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David Miller: Fighting An Enemy Unafraid Of Death

David Miller Online

Israel’s Response to Terror: New Tactics, Same Results

In the wake of the two suicide bombings that have occurred in Jerusalem and Haifa over the past few days, it is almost as if there is a sense of déjà vu concerning the situation in the Middle East and an increased pessimism that the violence cannot be halted.

As with the attack on a popular Tel Aviv nightclub two months ago, the bombers have targeted Israeli civilians and following the blasts Israel promptly launched its retaliatory strikes. However, in this round of response action, Israel has adopted a new tactic and seized a number of Palestinian buildings, including Orient House in East Jerusalem.

Orient House is the unofficial headquarters of the Palestine Liberation Organization in a city that it regards as its capital and it is a symbol of Palestinian aspirations for an independent state. By raising the Israeli flag atop of it, Israel is not only punishing the Palestinians for the latest bombings but is also sending out the message that it can limit, even cease, any Palestinian political representation in the disputed city. Although it is an effective tactic, it is doubtful that in the long term it will succeed.

By taking over Orient House, Israel is telling the Palestinians that their political goals cannot be advanced in the wake of the continuing violence. Throughout this cycle of violence, the Israeli government has laid the blame for the violence at the door of Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority and this represents one method in which they can enforce that view.

As well as this, the building seizures are also a way for Israel to extend its control over East Jerusalem.

It is not clear how long Israel plans to hold these buildings, but if it transpires that this is a plan to limit or remove Palestinian political representation and presence from Jerusalem then it is an effective policy. The international community does not recognise Israeli sovereignty over the eastern part of the city, even though it is regarded by Israel as its capital and the status of the city is the most contentious issue between the two sides and neither side is prepared to give way.

The seizure therefore becomes a way in which Israel can extend its influence by stealth and gradually push the Palestinians back to the occupied territories. There is talk of Israel dismantling the Palestinian Authority completely and re-occupying the entire West bank and Gaza Strip once again.

At present this remains speculation, however as Israel’s government is dominated by hardliners, it is definitely a possible step if no solution can be found. Even if there is a settlement it may not include facilities such as Orient House and therefore even if peace prevails, the Palestinians are even further away from their dream of a capital in East Jerusalem.

While this new policy is not likely to draw the levels of international condemnation that selective assassination or the use of F-16 fighter jets have, it is nevertheless unlikely to deter future suicide bombings or terrorist attacks on the Israeli people, which they are in response to.

Even if Israel cracks down harder on Mr. Arafat’s leadership and increases their demand that he bring the extremists to heel, they are unlikely to make gains in terms of their security.

I expressed this view the last time I wrote on the Middle East and I have seen nothing that has shaken this. I still believe that no matter what tactic Israel adopts, this is a war it cannot win unless it bites a very bitter pill and agrees to be the first seated at the negotiating table.

I do not say this because of any particular political view or bias, but due to my reading of the current situation and the way it is developing. Even if those measures mentioned above materialise, Israeli civilians will be still be in close proximity to their Arab neighbours and thus vulnerable to terrorist attack.

The only option open to Israel would be to seal its borders entirely, however if it still maintains a presence in the occupied territories then this is not a practical alternative. The threat of terrorism will remain.

This conflict has demonstrated that even in the 21st Century, terrorism is a very effective weapon. It requires little cost along with minimal planning as there is never any shortage of soft targets and therefore the chance that the strike is effective is heightened, especially the case if those perpetrating it are willing to die and become martyrs.

The Palestinian extremist movements, such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, do not appear to have a shortage of people willing to die for the cause and if their death is accompanied by the deaths of several Israelis then they will always feel that it was mission accomplished.

No matter how hard Israel cracks down on the Palestinian people or ruling cliché, it will not be able to prevent such attacks by these extremists.

Even if the situation is returned to the days before the Oslo negotiations took place, the Israeli people will not be safe. It is perhaps the cruellest of catch 22 situations to be faced with, but a sense of reality must prevail.

If Israel does make the huge step and declares it will go to the negotiating table then all the pressure is firmly on Mr. Arafat to do the same and not only halt the attacks but also to produce a compromise. The alternative is that peace will be lost forever. After all, what deterrent do you have against an enemy who is not afraid to die?


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