Israelis are empathizing with Britain’s first taste of Islamist terrorism, but the government of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is keeping quiet. While Israeli news media unleashed a flurry of commentary on the bombs that killed around 50 people in London’s transportation system on July 7, Jerusalem officials limited themselves to extending condolences and offers of help.
“Prime Minister Sharon told British Prime Minister Blair that he understands the difficult days that the latter and the British people are now going through and offered his support,” a Prime Minister’s Office statement said after the two leaders spoke by phone.
The reticence was no accident. According to political sources, Sharon ordered his Cabinet to avoid too much talk about the London bombings. “This is not our event,” he told them.
It was a far cry from Israeli reactions to previous attacks abroad attributed to Al-Qaida. Keen to garner support for its crackdowns on Palestinian terrorism, the Jewish state was quick to compare Osama bin Laden to the likes of Hamas and Arafat.
But with the previous Palestinian Authority leader gone and a perceived moderate, Mahmoud Abbas, in his place, Israel can no longer risk making such parallels.
“Likening the West Bank and Gaza Strip to Al-Qaida strongholds could naturally raise damning questions of why we, then, are pursuing peacemaking with the Palestinians,” a Sharon confidant said.
The concern is especially pronounced when it comes to Britain. While the Blair government is a stalwart of the United States and has voiced sympathy for Israel’s security needs, it is still viewed by many in Jerusalem as “Old Europe,” which translates into pro-Arab and pro-appeasement when it comes to the Palestinians.
For some, Blair reinforced that view with comments he made on what he saw as the best way of tackling Islamic terrorism.
“We need to create the circumstances in which there is a proper understanding of people between different faiths, in which some of the critical issues in the Middle East are dealt with and sorted out, and where people can see out there in the Middle East that there is a perfectly good path to democracy if people want to take it,” Blair said in a radio interview Saturday.
Arab media interpreted the remarks as a call for Palestinian statehood demands to be met.
But Israel’s ambassador to Britain rejected the notion that Blair favors appeasing Palestinian terrorism. “We have to understand that we have no better friends on the continent than Blair and his government. He is completely clear in his opposition to terror,” Zvi Heifetz told Army Radio on Sunday.
Sharon’s directive regarding quiet on the London attack was not universally observed.
Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was attending an investment conference in London when the bombers struck, publicly likened Islamic terrorists to the Nazis and urged British citizens to fight terrorism the way they fought Germany during World War II.
Other government representatives limited themselves to more general expressions of solidarity.
“The whole free world is now fighting terror,” said Cabinet minister Matan Vilnai. “I am sure we can find the will, find the right direction, how to face terror, with Great Britain, with the U.S., with the whole free world.”