JERUSALEM, Sept. 17 (JTA) — As the U.S. ally with the greatest experience fighting terrorism, Israel is likely to play a key role in the planned international war on terrorism.
But its role is likely to be less public, working primarily with U.S. intelligence and the Defense Department, terrorism experts say.
“There aren’t going to be 500,000 U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia in this scenario, so the cooperation and activity will not be as visible,” Gerald Steinberg, a Bar-Ilan University professor, said, alluding to the Persian Gulf War.
“Israel has a lot of good intelligence experience and the Americans definitely need that experience in terms of anti-terrorist activities.”
Steinberg predicted that as the U.S.-led fight against terrorism gets under way, there will be many short “in-and-out missions” in Afghanistan, the believed base of Osama bin Laden, the suspected mastermind of last week’s terror attacks in Washington and New York.
Operations in Afghanistan could resemble “what’s going on in Jenin or Ramallah,” Steinberg said. “Israel can train people how to do that.”
Last week, Israeli army units entered the Palestinian-controlled areas of Jenin and Jericho, blockading the cities by day and carrying out arrests and demolishing police posts at night.
The actions were part of the government’s new policy of retaliating with greater severity to Palestinian attacks on Israeli civilians.
Israel also has been carrying out “targeted assassinations” against Palestinian terrorists during the last 12 months of the intifada. While Europe and the United States have criticized that method, it is considered fairly successful by members of the defense establishment.
With the United States looking to carry out a very different style of warfare against Saudi suspect bin Laden and his cohorts, these types of short-term incursions and attacks might become the norm, with Israel providing assistance.
But it isn’t likely that Israeli agents will be going through the hills of Pakistan to plant a bomb in bin Laden’s cell phone, said Martin Kramer, a senior fellow at the Moshe Dayan Center at Tel Aviv University.
“This whole business with bin Laden and Taliban goes way over our heads and over the heads of the core of the Middle East,” Kramer said. “The objectives of these people is to hit the U.S., which they think of as the occupier, with their carrier groups offshore, ruling the skies with cruise missiles and puppet regimes.”
In bin Laden’s mind, the Jews are “occupying” a corner of the Middle East, he said, but the United States is occupying the whole of it.
Furthermore, he said, the current conflict with the Palestinians has had “little effect on the calculation of these terrorists. We saw the bin Laden story start taking place in the 1990s when the peace process was on track.”
Bin Laden allegedly dropped his first U.S. bomb in 1993, with an explosion at the World Trade Center. Three years later, there was a bombing of U.S. military housing in Saudi Arabia and, in 1998, the bombings of two U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who wrote a book about terrorism, said Israel must take part in the global effort to eradicate terrorism.
“America must lead the international war against terrorism, but Israel must do its share,” he wrote in Friday’s Jerusalem Post. “Here, right next to us, a terror-supported regime par excellence, led by Arafat and the PLO, has developed. It too, must be disarmed and demilitarized — before it is too late.”
The current atmosphere of anti-terrorism creates an atmosphere of zero tolerance for terrorist attacks, and that’s a problem for the Palestinians, who have acquiesced to Hamas and Islamic Jihad suicide bombings as one lever of pressure in the intifada.
“What is clear is that this is a body blow to the intifada,” Kramer said. In addition to a new sympathy for victims of terrorism in wake of the attacks on America, attention is being shifted away from the Palestinian cause to another Middle Eastern arena.
Part of Israel’s determination to act against terrorism is encapsulated in Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s hesitance to let Foreign Minister Shimon Peres meet with Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat this week.
If the two meet, Arafat will see it as a “down payment,” allowing him to claim that he doesn’t control the local terror organizations and letting anti- Israel incitement continue, Steinberg said.
“Everything is fluid and we have to prepared for the effects on us,” Steinberg said. “It will be better for Israel and the U.S. to work together.”