Thursday, September 23, 2004

Israel's Victory, and What it Means

There's a compelling article by Yossi Klein Halevi and Michael B. Oren in the latest issue of the New Republic. Titled "Center Right: Israel's unexpected victory over terrorism", the article discusses how the Jewish state was able to defeat Yasser Arafat's terror war and the lessons this offers for the broader War on Terror. Halevi and Oren are very much sober and non-triumphalist in their assessment:

Israel's triumph over the Palestinian attempt to unravel its society is the result of a systematic assault on terrorism that emerged only fitfully over the past four years. The fence, initially opposed by the army and the government, has thwarted terrorist infiltration in those areas where it has been completed. Border towns like Hadera and Afula, which had experienced some of the worst attacks, have been terror-free since the fence was completed in their areas. Targeted assassinations and constant military forays into Palestinian neighborhoods have decimated the terrorists' leadership, and roadblocks have intercepted hundreds of bombs, some concealed in ambulances, children's backpacks, and, most recently, a baby carriage.

Key to Israel's victory, they write, was a willingness to do whatever was necessary, while ignoring the carping of critics:

At every phase of Israel's counteroffensive, skeptics have worried that attempts to suppress terrorism would only encourage more of it. They warned that Israel couldn't close Orient House, the Palestinian Liberation Organization's de facto capital in East Jerusalem, without provoking an international backlash and strengthening Yasir Arafat's hold there. They warned that, by isolating and humiliating Arafat, Israel would only bolster his stature at home and abroad. They warned that, by reoccupying Palestinian cities and targeting terrorist leaders, Israel would only deepen Palestinian rage and despair.

In fact, Israel shut down Orient House in August 2001 with relative impunity, and today, few even recall where it was. Not only has Arafat been confined to the ruins of his Ramallah headquarters for the last two years, but he has become a near-pariah figure even among many European foreign ministers and the target of a revolt in the territories against his corrupt rule. In late August, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer visited Jerusalem, but not Arafat's headquarters in Ramallah. And, for all their rage at Israeli assassinations and despair over the reoccupation, growing numbers of Palestinians are now questioning the effectiveness of their terrorist war. Last year, in Gaza's Beit Hanoun, residents protested against terrorists using the village as a base for launching rockets into Israel; just recently, a Palestinian teenager was shot dead there after he tried to bar terrorists from his home.

Israel still faces a terrorist threat, as evidenced by Wednesday's murder of two Israelis by a suicide bomber in Jerusalem. Still, as Halevi and Oren make clear, such atrocities are now the exception, compared to the situation even one year ago. Israel's victory, though, has come at a fearsome cost:

The price Israel has paid for its victory has been sobering. Arafat may be a pariah, but Israel is becoming one, too. Increasingly, the legitimacy of Jewish sovereignty is under attack. Former French Prime Minister Michel Rocard, for example, has called Israel's creation a "mistake." In Europe, an implicit "red-green-black" coalition of radical leftists, Islamists, and old-fashioned fascists has revived violent anti-Semitism. Along with the desecration of Jewish cemeteries by neo-Nazis and the assaults on Jews by Arab youth, some European left-wingers now sense a sympathetic climate in which to publicly indulge their anti-Semitism. In a recent interview with the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Greek composer and left-wing activist Mikis Theodorakis denounced "the Jews" for their dominance of banks, U.S. foreign policy, and even the world's leading orchestras, adding that the Jews were "at the root of evil." In the Arab world, a culture of denial that repudiates the most basic facts of Jewish history — from the existence of the Jerusalem Temple to the existence of the gas chambers — has become mainstream in intellectual discourse and the media. Government TV stations in Egypt and Syria have produced dramatizations based on The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Boycotts of Israel are multiplying: The nonaligned states recently voted to bar "settlers" — including Israelis who live in Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem — from their borders. Among young Israelis across the political spectrum, there's growing doubt about the country's future and widespread talk of emigration.

These sentiments are not new. Israel has always been one of the European left's favorite whipping boys after the US. The Arab world has been awash in the vilest forms of Anti-Semitism for decades. Israel's successful war against terrorism has not created these sentiments, merely provided a pretext for their expression. The opinions of the Israel-haters are a reflection of their own preexisting worldviews, through which Israeli actions are interpreted. They condemn Israel because that is exactly what they are predisposed to do. Those who believe that Anti-Americanism is a result of the invasion of Iraq would do well to keep this in mind.

Halevi and Oren conclude by describing what Israel's experience means for America:

Americans would be wise to study this final lesson, too: Perhaps the greatest danger in fighting terrorism is the polarizing effect such a campaign can have — not just internationally, but domestically. To avoid this pitfall, a strong political consensus for military action is necessary. That means the president must actively reach out to domestic opposition. But American leaders must also heed Sharon's other lessons. That means an ability to endure criticism from abroad and even to risk international isolation, a willingness to define the war on terrorism as a total war, and a commitment to focus one's political agenda on winning, not on divisive or extraneous concerns. Fulfilling those conditions does not guarantee success. But it does make success possible — as Israel is, at great cost, showing the world.

As Israel's experience shows, waging war on terror is costly and messy, but it is also absolutely necessary. Such a war is winnable, provided it is treated as a war, not a law enforcement problem, and waged with the requisite will and determination. The War on Islamist Terror will not be quick or easy. It will be costly in monetary and human terms, and there will be setbacks and defeats. We must have the will to pay the necessary price and persevere through difficulty, for the alternative is unthinkable. Half-measures and returning to 9/10 business as usual are not options, and no amount of wishful thinking will make it so.

Michael Totten makes these points far more eloquently than I do. In the meantime, I encourage you to read the entire article for yourself. The TNR version is subscription only, but the article is available from the Jewish World Review:

Israel's unexpected victory over terrorism


Post a Comment

<< Home