WASHINGTON, Aug. 24 (JTA) — The United States took a page out of the Israeli anti-terrorist playbook when President Clinton ordered attacks last week on paramilitary training camps in Afghanistan and a chemical weapons plant in Sudan. In speeches strikingly similar to those by Israeli politicians delivered after their own anti-terrorist campaigns, senior American officials have launched a domestic effort to brace the public for a cycle of terrorist violence. But by all accounts the American people are ill prepared for a war of attrition against terror. “We all have to understand that this is not a war that is easily won or ended,” Adam Garfinkle, a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia, wrote in an essay the day after the U.S. attacks. “We will be tested by terrorism,” Garfinkle wrote, “so long as we are who we are.” The cruise missile attack on targets associated with Saudi-born Osama bin Laden marked the last time that American forces launched a military operation directly in response to a terrorist attack since Ronald Reagan ordered strikes against Libya. But after the $79 million price tag is paid and the finger wagging threats from the White House, State Department, Pentagon and Congress subside, U.S. officials will be left struggling with one fundamental question: Did the offensive against bin Laden succeed? If Israel’s experiences are any indication, only time will tell. The 1996 assassination of Yehiya Ayyash with a booby-trapped cellular phone, widely attributed to Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency, was a short-lived victory. Hamas terrorists extracted a heavy price from the Jewish state for killing the man known as “The Engineer.” Four revenge attacks in seven days killed dozens and changed the course of Israel’s political history. In the end, Israel fell far short of its goal of preventing future attacks by eliminating the man who literally built the bombs that killed Israelis. But other attacks, widely credited to Israel, have yielded better results. Since the 1995 assassination of Fathi Shikaki, head of the Palestine Islamic Jihad, the group has carried out fewer attacks and is not as serious a player in the Palestinian self-rule areas. Meanwhile, last week’s attack may have more in common with Israel than previously thought. Israeli sources told the London Sunday Times that U.S. forces were able to precisely target bin Laden until just hours before the missile strike. Quoting unidentified Israeli sources, the newspaper reported that bin Laden’s location was known to within 10 yards while he was using his satellite phone. However, the device was disconnected hours before the strikes, and bin Laden, apparently fearing an attack, fled the terrorist training camp in Afghanistan. The report could not be independently confirmed. U.S. officials did say bin Laden canceled a high-level meeting of Islamic terrorists and was not at one of the camps leveled in the American attack. Yet Washington maintains that the Saudi financier was not targeted for assassination. The fallout from the attacks has many wondering when, and if, bin Laden will strike back. When asked in an Israel Radio interview last Friday if he expects revenge attacks, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that when a government or superpower like the United States “initiates action against terror — even if in this case it is a response to a murderous act — it can expect an exchange of blows or a strike back.” While this needs to be taken into account, “it can in no way prevent action, or else the terrorist would always win,” said Netanyahu, who is also the author of a book on combating terrorism. In a telephone conversation between Clinton and Netanyahu last Friday, the Israeli premier said he told the president that “Israel understands the [American] fight as its own fight against international terror.” After all, he later told Israel Radio, “it was Israel that generally charted the course in the struggle against terrorism.” Netanyahu did not comment directly on bin Laden’s threats against Israel. But Israeli officials in the United States said that while the Jewish state has beefed up security at various locations around the globe, they are not anticipating a terrorist campaign waged against Israel. So far, at least, bin Laden has focused his firepower on the United States. Even if the United States manages to cripple bin Laden’s network, there is likely to be little impact on Israel’s war against terrorism. According to U.S. officials, bin Laden’s network has minimal ties to the Hamas and Hezbollah terrorists who have attacked Israeli targets this decade. They belong to the Shi’ite branch of Islam and are supported by Iran. Bin Laden is a member of the rival Sunni Islamic sect. Born to a wealth Saudi family, but later stripped of his citizenship, bin Laden has lived in Yemen, then Sudan and now Afghanistan. Intelligence officials have linked bin Laden and his network, funded through hundreds of millions of dollars in family wealth, to two previous attacks on Americans in Saudi Arabia. Bin Laden has vowed to attack U.S. forces in Saudi Arabia and U.S. interests worldwide because of American support for Israel. He opposes the Israeli “occupation” of Jerusalem, which contains one of Islam’s most sacred sites. Bin Laden, whose fortune is estimated by U.S. officials at $300 million, founded the World Islamic Front for Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders. In a telephone interview with a Pakistani journalist last Thursday before the U.S. attacks, bin Laden urged “Muslims all over the world to continue their jihad against the Americans and Jews.” For now, American and Israeli intelligence agencies are working to predict bin Laden’s next move. “It would seem that bin Laden and the organizations allied with him, not to mention his many followers around the world, still have the ability to execute terrorist attacks,” Boaz Ganor, director of the International Policy Institute for Counterterrorism, told the Jerusalem Post. “Now their motivation to carry out such attacks will be greater than ever as they will feel they must avenge themselves and restore their image.” According to Garfinkle, it’s now a waiting game. “So we must ready ourselves — our intelligence, our military forces, our diplomacy and our willpower — for the long haul,” he said. (JTA correspondent Douglas Davis in London contributed to this report.)
NEWS ANALYSIS U.S. follows Israeli stance on terror, but is public ready?