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The tragic fact of yesterday's double suicide bus bombings in Beersheba is that 16 people lost their lives, and another 15 nearly did. The significant fact is that this is the first suicide bombing since March. If the bombing marks the end of a remarkably long quiet spell, it also indicates the progress we have achieved.
Let's remind ourselves – or rather, the wider world – of where we were 30 months ago, on the eve of Operation Defensive Shield: terrorist attacks nearly every day, sometimes twice a day. Yet when Israel launched its invasion of the West Bank, the sage men of the world assured us it would fail. "For Mr. Sharon," sniffed New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, "tanks seem to work no better in the West Bank than they did in Lebanon."
As it turned out, however, the tanks did work, as did the targeted assassinations and all the other counter-terror and counter-insurgency tactics developed by the IDF and Shin Bet. So too did the security fence: The telling fact about yesterday's attack is that the attackers arrived in Beersheba from Hebron, unimpeded by the fence. Had the fence been there, it's doubtful they would have penetrated.
By now, it's too late for the International Court of Justice to take this fact into consideration – not that they would have done so anyway. It's also too late for the European Union, which instead offered Israel a five-sentence condolence note via EU representative Javier Solana.
"I condemn in the strongest terms the terrorist attacks in Beersheba today," he wrote. "I want first of all to express my sympathy and deepest condolences to the families of the victims and to the Israeli authorities. Violence must stop. It seriously undermines all efforts to find a solution to the Middle East conflict. The implementation of the road map is the only way ahead."Note well: Solana condemns "terrorist attacks," but does not name its perpetrators. He says "violence must stop," without addressing the source of this particular violence. He offers sympathy for Israeli victims and authorities, then prescribes the road map as "the only way ahead." But the road map has not saved a single Israeli life. The security fence has saved dozens of lives, perhaps hundreds. What kind of sympathy is it that would deny victims the means to defend themselves? This is more than a rhetorical question. Solana, no doubt, would answer that he approves of all means provided they are "legitimate." But we search our minds in vain for "legitimate" means to stop terrorism that are also effective. In his recently published memoir, former foreign minister Shlomo Ben-Ami relates a conversation he had with German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer in late October 2000, after the outbreak of hostilities.
"I asked in a harsh tone, for the first time since our talks began, to cease to give us advice and to try to enter into Israel's skin. 'Please ask your country's military experts, what can be done in such a situation? Send your military attache in Tel Aviv to join the OC Central Command; maybe he will have a proposal about which we did not know,' I said. 'What do you want us to do? Should we evacuate the residents of Jerusalem's outlying neighborhoods and send them northwards, so that we will not have to respond to Palestinian shooting?'"
Ben-Ami does not relate Fischer's response. We wonder if he had one. For the plain fact is that Europe's idea of friendship comes down to offering Israel simplistic platitudes about the advantages of cooperation over conflict (as if this had not occurred to us), not practical advice about how a democracy at war ought to operate.
There is something profoundly amiss about a species of condolence that offers itself in lieu of the kind of help that might have made the condolence unnecessary in the first place. We are perfectly aware that, ultimately, the "solution" is peace. The question is, will the European Union allow us to defend ourselves in the meantime? Or in defending ourselves, do we put the ultimate peace further out of reach? The fact that this is presented as a "choice" demonstrates how false it really is.
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Is the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza a reward for terrorism? Is the very talk of withdrawal encouraging terrorism, as several right-wing Knesset members insisted after the terrorist atrocity this week in Beersheba?
Astonishingly, Israeli society has yet to hold an intelligent debate over Ariel Sharon's Gaza plan. Instead, we have the cynical taunts of the settlers and their supporters, who assume that Sharon has become a defeatist, and the inarticulate responses of Sharon's supporters, who assume that the arguments in favor of withdrawal are so self-evident that they barely require defense.
In large measure, the poverty of our debate over withdrawal is the fault of Sharon himself. A disastrous communicator, Sharon hasn't offered a single compelling speech - or, for that matter, a single memorable argument - in defense of the trauma we are about to inflict on ourselves.
The arguments of opponents need to be treated seriously by those of us who support unilateral withdrawal. We need to admit that the opponents have a point: The projected scenes of Palestinian celebrations on the ruins of Gaza settlements could very well encourage terrorism, at least in the short term.
And what do we do when the missiles start falling on Ashkelon? What will we have gained by destroying thriving communities, dividing Israeli society, and embittering some of our most idealistic citizens? The most obvious answer as to what we will gain is what we will lose: We will be freeing ourselves from more than a million Palestinians.
For Sharon's opponents, though, the demographic gain of withdrawal isn't obvious at all. The demographic argument, they insist, is bogus: Israel has no intention of granting citizenship to Palestinians, so they pose no demographic threat.
But what opponents fail to understand is that in the 21st century, Israel doesn't have the luxury of indefinitely maintaining the status quo - or of granting "autonomy" to Palestinians, a position once vehemently opposed by settlers.
Instead, we have the following choice: continue to keep the Palestinians in limbo and turn Israel into an international pariah, the target of a campaign to become a bi-national state. However isolated we are today, we haven't yet become a pariah, and the still-intact Israeli economy is proof of that. For some settlers, the notion of Israel as pariah is hardly disconcerting but, instead, confirms Jewish chosenness. Yet the vision of the biblical Balaam of "a nation that shall dwell alone" is the antithesis of Zionism, which intended to restore us not only to the Land of Israel but to the community of nations. For Zionists, Balaam's vision isn't a blessing but the curse he intended it to be.
The second counter-demographic argument settlers raise is that withdrawal from Gaza does nothing to address the demographic dangers posed by Arab Israelis. Yet it makes no sense to demographically destroy the Jewish state now because, in a generation, we may face a demographic crisis within the 1967 borders. There are ways of dealing with that future threat: For example, the Triangle, which contains Israel's most fundamentalist Muslim population and borders the West Bank, could be ceded to a Palestinian state. According to every poll I have seen, a majority of Israelis agree that we shouldn't remain indefinitely in Gaza. Sharon needs to hold a national referendum to decisively refute settlers' contention that "the nation is with Gush Katif" as the pro-Gaza slogan puts it.
Where Israelis are, legitimately, divided is over how and when to withdraw. If we withdraw under fire, we risk repeating the disastrous miscalculation of Israel's flight from southern Lebanon, which directly encouraged the present terror war.
But this time we are not fleeing from victorious terror. Despite the Beersheba attack, the army and security services have been remarkably successful in deterring the terrorists. The time to unilaterally withdraw is precisely when we have managed to control terror. If terrorism returns to the level we endured before Operation Defensive Shield, the timing of the withdrawal would have to be reconsidered. So far, though, that is not the case.
Unilateral withdrawal holds one clear gain for Arafat and Hamas leaders: the chance to prove to their own demoralized people that terror works. But it also holds one potentially devastating disadvantage: If Gaza implodes after Israeli withdrawal, the Palestinian national movement could self-destruct.
Nor are the Palestinians oblivious to the political gains Israel may achieve from withdrawal. The very promise of withdrawal has already won Israel a historic American concession: The recent administration decision to accept Israel's building in settlement blocs - the first time since 1967 that America has endorsed Israel's right to build over the Green Line - is a direct result of Sharon's withdrawal initiative.
And if missiles start falling on Ashkelon and we need to return to Gaza? Then we will hit back - state against state, rather than occupying army against an occupied people. Optimally, we will reach a similar balance of terror with Gaza that we've achieved, at least for now, in the north with Hizbullah, whose missiles can reportedly reach Tel Aviv.
And as for the argument that Sharon's plan is responsible for the murders in Beersheba - spare us the demagoguery. Don't expect us to believe that Hamas is blowing up buses now, as opposed to blowing up buses, say, in 1996 or 2003, because Sharon has decided to withdraw from Gaza.
Politically, this isn't the 1990s. Sharon isn't Rabin or Peres, who would use terror attacks as justification for redoubling negotiations. Nor is Sharon promising peace in our time. We are withdrawing not to further peace negotiations, but because there is no peace to be negotiated. This isn't a withdrawal of illusions but a withdrawal from illusions - the illusions of Greater Israel and of Peace Now.
We need to articulate our positions without patronizing or contempt. That is the least we owe each other as fellow Israelis who will pay the price for whatever policy prevails.
The writer is the Israel correspondent for the New Republic and an associate fellow at the Shalem Center.
The excitement is palpable. You can almost feel it in the air. The dictators of the Arab world just can't wait for George W. Bush to lose the US presidential election in November.
Gripped with fear as they watch Bush's democratic experiment in Iraq take shape, the tyrants and despots of the Middle East are pinning their hopes on Democratic challenger John Kerry to prevail.
After all, the last thing they want to see is a second-term Bush determined to reform the region, a development that would threaten their grip on power and stymie their efforts to obtain more lethal types of weaponry.
And so the rhetoric in the Arab world is heating up, pointing to a real desire to see the US president go down in defeat.
Take, for example, a recent article in the Egyptian Al-Ahram Weekly (August 12-18 issue) by Cairo University's Prof. Hassan Nafaa. Bush, he wrote, is a "wild eyed zealot" and an "evil fanatic" whose "departure from the Oval Office will mark the beginning of the decline of the forces of extremism and the rise of the forces of moderation."
A Kerry victory, Prof. Nafaa says, barely containing his glee, would mean that "US foreign policy will undergo a major shift that will ultimately impact positively on Washington's approach to the affairs of the Middle East."
In other words, a Kerry administration would be far more compliant as far as the Arabs are concerned.
An August 4 editorial in the Syria Times expressed a similar sentiment, urging Arab-Americans not to make "the very mistake they made in the past when they gave their votes to Bush the Junior" in the 2000 presidential election. Instead, suggested the government-run paper, a vote for Kerry this time would prove to be "a wise one."
Judging by their leadership, the Palestinians seem to feel the same way, with Yasser Arafat said to be among those who is rooting for a Democratic victory.
"Arafat is waiting for November in the hope that George Bush will lose the election to John Kerry," Israel's military intelligence chief Maj.Gen. Aharon Ze'evi Farkash told a cabinet meeting just over a month ago.
Following Arafat's lead, the official Palestinian media has made no effort to hide where its sympathies lie. On July 27, the Palestinian Authority daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadeeda, for example, ran a political cartoon depicting an American soldier bleeding to death in Iraq, his final words being, "Don't Vote Bush."
And then, of course, there is Iran. The mullahs, whom Bush famously labeled part of the "Axis of Evil" in his January 2002 State of the Union Address, are also panting at the prospect of a Republican defeat.
Just last week, on a visit to New Zealand, Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said that the US government was "looking for excuses" to act against Iran over its nuclear ambitions.
A June 17 article in the English-language Tehran Times entitled "Pity the Next US President" was even more critical, comparing Bush and his neo-conservative advisers to "neo-Nazis" who have created a "stinking heap of a mess" throughout the world. "Kerry," the paper asserts, "is exactly what the US needs right now."
That the prospect of a Kerry presidency is evoking so much enthusiasm in the terror capitals of Damascus, Ramallah and Teheran is reason enough for Americans, and especially American Jews, to think twice before supporting the Democratic candidate.
Why, after all, would Arafat, Bashar Assad and the ayatollahs want to see Kerry elected if they didn't have good reason to believe he would go soft on terror?
To be fair, Kerry has sought to dispel this image, taking a slap at the Saudi royal family in his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention last month and subsequently criticizing President Bush for not imposing tougher sanctions on the Syrian regime.
But these statements did little to dispel the notion throughout the Arab world that Kerry is "their man." As Martin Sieff, United Press International's senior news analyst, recently pointed out, no one in the Arab world "really thinks Bush will change: And that is why so many old or former friends of the United States in the Arab world are praying for his defeat."
Nonetheless, it seems, a majority of American Jews continue to lean toward Kerry, as a recent poll by the National Jewish Democratic Council is said to have found. According to the survey, an astonishing 75 percent of US Jews back the Massachusetts Senator, while just 22 percent support Bush.
With the election just two months away, now would be a good time for America, and particularly its Jews, to start thinking long and hard about the choice they face in November.
Because if the ayatollahs are banking on Kerry to win, that certainly cannot be the right way to go.
The writer served as deputy director of Communications & Policy Planning in the prime minister's office under Binyamin Netanyahu.
Spy. Israel. Pentagon. AIPAC. Pollard. Iraq. Iran. Mix these words together and you have quite a story on the weekend before the Republican convention in a hotly contested election campaign. The question is whether the smell that is in the air is that of a spy scandal or of a Washington political and policy war run amok.
On Friday, anonymous FBI officials leaked aspects of an ongoing investigation of Larry Franklin, a mid-level Pentagon official specializing in Iran. Franklin reportedly shared a draft memo on Iran policy with staff from AIPAC, an organization that lobbies to strengthen the already close relations between America and Israel. Those staffers reportedly "may" have passed that information on to Israel.
We are told that the FBI has been investigating Franklin for a year, giving the impression of heft to the story. But as our news pages reveal today, the two AIPAC staffers who are the supposed conduits for Franklin's information have not even been interviewed by the FBI. It can further be assumed that no Israelis have been interviewed either, making one wonder how much substance is behind both the Franklin-AIPAC link and the assumption that the information went further. Finally, the story itself has been watered down in many quarters from handing over classified information to "mishandling documents."
We, of course, do not know whether Franklin did inappropriately release classified information. American authorities have every right to find out, and if he did, to punish him accordingly.
We do know that Israel and the United States, as two countries on the front line in the struggle against militant Islamism should, routinely and officially share intelligence of the most sensitive nature. We do know that the idea of painting routine exchanges of information between Israel and the United States as sinister, or tinged with espionage, is itself sinister.
Let us not, as the media, be naive. There are two parallel and bitter struggles raging in Washington, now reaching a crescendo. One is between Democrats and Republicans over control of the White House. A spy scandal at this time obviously harms the incumbent's chances of getting his message out in the main week set aside for doing so, the week of the Republican convention.
At the same time, there is an equally passionate and closely related struggle within the Bush Administration and outside over the president's post-9/11 foreign policy. Was ousting Saddam Hussein a critical centerpiece of the wider war or a festering mistake? Should Iran's nuclear weapons program be stopped and if so how? These debates have swirled around a handful of officials, all of whom are "pro-Israel" and some of whom are Jews.
It should not be surprising that the greatest overhaul in American foreign policy thinking since Harry Truman introduced containment after World War II would meet with resistance. There is ample room for debate over how aggressively and by what means the new doctrine of preemption and the new focus against state support for terrorism and for democratization should be implemented. But rather than fight these issues on the merits, the other side has at times stooped to conspiracy theories that are, let's face it – anti-Semitic.
There may be substance behind the current scandal. Yet even in the most incriminating scenario, it is hard to imagine that the information released about US policy was that far removed from what appears in a serious newspaper. The more likely scenario is, as Newsweek quotes knowledgeable officials, "the political damage to Bush and the Pentagon may prove to be more serious than the damage to national security."
Actually, this scandal does threaten US national security in a different way: by emboldening those who believe that the entire post-9/11 American paradigm is a Jewish conspiracy imposed on the president, and who relish the prospect of a chill in the US-Israeli relationship.
AIPAC ends its statement on the current controversy thus: "We will not let any innuendo or false allegation distract us from our central mission – supporting America's interests in the Middle East and advocating for a strong relationship with Israel."
Well said. Come what may, American and Israeli security demands that we not succumb to those who view our alliance as a conspiracy and our shared democratic cause as a threat.
“They went into the soft belly of Israel where the fence has not been erected. The ultimate truth for the necessity of the fence was given today: Wherever there's no fence, it's easy to penetrate into Israel.”--Gideon Meir, a senior Israeli Foreign Ministry official, commenting on the necessity of the security barrier.
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