March 29, 2002
Israel's response to bombers

This is an article from Serge Schmemman of The New York Times about the situation in Israel. I had a lot to say about this, so I've added my comments as necessary.

JERUSALEM, March 27 Few doubted, after a Hamas suicide bomber transformed a solemn Seder into a horrible blood bath in Netanya, that Israel would seek to avenge so many victims on so sacred a night. The cease-fire sought over the past two weeks by Gen. Anthony C. Zinni, the American mediator, seemed more remote than ever, and further waves of violence almost inevitable.
But there were also those who thought the bombing might just provide the vicious jolt needed finally to call a halt to the bloodshed.

I don't think so. Until the Palestinians accept that Israel is not going to allow itself to be pushed into the Mediterranean Sea, there will be bloodshed.

In the immediate aftermath, angry Israelis declared that the American envoy's mission had become hopeless. But the Palestinian Authority hastily condemned the attack, for which the militant Islamic movement Hamas claimed responsibility, and vowed to crack down. And a spokesman for the American Embassy said, simply, "General Zinni's mission continues."

The time has come for the Palestinian Authority to stop making placating noises, and actually do something about the terrorists operating from their territory. Arresting people and setting them free a few days later
(which has been the modus operandi of the PA recently) does nothing to stop the violence.

The suicide bombing added another chaotic element to an already confused state of affairs, even by Middle Eastern standards. Only a day earlier, Israel's prime minister, Ariel Sharon, had effectively precluded Yasir Arafat from attending an Arab summit meeting in Beirut, and the Palestinian leader had responded with a furious refusal to go.
Then the summit meeting, at which Saudi Arabia was to open a much-heralded peace initiative promising Israel full normalization of relations in exchange for a full withdrawal from occupied territory, fell into disarray. Two central actors, President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and King Abdullah of Jordan, failed to appear, and Syria blocked a televised speech by Mr. Arafat, prompting a Palestinian walk-out.

Arafat is no longer relevant; the fact that his longtime benefactor, Syria, has turned its back on him should drive that point home. Since Egypt and Jordan (the countries that have made peace with Israel) failed to attend, it should have been a fait accompli for the leader of the Palestinians to make yet another propaganda plea.

That left the Saudi initiative looking awfully weak. It also left Mr. Arafat feeling abandoned, the Arabs divided, and the Americans who had pressed the Arabs for a successful meeting and the Israelis for Mr. Arafat's attendance rebuffed by everyone.

The Saudi initiative was DOA. The demands that it made upon Israel were unreasonable for what was offered to them in return. It was simply another attempt by the Arab League to show how "reasonable" they were, and that the Israelis were the problem by refusing to agree. It would be as if the British were expected to cede Northern Ireland to the IRA, and toss in the Isle of Man as well, as a "show of good faith."

The Zinni effort is a fool's mission; for the US, the best possible course of action is to pull him back, warn all American citizens to stay away from the region (include Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan) and let the Israelis and the Palestinians sort it out.

Then, just as President Bush was trying to put the best face on matters by declaring that the real focus of the administration was on General Zinni, who was making "very good progress," the bomb went off in Netanya. The Passover holiday precluded the full torrent of fiery threats and curses that usually follow an outrage of this scale. But Israelis who did speak left no doubt that the suicide bombing, following almost daily attacks or foiled attacks since General Zinni began his mission two weeks ago, had crossed the line beyond which Israel could not hold back.
"The idea was obviously to hit during the Passover Seder, one of the most important moments in Jewish life," said Emmanuel Nahshon, the deputy Foreign Ministry spokesman. "And it was meant to take place during the Beirut meeting. So it was a double message, to Israel and the Jews of hate, and to the Arabs a message of extremism."

Remember that we were considered to be arrogant and insensitive to continue our bombing campaign in Afghanistan during Ramadan, yet apparently attacking Israel during Passover is okay; attacking during Yom Kippur (as happened in 1973) is even better.

Mr. Sharon was reported to be consulting by telephone with senior aides, and was expected to call a meeting with his security cabinet either in the night or on Thursday.
Israeli military action could follow. But the history of the Middle East conflict also shows that the most brutal moments sometimes become turning points, and there were signs that this might be one.

Nope, this was the final straw. Israel appears to be making a full-court press to capture Arafat. Capturing him rather than killing him is preferred, because if he rots in a jail, he will not become yet another martyr to the "cause".

For one thing, the Palestinians issued an unusually prompt and stern statement about the attack, warning that the Palestinian leadership "will not be lenient towards the parties that claimed responsibility for it, and will take all strictly legal measures to bring the perpetrators to justice."
That suggested that Mr. Arafat might be prepared to take on Hamas, whose military wing claimed responsibility for the attack. But previous promises from the Palestinian leader to curb Hamas have proved short-lived.
Even if he does act, Mr. Arafat appeared unlikely to be able to deter an Israeli retaliation. Most attacks in recent weeks have been carried out not by Hamas, but by the Aksa Martyrs Brigades, an offshoot of Mr. Arafat's own Fatah movement. Mr. Sharon has blamed all terror attacks, no matter who carries them out, on Mr. Arafat.
But at least Mr. Arafat now had a pretext to start cracking down on terrorism without appearing to bow to Israeli or American demands. He could argue that Hamas, and other terror groups, were acting also against Arab interests.

Arafat has not shown any effectiveness on keeping the terrorists under control. He either does not wish to, or he is unable to. If he does not wish to keep control, he is the enemy of Israel. If he is unable to, then he is not a leader, and dealing with him would be a waste of time and resources.

The Palestinians were also likely to put up less resistance to General Zinni's proposals. The Palestinians have resisted his plans because they focus on security and not on political talks. But in their statement after the Netanya attack, the Palestinian Authority affirmed its commitment to General Zinni's efforts, noting that he had achieved "tangible progress."
There was also the possibility that General Zinni would be given greater clout by Washington. After the mess in Beirut, President Bush declared that General Zinni, at least, was making "good progress," and "that is where the focus of this administration is."
That was before the blast in Netanya. Now Mr. Bush had an even greater need to ensure that General Zinni succeed. That, experts agreed, required a far higher level of involvement by the president himself, and a far clearer sense of what the administration wanted to achieve.

What are the areas in which progress has been made? Short of the world having 20 fewer Jews, and one less Palestinian, we've not seen anything actually happen.

"In the past, an absence of strategy was sustainable," said Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter. "Now the situation is too inflammatory to be sustained."

The source of the inflammation is the Palestinians themselves, and their sycophantic Arabic supporters who defame Jews in their effort to keep the masses outraged against nonexistent Jewish atrocities.

The wild card now appears to be Israel and its response to the attack. In any circumstances, Mr. Arafat would not agree to any cease-fire while he was under fire, or if there was any suggestion that he was bowing to pressure.
But Mr. Sharon has made clear he is not in a mood to hold off. The prime minister openly crossed the Americans when he declared he was not prepared to allow Mr. Arafat to travel, and his government has let it be known that it is ready to resume major military operations in Palestinian territories should the cease-fire effort fail.

Well, the Israelis have finally acted; only time will tell if this is yet another pointless war, or if an enduring peace can be forged from all of the carnage.

posted on March 29, 2002 01:59 PM


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