Israel Report

December 2001         

A Strategic Opportunity

By Ron Dermer - December 6, 2001
Today, Israel has the opportunity to wage total war against its terrorist enemies, with the American government sitting on the sidelines and the American people cheering from the bleachers. What has granted us this opportunity is not simply the horrific tragedy that occurred on September 11, but also the strategic doctrine that has been established in its wake.

American-Israeli relations have undergone a sea change over the past three months. The bond of common values is now buttressed by shared experience, transforming our American friends into sympathetic brothers.

Signs of this new brotherhood were everywhere in the wake of the carnage in Jerusalem and Haifa this past week. In the American news media, anchors and journalists not generally known for their Zionist sympathies were no longer buying the old Palestinian snake oil.

No doubt, this newfound cynicism took the Palestinian spokesmen completely by surprise. After all, the PA's duping formula had been working on the Americans - not to mention quite a few Israelis - for more than eight years.

That formula was simple. First, paint the Palestinian people as the eternal victims of Israeli "occupation" and "aggression." Second, sell Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat as a man of peace who is battling the Palestinian "extremists." Third, beg the West to strengthen his authority by pressuring Israel to make political concessions.

But the old tricks were simply not working. Attempts to mitigate the latest bombings with tales of occupation and victimization were met with looks of disbelief. Calls to help the "moderates" in the Palestinian Authority fight the "enemies of peace" fell on deaf ears. Claims that Arafat was arresting militants and warnings that Israeli retaliation would only lead to further escalation were given the summary dismissal they deserved.

When CNN opens its newscast with reports from "both fronts" in the war on terror - Israel and Afghanistan - you know that things have changed. When the State Department does not temper its support of Israel's right of self-defense with an asinine plea to "end the cycle of violence," you know that Arafat is in deep trouble.

Surely, the scale of the latest attack has been difficult for an America sensitive to the threat of mass terrorism to ignore. A story of one or two Israelis struck down by terrorism - a near daily event to which our own bloodied nation has already become numb - would be lucky to make the evening news in America. But 25 dead and 200 injured spoke volumes.

YET WHILE the scale of terror has made a sympathetic America take notice, it did not put the noose around Arafat's neck. That honor belongs to President George W. Bush - not for the message he conveyed in his meeting with our prime minister last Sunday, but because of the one he delivered in public to the American people three months ago.

In articulating his strategy for fighting terrorism, Bush said America would make no distinction between terrorists and the regimes that harbor them. Applied first against the Taliban regime in Afghanstan, this strategic doctrine is now being applied against the Palestinian Authority, much to Arafat's chagrin.

Indeed, this doctrine is not new. Our former prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu has argued for two decades that the only way to defeat international terrorism is to deter or destroy the regimes that aid and abet it. But the Bush administration's decision to fight terrorism this way represents a radical departure from the way international terrorism was dealt with before September 11. Then, the war on terror was fought against individuals, whether it meant firing a cruise missile at Osama bin Laden or "throwing the book" at a blind Islamic cleric.

Today, the leadership of the most powerful nation in the world understands that you do not eradicate malaria by killing mosquitoes. You drain the swamp. Up until this week, our own leadership had apparently not been similarly enlightened. We continued to fight terrorism by targeting individual terrorists rather than the regime that gives them succor. Such actions, while not harmful in the fight against terror, do little to advance it.

Paying no price for his support and practice of terror, Arafat did the predictable - nothing. Since neither Israel nor Arafat destroyed the infrastructure of Palestinian terror, it was only a question of time before a new wave of terror was unleashed.

With the Israeli action this week, there are hopeful signs that somebody in this government has finally figured out what needs to be done. Whether our latest military strikes, directed squarely against Arafat's regime, represent a temporary change in tactics or a permanent change in strategy remains to be seen.

But this much is clear. If Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has been waiting for the perfect opportunity to rid Israel of Arafat and Oslo once and for all, it has arrived. The strategic doctrine of holding a regime accountable for the terrorism that emanates from its domain is now allowing Israel to take direct aim at Arafat and the PA with minimal of international repercussions.

Only one question remains. Does Sharon have the courage and wisdom to pull the trigger?

©2001 - Jerusalem Post

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