with a massive bombing campaign.
many Israelis, what's sauce for the US goose should be sauce for
the Israeli gander. So within Israel, right-leaning elements are
increasingly urging a "Taliban-like ultimatum," as a Jerusalem
Post editorial put it, to Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian
Authority: Either arrest the perpetrators and crack down on terrorism
effectively (perhaps even turning some over to Israeli authorities)
or prepare to lose power and perhaps your life.
Israelis, of course, question the wisdom of toppling Arafat, arguing
that an attempt could enhance his popularity and further, that
any replacement would be worse for Israel.
seems certain that an Israeli response more aggressive than Monday's
and Tuesday's attacks will come. Americans can do little but weep
for the innocent and pray for more wisdom on both sides than seems
of which should make observations I have previously noted from my
acquaintance Leon Hadar (a former Jerusalem Post UN corespondent)
even more relevant. Leon has argued that with the decline of the
Soviet empire the outcome of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is
less strategically important to the US and Europe than it was before.
It would make sense, then, he says, for most of the rest of the
world to view it as one more regional, quasi-tribal conflict
over which the Great Powers are likely to have little control and
in which they have little genuine stake.
is likely to take a long time for this view of the Middle East to
take hold in the United States, let alone work its way up to the
level of those who make policy. But as the conflict continues to
look irresolvable or at least difficult to resolve in anything
less than the span of generations more Americans may come to
believe that the best bet is to stop subsidizing, wheedling and
coaxing the combatants in the Middle East to play nice and gradually
withdraw as an active player from the region.
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