editorial: terrorism must be fought, too

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    Jun. 15, 2003
    Editorial: Terrorism must be fought, too

    America's war in Iraq began and ended with targeted attacks against Saddam Hussein in principle the same tactic used by Israel to eliminate some of the worst terrorist chieftains on its very doorstep. In practice, however, there are crucial differences.

    The firepower and scale of Israeli actions are nothing like the mighty US "shock and awe" spectacles. Israeli Intelligence also tends to pinpoint targets more reliably. Odds for success are often compromised by Israel's deliberate resort to less powerful means. Its decision to pull the trigger is made almost reluctantly, regardless of the target's genocidal schemes like those of Abdel Aziz Rantisi, who declared that "every Israeli child, wife, and husband" is on his hit list.

    Rantisi escaped an Israeli attack because the IDF didn't employ heavier charges in its missiles, in an effort to minimize the loss of innocent lives. Despite Rantisi's bloody-mindedness, Israel never described its attempt to remove him from the scene as a "decapitation strike," which is what the US called its air missions against Saddam. Semantics indicate a great deal in this case. Israel doesn't hunt down even its most monstrous enemies with relish.

    It seeks exceedingly precise intelligence in order to avoid civilian casualties, even if they are the kin of murderers, who deliberately and indiscriminately seek to slaughter Israeli civilians.

    When Arab noncombatants are hurt, as in the case of Hamas terrorist kingpin Yasser Taha's wife and daughter, it's because something went wrong in the Israeli plan not because Israel sought this result. In fact, Taha and his ilk are in the habit of hiding behind human shields, including their own families, because they realize that Israel imposes humane limitations on its power.

    The terrorists have no qualms about exploiting Israel's liberal decency.

    Israeli sensitivity to civilian casualties is without match, even in the enlightened free world. Americans have fewer compunctions about using the massive power at their disposal, as was well evinced by the tons of explosives dropped on a Baghdad restaurant, were Saddam was thought to be dining. US forces felt justified, considering the villainy of their target.

    Israel's attitude may be too moral for its own good, considering the viciousness of the arena in which it struggles to survive. Israel's fight is against those who would annihilate it; its self-defense of the most pressing nature. Iraq's threat to the US was hardly as existential, yet America's war was hardly sterile. "Collateral damage" in Iraq wasn't negligible, to say nothing of Afghanistan.

    In contrast to less tangible threats to America, 25 Israelis were slain by Palestinian terrorists in the week following the Aqaba "peace" summit. Proportionate to Israel's population, this is the equivalent of 1,250 American fatalities.

    Washington wouldn't have suffered such losses without response, merely in order to wait for its adversary to muster the will to curb the killers. Yet, Israel's government is expected by some to do just that, while Israeli blood is spilled in the streets.

    No government can be asked to neglect its citizens and no citizenry should acquiesce to such neglect. Personal security is part of the tacit natural contract between any population and its leadership. It's so in America and so in the no-less democratic Israel. Israelis have no less of a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness than Americans.

    The fact that we live in immediate proximity to the heartland of Islamic terrorism and that we aren't a superpower shouldn't diminish our rights.

    These rights are violated by the willful distortion of our self-defense. Portrayals of Israel's preemptive strikes as vengeful retaliation, which spawns a "cycle of violence" offer succor to terrorism, because they presume a moral equivalence between indiscriminate mass-murder and attempts to foil murderers. Moreover, the onus for breaking the cycle is generally placed on Israel, owing to the axiomatic acceptance of the inevitability and justice of Arab retribution even for the lives of terrorists killed while firing rockets at Israeli towns.

    This lopsided logic has come to be expected from Europe. But it was disappointing to hear US President George W. Bush censuring Israel in a similar vein. The irony was particularly bitter, as his admonition came while 4,000 American troops set out on Operation Peninsula Strike to hunt down remaining Saddam loyalists north of Baghdad.

    Seventy deaths resulted from a single American air assault against a suspected terrorist training facility.

    It's not enough for Washington to demand anti-terrorist action from the Palestinian Authority or to request that duplicitous Arab regimes starve terrorists of cash.

    Bush himself has frequently reminded us that terrorism must be fought. It won't be talked out of existence. Appealing to the better nature of assorted tyrants will yield nothing.

    If Bush indeed champions combat against today's barbarians, then he must make sure that his cause isn't marred by double standards.

    It's unconscionable to use one yardstick for America and another for little Israel.

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