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David Miller Online: The War Israel Cannot Win

David Miller Online

Terrorism in the Middle East: The War Israel Cannot Win

The decision by Israel to refrain from any retaliatory action in the wake of the weekend’s suicide bombing is welcome news to the peace process. Although it is unclear how long Israel plans to hold off its military action against the Palestinian forces, the decision not to unleash the massive firepower of the Israeli Defence Force onto Palestinian areas is the only realistic option the Israeli government has open to it. The reason this column argues this issue of three points. The first point is that the Israeli- Palestinian battle is one of extreme unevenness and once Israel resorts to the military option, then it immediately becomes portrayed as the aggressor. The second point is that such a bombing demonstrates the limit to the influence Palestinian President Yasser Arafat has over the various militant factions, and the third point is that the use of such firepower cannot cancel out small low level terrorist operations like the one that targeted a Tel Aviv nightclub.

The Tel Aviv bombing was the worst terrorist incident since the Intifada began eight months ago and the worst in the region for five years. The choice of target is symbolic as it demonstrates the vulnerability of the Israeli people to the Intifada and transports the conflict from the West Bank and Gaza Strip into the heart of the Jewish state. The nightclub was a ‘soft’ target, as it was of no military importance, was random in its choice and unrelated to the Intifada in a military sense. Therefore, the club and other similar targets are impossible to defend against. This point has outraged many inside and outside of Israel, however this is how terrorism operates and what gives it its potent edge.

It is a myth when people say terrorism is the weapon of the weak. Powerful state actors have also shown that they are willing to use terrorism over the past century and before when it suits their needs and terrorism is merely one tactic among many. The point to remember here is that terrorism is an excellent method of drawing widespread attention to a cause or movement. As a result of this terrorism is viewed as being employed mainly by non-state groups, such as Hamas and the IRA. The media coverage of the Tel Aviv blast has been extensive and is no doubt seen as a victory to those who perpetrated the act and their followers. The horror of the bombing was plain to see, but in this horror was the message the militant Palestinian groups wished to convey and attention was once again focused onto the Intifada. Terrorism had proved its worth.

The targeting of civilians and innocent people is what makes terrorism such a potent weapon and the most effective the Palestinian militants have at their disposal. It requires very little cost, minimal planning as usually the cell is limited in size and in this case to one person and as long as there is a willing cadre of people willing to accept the suicide missions, it is a weapon that can be employed on a regular basis with maximum results. Such suicide bombings can happen in any part of Israel, depending on how easily the terrorists can move around, and this adds to the fear that such operations can induce within the Israeli people.

Such fear can produce two reactions, although one is more likely than the other. The less likely of the two is that such bombings will force the Israeli people to pressure the government of Mr. Sharon into a pulling back Israeli forces and settlements. This is unlikely as Israel has faced terrorism bombings throughout its history and there is nothing in Mr. Sharon’s character or policies that indicates he is willing to back down. Hence the other reaction is for Israel to unleash its military in a series of strikes against Palestinian targets, and as has proved the case so far, this policy is not deterred the suicide attacks.

Following this latest incident, Israel has placed the ball firmly in Mr. Arafat’s court and made it clear that the Palestinian Authority must take steps to prevent further attacks. However appears Mr. Arafat’s influence is limited in this regard. There are reports that no less than thirteen different Palestinian groups have decided to continue the Intifada and this demonstrates the fractured nature of the Palestinian movement. Mr. Arafat has influence and standing with these movements, however whether he can prevent them from launching terrorist attacks is another matter.

Mr. Arafat has announced his intention to prevent further violence from occurring. In a statement issued following the blast, a source close to Mr. Arafat declared that, “"A decision was taken tonight and joint patrols, made up of all Palestinian security agencies, were set up to monitor and patrol the points of friction, to implement the decision in accordance with the higher national interest of the Palestinian people”. Israel has so far declared its scepticism as to whether these objectives will be achieved, and has reserved its use of force based on this.

The bombing of the Tel Aviv nightclub not only demonstrates how effective terrorism can be, in that it can strike at the heart of a society and cause heavy casualties despite the unevenness of the military balance. All the helicopter raids, tank and troop deployments and even the use of F-16’s cannot prevent such attacks carried out by extremists nor the casualties they can inflict and if anything then these strikes act as a catalyst to further terrorist operations. If Mr. Arafat’s influence on groups such as Islamic Jihad and Hamas is as limited as it appears, then Israel is in an unfortunate situation. It can retaliate and satisfy the thirst for revenge sectors of the Israeli community have for revenge, or it can continue with the sensible option and continue to insist Mr. Arafat and the Palestinian leaders take control of their people. This way, Israel reverts international pressure back onto the Palestinians without appearing the aggressor. However, whether it will prevent further terrorist attacks is another matter. Such is the uncertainty of the Middle East.


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