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After Initial Cold Shoulder, U.S. Seeks Israeli Help Against Terror

The United States increasingly is looking to Israel for assistance and advice in its ongoing war against terrorism.

In the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, the Bush administration seemed hesitant to publicly utilize Israel’s intelligence capabilities. While Israel’s expertise in the field is unquestioned, U.S. officials feared a partnership with Israel could anger Arab states, which America was courting for its coalition against Afghanistan.

But that attitude has changed in recent months as the administration has steered away from the Arab coalition. In addition, the Bush administration has drawn closer to Israel as more evidence has emerged of the Palestinian Authority’s unwillingness to crack down on terror groups.

Uzi Landau, Israel’s minister of public security, met with senior U.S. administration officials and lawmakers this week to discuss how Israel and the United States can help each other fight terrorism.

“Like AIDS or cancer, you don’t negotiate with them, you fight them,” Landau told reporters Tuesday.

Specifically, Israel and the United States are planning a homeland security dialogue between the Knesset and Congress, to better synchronize activities. The idea mirrors a cooperative dialogue on missile defense in 1998, which led to additional funding to Israel for its missile defense programs.

Increased coordination between terrorist groups and organized crime, and the threat of weapons of mass destruction, have made increased coordination necessary, Landau said.

“If we shall not eradicate this non-conventional infrastructure and the terrorist infrastructure, they will, God forbid, eradicate us,” he said.

While in town, Landau met with FBI Director Robert Mueller and Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge to enhance intelligence and security cooperation between the two countries.

Israel has been providing information, both clandestinely and in the open, since the Sept. 11 attacks. Israeli intelligence on terrorist organizations and their funding led the United States to freeze assets of the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, a U.S. charity that allegedly has funneled money to Hamas.

Israel’s experience in lessening combat casualties has proved informative for the Americans, as well as its know-how in dismantling roadside bombs.

Israel also provided intelligence information on a Florida professor who had ties to a terrorist organization. Sami al-Arianne was fired from South Florida State University after the school learned of his association with members of Islamic Jihad, based in part on Israeli intelligence.

America can also learn a thing or two from Israel in terms of public vigilance.

“You need to change the state of mind of your society to understand this threat,” Landau said.

That includes preparing citizens to be cognizant of those around them, which will provide “many more eyes” for spotting suspicious people and packages. He noted that an 8-year-old boy in Jerusalem recently alerted authorities to a suspicious package that contained a bomb.

He also said Israel has been urging public places and businesses to take responsibility for their security and coordinate efforts with law enforcement.

Landau’s meetings in Washington are considered indicative of a new interest in increased cooperation.

“America understands the Israeli people have a reservoir of information which they are willing to make available to the United States,” a former senior Pentagon official said. “Israel’s reputation in the practical side is very high.”

Israel’s knowledge of Afghanistan and Al Qaida was limited. Now that the United States is looking at Iraq and Iran as possible targets in the war on terrorism, however, Israel’s insight could be very useful.

“Right now we are seeing a good deal of cooperation, because Israel has good things to bring to the table,” the official said. But, he added, “It could be more open.”

Landau’s visit to Washington focused not only on homeland defense issues, but also on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Like more senior officials expected in Washington later this week — Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer — Landau urged U.S. officials add the Palestinian Authority to President Bush’s “axis of evil,” which currently includes North Korea, Iraq and Iran.

“The Palestinian entity is basically a rogue entity, providing a safe haven for any terrorist organization that wants to contribute to the destruction of the State of Israel,” Landau said.

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