The Jerusalem Post, March 12, 2002
By Shawn Pine
(The writer is a major in the active US Army Reserves specializing in counterintelligence. He is also a research associate of the Israeli-based Ariel Center for Policy Research and the US-based Freeman Center For Strategic Studies.)
Editor's Note: (April 1, 2002) Bush is now supporting Israel in its fight against terrorism and the Freeman Center thanks him.)
The decision by the Bush administration to send special envoy Anthony Zinni back to the Middle East should be troubling to trouble anyone who believes that the threat of Islamic terrorism to civilized societies needs to be eliminated. Not only does this decision undermine the president's moral position, it amounts to political capitulation.
The moral imperative being propagated by the administration is that the US must step in to stop the escalating killing on both sides (implying that there is a moral equivalency between Palestinian terrorism and Israeli military response to that terrorism). However, Israel has been subjected to increasing terrorism since the publication of the Mitchell and Tenet plans.
It is only recently, with the escalating rise in Palestinian casualties, that the US has decided to reengage its good offices. If it is indeed the rising civilian casualties that has prompted this renewed concern, then it is ironic considering the United States has killed some 4,000 Afghan civilians in its unfettered war against al-Qaida.
The US government is deluding itself if it believes that there is a moral or fundamental difference between the US war against al-Qaida and the Israeli war against Palestinian terrorism. The long-term strategic goals of both groups are the ultimate destruction of Israel and the West. In this respect both Israel and the US are engaged in an existential struggle.
The Zinni mission is an attempt by the US administration to mute criticism and objections to its developing policy towards Iraq. However, the Bush administration is naive if it thinks modifying its position vis-a-vis the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will engender enough goodwill among the Europeans and Arab states to allow the US to pursue its war against terrorism unfettered by criticism.
The rationale that Zinni will use to try to persuade Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to acquiesce to US interests, and cease military operations against Palestinian terrorism, is that the US destruction of the Iraqi regime serves Israeli strategic interests in the region. However, Sharon should understand that the US will take action against Saddam Hussein regardless of whether it receives regional and/or European support. It will do so because President George W. Bush believes that Saddam's regime poses a threat to US interests.
In the last decade, Israelis have deluded themselves into believing that the crux of the Arab-Israeli conflict was over territories captured in the 1967 war. Hopefully, Arafat's rejection of the offer made at Camp David, and his launching of the intifada, have disabused Israelis of that notion. The reality is that Israel is involved in an existential war and any agreement by Sharon to cease military operations against Palestinian terrorists will be perceived by the Palestinians as a victory and will embolden Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat to continue his terrorist war against Israel. In this respect, any agreement reached during the Zinni mission with prove ephemeral at best.
In a unipolar world, the United States has to decide whether it will be a leader or a consensus builder in its war against terrorism. If it decides to be a consensus builder, it will have to consult, cajole, and bribe nations to support its efforts. Moreover, building a consensus will require that the United States negotiate its morals and values, and settle for something far less than the president's vision of eradicating the threat of terrorism from the civilized world.
The other option is for the United States to be resolute, determined, and morally uncompromising in the conduct of its war against terrorism. Under this option the United States needs to tell the other countries to either follow or get out of the way.
While such a policy will result in much whining, it will, in the end, prove effective. This is because such a policy will also engender respect, fear, and an understanding that the US is resolute in its objective to eradicate the threat of terrorism. However, such a foreign policy requires the US president to not only make proclamations that anyone who supports, harbors, or feeds a terrorist will suffer the same fate, but to be resolute in carrying out such a policy.
In this regard, Bush's remarks are as applicable to the leadership in Ramallah as they were to the leadership in Kabul. Just as Bush has a constitutional responsibility to protect US citizens, so too does Sharon have a responsibility to protect Israeli citizens. Rather than allow himself to be cajoled into agreeing to yet another temporary cease-fire, Sharon should passionately, emphatically, and forcefully emphasize that Israel stands firmly behind the policy articulated by Bush when he said: "In this conflict, there is no neutral ground. If any government sponsors the outlaws and killers of innocents, they have become outlaws and murderers themselves. And they will take that lonely path at their own peril."