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Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, December 2001, page 26

Special Report

Israel’s Lobby Tries to Widen Net Against Terrorism

By Richard H. Curtiss

One of the first events after Sept. 11 obviously was a re-thinking by Israel of how it could take advantage of the opportunity to advance its interests. Presumably the Palestinians were undertaking a similar re-evaluation of the changed circumstances.

Sept. 11 and its aftermath came in the nick of time for Israel’s lobby, because U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell was working on forcing Israel to accept an initiative aiming at the creation of a Palestinian state.

The American plan was to have been based on the report by former Sen. George Mitchell. The next step would have been for President George W. Bush to put his weight behind the initiative. Or, alternatively, Secretary of State Powell might have proposed the Mitchell Report as the basis for negotiations, with.the president adding his weight to the decision as momentum grew.

All that changed on Sept. 11. The Israelis seized yet another opportunity to procrastinate. The burden now was on the Palestinians not to lose sight of a solution to the Palestinian problem.

One of the first to jump on the procrastination bandwagon was the Weekly Standard. Linking all of Israel’s enemies under one umbrella, the five-year-old flagship of the neo-conservative movement insisted that antiterrorist action be taken against all of Israel’s enemies. Anyone who disagreed, the magazine suggested, would be “evil.”

Thus, in addition to Osama bin Laden, the world’s enemies would include Iraq, Iran, Syria and Libya. The problem with such a view was that, although most of the rest of the world agreed on the need to resist terrorists, there was little agreement with other premises in the war on terrorism. Right here at home, for example, the next priority for President Bush was to provide a fair deal for the Palestinians.

Most other countries do not even agree on how to handle Iraq, although if there is indisputable proof that Saddam Hussain has tampered with biological weapons or other manifestations of terrorism, there might be a call for a subsequent campaign.

No one disputes the guilt of Osama bin Laden. So far, however, there has been no proof that the Iraqis have had any hand in the recent events. In fact, Secretary of State Powell has said specifically that there is no credible evidence linking Iraq to the events of Sept. 11.

This has been conspicuously ignored by the Israel lobby, which is seeking to widen the net against terrorism and complicate George Bush’s attempt to forge and hold together a coalition.

Whether or not the war on terrorism would extend beyond Osama bin Laden is yet to be determined. Powell’s argument is that, regardless of what is to follow, only one terrorist has been condemned in the court of world opinion. In short, he argued, take one issue at a time.

Meanwhile, Assistant Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz launched off on a tangent of his own. In trying to link all of Israel’s enemies to Osama bin Laden, Wolfowitz, a long-time booster of Israel, got ahead of the curve and had to be called to order by Colin Powell, who was trying not to complicate the process.

The speed with which the issue suddenly became Colin Powell vs. Paul Wolfowitz was astonishing. The entire Bush team had to be brought into action to quiet the Wolfowitz faction and make it clear that only one issue was to be dealt with at a time.

Fortunately, the Israel lobby’s overreaching was too obvious. Because the administration got its act together quickly, Colin Powell was supported by all other policymakers.

Continuing the Campaign

Nevertheless, some of Israel’s most outspoken supporters have continued a campaign based on false charges. For example, William Safire of The New York Times has tried to associate Saddam Hussain with charges of germ warfare. Each time Safire has leveled such charges, however, members of the administration have responded that there is no indication of any such linkage.

Others in the Israel lobby have more subtly sought to do the same thing. Interestingly, the Weekly Standard’s premature attempt to link all of Israel’s foes provided a preview of how an initiative can begin. With the help of a few tried and true supporters of Israel, a bandwagon was set in motion.

Most of the media were careful not to show their hands. But the Weekly Standard’s William Kristol did, and the result has been instructive.

Kristol and 37 other “foreign policy experts” wrote an open letter to the president published by the Weekly Standard on Sept. 20. The letter called for the president to target Iraq, Iran, Syria and the Palestinian Authority. Once again, members of the Israel lobby clearly overreached, and the result could have derailed President Bush’s entire initiative.

The main movers and shakers of this second false start by the Israel lobby, the signatories to the open letter, came in four varieties. The primary suspects included Kristol himself and such Israel stalwarts as Norman Podhoretz, his wife Midge Decter, and Richard Perle, assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration.

A slightly less culpable example of an Israel lobby fellow traveler might include former foreign service officer Charles Hill. Further removed is Francis Fukuyama, best known for his work The End of History. He sometimes can be called upon to speak up on behalf of Israel, although it is not clear why he does so.

The fourth circle includes a few surprises, including William J. Bennett and Gary Bauer, neither of whom has previously been identified as among Israel’s defenders. Here they are, however, with no explanation, on a list of friends of Israel.

A possible explanation for Gary Bauer’s inclusion is that the former presidential candidate and conservative Christian is having problems finding a role for himself in Republican politics. It is difficult to discern any reason for Bennett’s participation as an Israel apologist.

In any case, the list of signatories is instructive in and of itself. Watch these names to see who will continue to boost Israel’s initiatives—and who already may wish they had not agreed to lend their names.

Richard H. Curtiss is the executive editor of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.