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Jewish World Review April 11, 2002 / 30 Nissan, 5762

Morton Kondracke

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U.S. Enemies Use Mideast Terror To Protect Iraq | Masterful though he's been so far in the war on terror, President Bush seems confused by the war in Israel. He may have a tactic, but he's been thrown off his strategy.

Practically every day, Bush vainly calls on Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to control terrorism and repeats the mantra "Tenet-Mitchell," as though using the labels for his peace plan will bring peace.

Almost daily, too, Bush correctly supports the right of Israel to defend itself against terrorism, although every other day his administration also calls for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to withdraw troops from anti-terror duty in Palestinian areas.

There seems to be a disconnect between the "Bush Doctrine" - that anyone who supports terrorism is a terrorist - and the administration's refusal to label Arafat a terrorist even though his regime encourages suicide bombings.

That has engendered criticism from conservatives, while moderates like Sens. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) and Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) are calling for the highest-level U.S. involvement in peacemaking.

Amid the confusion, Bush may have a tactical plan. According to Robert Satloff, director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Bush's plan is "to buy time while Israel arrests as many terrorists as it can and collects as many weapons as possible," he said.

The administration "hopes that Sharon will be quick about it and that there aren't too many riots in Egypt and Jordan while it's going on," Satloff said.

Bush's larger Mideast strategy is not directed at Israel and the Palestinians, but at Iraq. The administration doesn't want to get bogged down in the seemingly hopeless task of brokering Mideast peace.

Instead, it expects that victory in the coming war against Saddam Hussein will transform the entire region favorably for all pro-U.S. interests, including Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking.

This may work. After all, American prestige soared after the 1991 Persian Gulf War, leading to a nine-year process of seemingly successful diplomacy, which collapsed in 2000 when Arafat rejected peace and opted for terror.

Actually removing Saddam Hussein from power and installing a pro-U.S. (perhaps democratic) Iraqi regime conceivably could convince all the parties in the region that anti-Western behavior was simply futile.

Then perhaps Palestinians would have to agree to abide by "Tenet," the cease-fire arrangement proposed by CIA Director George Tenet, and "Mitchell," the longer-range negotiating plan laid out by former Sen. George Mitchell (D-Maine).

But if this is the administration's strategy, at the very least it has been thrown off balance by the forces of evil in the region - Iraq, Iran, Syria and their allies in Palestine, including Arafat.

By inspiring an upsurge in suicide bombings and violent Israeli countermeasures, America's enemies hope to prevent a U.S. attack on Iraq by turning all Arab countries against the United States - especially Kuwait, where invasion forces would need to congregate.

It's difficult to prove an Iraqi connection to Osama bin Laden's Sept. 11 terrorism, but it's not difficult to demonstrate a connection to terrorism in Israel.

In fact, Iraq last week announced that it was increasing from $10,000 to $25,000 the stipend it gives the families of those who wrap themselves in dynamite and kill innocent Israelis.

Desperate Palestinian young people, lacking jobs and filled with hatred for Jews inculcated by Palestinian schoolbooks and media, are willing to sacrifice their lives to kill Israelis because their families will be secured financially and they will be hailed as "martyrs."

Iraq supplies the money. Iran contributes guns and bombs, as demonstrated by a recent Israeli ship seizure. Syria helps terrorists based in Lebanon. Arafat extols each suicide as a patriot. And his Fatah party erects a memorial to his (or her) murderous death.

One sign of how the administration has been thrown off its strategy was the mission of Vice President Cheney last month to round up support for action against Iraq.

It was counterproductive in its main objective, instead causing Arab nations individually and (at the Arab Summit in Beirut, Lebanon) collectively denounce the idea of attacking Iraq.

And Cheney got sucked into the Israeli-Palestinian morass, promising to meet with Arafat if he denounced violence. The promise was an admission by the Bush administration that the war in Israel is affecting progress on the war against Iraq.

Still, the administration seems determined to push ahead on the Iraqi front, claiming that public statements of Arab resistance - and a reconciliation between old enemies Kuwait and Iraq - are for show, not for real.

So far Arab countries have been verbally supportive of Arafat and Palestinian "martyrdom," but they haven't taken or threatened any military action against Israel or responded to Iraq's calls for an oil embargo against the United States.

Evidently it will be several months yet before the United States has replenished military stocks used in Afghanistan and will be ready to attack Iraq.

During that time, we can expect more effort by Iraq and its allies to use the situation in Israel to divert the United States from its course - possibly including efforts to trigger a regional war between Arab countries and Israel. It's going to be a dangerous six months.

JWR contributor Morton Kondracke is executive editor of Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill. Send your comments by clicking here.

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