The Enemy has Been Singled Out

A new political culture has begun to pervade the realm of international relations. Along came President Bush and changed all that after September 11, 2001. Calling a spade a spade, he tore away the veil of hypocrisy that colored the world’s attitude to Middle Eastern dictators and terrorists.


(A version of this column appeared in Haaretz on August 20, 2002.)

A new political culture has imperceptibly begun to pervade the realm of international relations. Gone are the days when the U.S. government thought it proper to assist Saddam Hussein in his war of aggression against Iran, when Jacques Chirac, then France’s prime minister, decided to supply Saddam Hussein with the Osirak nuclear reactor and with the latest in French aircraft and missiles, and when even Washington joined the general condemnation of Israel when the Israel Air Force destroyed the Osirak reactor a few years later.

Best forgotten are the days when Yasser Arafat was hailed as a freedom fighter, lionized in the capitals of the world and awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. And who wants to remember the compliments showered on the late Syrian dictator, Hafez Assad, by Israel’s then prime minister Ehud Barak, or the expectations voiced all around that the Iranian “reformist,” President Ayatollah Mohammad Khatami, was going to bring fundamentalist Iran into the community of civilized nations?

Along came President George W. Bush Jr. and changed all that after September 11, 2001. Calling a spade a spade, he tore away the veil of hypocrisy that colored the world’s attitude to Middle Eastern dictators and terrorists. Not that everybody has fallen into line to support his war against the “axis of evil” and international terrorism, but the recognition that the enemies that he has designated represent a danger to the world is prevalent.

The events of September 11, 2001, revealed to the world the ugly face of Islamic extremism. A year earlier, in September 2000, Yasser Arafat launched his war of terror against Israel. Hundreds of innocent civilian – men, women, and children – fell victim to Palestinian suicide bombers. With the al Qaida attack against America, it became clear that the very same kind of madness stood behind these acts of terror. It suddenly became apparent that terrorism, the killing of innocent civilians, cannot be excused, no matter what the presumed cause. No one has said this better and more authoritatively than the president of the United States.

Finally, the world recognizes that the continuation of Saddam Hussein’s quest for nuclear weapons and his steadily-increasing stockpile of chemical and biological weapons constitute a danger to the world, and that a means of neutralizing this danger must be found before it is too late. The illusions about a “reformed” Iran led by President Khatami have also been dispelled. The Busheir nuclear reactor is under construction there, with Russian help, and there may be more on the way. Who is prepared to trust the Iranian ayatollahs that they will not use these reactors to advance their nuclear weapons program, while perfecting their long-range ballistic missiles with North Korean help?

President Bush’s unequivocal position on the need to fight terrorism has given the Israeli government the confidence needed to reach out to the centers of terrorist activity in areas under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority. The operations of the Israel Defense Forces in Palestinian cities and villages have succeeded in smashing much of the terrorist infrastructure and significantly reducing Palestinian terrorist activity and its toll of civilian casualties. And no less important, they have laid to rest the doubts that military action can be effective against terrorism.

President Bush’s call for a reform of the Palestinian leadership has led to a debate throughout the Arab World. Many have reached the conclusion that Arafat’s strategy has failed, only bringing ruin and destruction to the Palestinians.

The Middle East Media and Research Institute recently quoted the Tunisian columnist, El-Afif El-Achsar, writing in the Saudi-owned Al-Hayat daily: “The appropriate [Palestinian] leadership today is one that understands well the world’s political equations after September 11 – a world in which international diplomacy and world public opinion believe that the killing of Israeli civilians should not lead to any [Palestinian] political gains”.

Most significant are the debates and negotiations, among the Palestinians themselves, about the need to cease terrorist activity against Israelis because they seem to have turned out to be counter-productive. Even though it is unclear at this stage whether or not they will lead to a binding agreement, they may, nevertheless, be a first indication of the beginning of the collapse of the Palestinian campaign of violence. This would be the first step toward Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and, possibly, a resolution of the conflict.

Thank you, Mr. President.

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