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Jewish Journal

Destination Unknown

by Rep. Henry Waxman

November 1, 2001 | 7:00 pm

What does the United States effort to enlist Arab countries into the coalition against terrorism mean for the future of strong U.S.-Israel relations?

Certainly, Muslim and Arab states play an important role in the coalition effort. Their intelligence sharing, geographic proximity, and ability to exert financial pressure on terrorist cells are vital resources. Their participation also serves to dispel Osama bin Laden's rhetoric that this is a war against Islam.

At the same time, the intrinsic bond between the American and Israeli people has never been more evident. The horrific events of Sept. 11 have brought a tremendous outpouring of solidarity from Israel and tragically brought home to Americans what Israel has been experiencing -- now that it is happening to us. We have grieved together and turned to each other to cope with the trauma of terrorism, even as anti-Israel and anti-America demonstrations take place across the Middle East.

No country other than Israel has offered more to the United States in counterterrorism and intelligence expertise, airline security methods, homeland defense tactics and support networks for victims of terrorism. While Muslim states hesitate to join the coalition and negotiate the terms for U.S. deployment and use of airspace, Israel stands willing to join in military strikes and respond to any of our requests for help.

Obviously, the U.S. objectives in this war have naturally complemented those of Israel, a nation that has long battled at the front lines of anti-Western terrorism.

Then why are supporters of the U.S.-Israel relationship so unsettled by a growing sense of distance that has coincided with the Bush administration's outreach to the Arab and Muslim world?

Throughout the coalition building effort, President Bush has shown leadership in directing the military and domestic response necessary to insure our national security. He has reached out to the American people, swiftly assembled a broad counterterrorism effort, and galvanized the world in a vigilant battle to uproot and eliminate terrorist groups. Yet, he has curiously made no effort to embrace any role for Israel in the coalition, and a series of his administration's actions have recently strained the usual ease of U.S.-Israel affairs.

Most blatant is the State Department's harsh criticism of Israel's response to the assassination of one of its Cabinet ministers, even as Yasser Arafat has failed to arrest the terrorist perpetrators. How can the United States condemn the targeting of Palestinian terrorists responsible for suicide bombings and attacks when we are doing the exact same thing in Afghanistan?

Another slight occurred when Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's visit to the Middle East included a meeting with nearly every coalition partner except Israel, which is America's closest non-NATO military ally in the region.

The United States has also made disturbing overtures to Syria, a government that openly supports the terrorist organization Hezbollah, which among other atrocities is responsible for murdering U.S. troops in Beirut, shelling communities in Northern Israel and kidnapping American civilians and Israeli soldiers in Lebanon. The administration was virtually silent at Syria's rotation onto the U.N. Security Council and has refused to disclose how it voted even though the United States officially recognizes Syria as a state sponsor of terror.

Perhaps most troubling of all, the Bush administration has ignored a critical opportunity to add Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah to the list of terrorist groups deserving severe international financial sanctions. More than 100 Palestinian suicide bombers have already been recruited by these organizations to conduct murderous attacks and suicide bombings against Israelis and Americans visiting and living in Israel.

America's moral claim to be against terrorism is weakened when we turn a blind eye to such groups. We have to treat terrorists as terrorists, no matter what country harbors them, or what political or religious ideology they hide behind. Otherwise, we are at risk of compromising our own counterterrorism principles. By limiting our pursuit to getting bin Laden and not stopping terrorism as a tactic, we also only invite further terrorism by others who wish us ill.

If we realistically want to ease the hostilities between Israel and the Palestinians and move them toward a process for peace, we undermine this objective by not insisting that Arafat crack down on terrorism. And if we don't take a stand ourselves against these terrorists, we only encourage Arafat to keep his war going. On top of that, when the president proclaims he is for a Palestinian state, our enemies may interpret that to mean they can get concessions without stopping their violence against Israel.

This is not to suggest that the administration would abandon Israel for the sake of improved relations with the Arab world. At this point in history, our country is fighting to preserve civilization, freedom, decency and everything that the West signifies for the United States and Israel. The president and his advisers are focused on conducting a successful military operation in Afghanistan and safeguarding the American people from threat. Still, these unsettling examples form a trend that is not in the interest of our nation and has done little to dispel Ariel Sharon's troubling, if exaggerated, comparison between Israel and Czechoslovakia.

If we are going to defeat bin Laden, we cannot embolden him or weaken ourselves with any semblance of a U.S.-Israel rift. By even giving such an appearance, we feed into the argument that hostility to the United States is based on our support for Israel, which could not be further from the truth. Now more than ever, we must renew the common purpose, strategic goals and democratic ideals that are the cement of strong U.S.-Israel relations. We must join together with Israel in defending our citizens, our values and our future from the shadow of terrorism. We must demonstrate why efforts to bolster our relationship with moderate Arab states cannot supplant or diminish our longstanding partnership with Israel, America's only democratic ally in the region.

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