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Jewish World Review Sept. 13, 2001 / 24 Elul, 5761

Eric Fettmann

Eric Fettman
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The price of America's retreat -- EVEN as thousands of his followers danced in the streets throughout the Palestinian Authority to celebrate the unprecedented carnage inflicted on America, Yasser Arafat went before the TV cameras to declare that he was "shocked" at the "unbelievable" series of attacks.

There's no doubt that Arafat is horrified --- but not necessarily at the incomprehensible body toll, which dwarfs the PLO bloody, decades-long history of murder and mayhem against innocent civilians.

No, Arafat must fear that -- at long last -- the West may finally have woken up to the legitimate threat that terrorism poses. And that Americans, hit so hard on their own territory, will no longer be disposed to sympathize with those who espouse, or even tolerate, terrorism.

Arafat, after all, has paid little more than lip service to the fight against terrorism, despite his repeated signed commitments to strike hard against groups like Islamic Jihad and Hamas. Tepid words of criticism in English are accompanied by fervent praise in Arabic for suicide bombers like those who struck yesterday, hailing them as national heroes.

Thus, however genuinely he might feel about Tuesday's attacks, his words come far too late. By applauding and tolerating bloodshed even as he sanctimoniously intones about "the peace of the brave," Arafat has a measure of responsibility for what happened yesterday.

As Fouad Ajami, the noted expert on Middle East affairs, warned so presciently just last week: "The truth must be known that there is a wider Arab sanction for this terror. Thus it is that in the most autocratic and iron-fisted societies of the Arab world, Palestinian terror is endorsed, and the figure of the 'suicide martyr' endowed with heroic attributes."

And, truth be told, Tuesday's attacks were unleashed with the same motive as the bloodshed to which Israel has been subjected for the past 12 months: to strike at the national sense of normalcy, to disrupt daily life, to instill a profound sense of fear that no is safe anywhere - not where they live and eat and work, not even 100 stories above the ground.

Will the civilized world finally understand why Israel and its leaders have been literally obsessed with the war against terrorism? Will the West at long last comprehend that when fighting those who use terrorism as a political weapon, there is no such thing as a "disproportionate" response?

And will it fully realize what Prime Minister Ariel Sharon meant when he said last July that "the risk of surrendering to terrorism is a great strategic risk --- a risk much higher than the risks involved in a difficult and complex military operation."

Israel, of course, has been battling terrorism for generations. Sometimes its responses have been hailed, sometimes condemned. But Israel -- especially under Sharon -- has not retreated from the conviction that terrorism must be confronted, and it must be confronted militarily.

If Israel is accused of making warlike attacks on terrorism, it's because Israelis understand that they are, in fact, at war. Tuesday, Americans tragically came to understand this reality, as well.

Yet, despite decades of carnage from the Arafat and the bin Ladens of the world, the West has truly failed to understand the dangerous consequences of failing to confront those carry out terrorism and those who provide both operational cover and moral support.

Retreating in fear from the obligation to openly and effectively confront terrorism has been the West's greatest failure of the last 25 years. For too long has the world refused to take to heart the warning of then-Israeli Defense Minister Shimon Peres following the Entebbe operation: "Once you capitulate to terrorists, the real extortion begins."

Yasser Arafat has long been convinced that terrorism allows him to hold the reins, to call the shots in his war against Israel. It's a lesson he's passed on to Osama bin Laden and countless others.

If the West can truly learn the lesson from Tuesday's bloodbath that terrorism must be aggressively confronted with all the resources at our command -- and that those in the region who refuse to destroy terrorists are equally culpable -- then Arafat has good reason to be nervous.

Because then Tuesday's horror may turn out to be only a Pyrrhic victory for terrorism.

If it still hasn't learned this lesson, then we're the ones who should be shocked and horrified.

JWR contributor Eric Fettmann is a columnist for the New York Post. Comment by clicking here.

06/11/01: Demjanjuk, again!?
03/27/01: Palestinian (?) poser prof pays a price
01/19/01: A double standard on faith
12/01/00: What broke Barak
11/17/00: Back from the brink?
11/10/00: 'Stolen election': An ugly precedent


© 2000, Eric Fettman