- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 31, 2001

President Bush campaigned for his present job on a platform that promised to end inappropriate overseas deployments of U.S. personnel. He expressed concern that such endeavors represented unwarranted drains on national resources and unjustifiably put Americans in harm's way, especially since it was not clear their presence was actually contributing to a real peace in the region.

At the time, of course, he was talking about the Balkans. During his recent visit to Kosovo, though, he declared that the United States "went in together [with our allies] and will come out together." As a result, Americans are likely to be in Kosovo, Bosnia and perhaps Macedonia for the duration of this presidency — and probably much longer.

Unfortunately, the Balkan morass the United States has squarely embraced will appear the ultimate no-stick teflon operation compared to a new assignment President Bush is contemplating in the Middle East.

According to The Washington Post last Friday, "The Bush administration plans to dispatch about 10 monitors drawn largely from the State Department to assess the adherence of Israelis and Palestinians to steps proposed to restrain Middle East violence and advance peace talks."

To be sure, as this article indicates, the "monitors" would not be armed U.S. military personnel. Instead, they will be Foggy Bottom types, apparently augmented by CIA agents. And who can object to so small a number as 10 of these observers?

The trouble is that this is a bad idea, period. That underlying reality is not mitigated by either the fact that the monitors are defenseless (at least initially) or the fact that they are too few to have any chance of effectively monitoring the Palestinian-Israeli conflicts now routinely erupting in many parts of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and even in Israel, itself.

If the Bush administration goes forward with what The Post calls a "highly circumscribed observer team," it will find itself like the unwed woman who announced she was "a little bit pregnant." The description is technically accurate, but only temporarily so. It is predictable that more people will be needed if we are serious about monitoring all the flashpoints and reporting on all the violence between Arabs and Jews. And how long will it be after one of these unarmed observers is physically threatened or harmed before U.S. military personnel are dispatched to protect them?

Heretofore, the brake on dispatching even a modest U.S. team has been the adamant opposition of the government of Israel. This position was born of hard experience with international monitors in Lebanon, where the latter's presence did nothing to impede attacks by Hezbollah and other Syrian-backed forces on the Jewish State and its personnel. The U.N. observer force did, however, greatly complicate Israel's options and ability to deal with the threats posed by such enemies.

Tragically, the Israeli government — presumably under intense pressure from Secretary of State Colin Powell and other American officials who have embraced a call for international monitors included in a set of recommendations served up in recent weeks by a commission led by former Sen. George Mitchell has fatally shifted its stance on admitting observers.

Last week, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres declared: "We were never against the idea that the CIA [agents in Israel to facilitate security talks between the Palestinians and Israelis] bring other monitors to help their work, but we are against an international force. If it is a question of American monitors, we don't have a problem with that."

Naturally, Israel's willingness to accept American monitors will make it hard — if not, as a practical matter, impossible — for members of the Bush administration and legislators who understand that no good can come of this initiative to oppose it. In the same way, official Israeli support for the serial concessions entailed in the so-called Oslo "peace process" undercut more sensible friends of Israel, both in the United States and elsewhere, and led to the present debacle of an armed Palestinian proto-nation intent on emerging not only as a state in its own right, but eliminating the Jewish one next door.

Unlike the folly of an open-ended U.S. deployment unjustified by any direct American interests, the insertion of our personnel into the midst of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can only serve to jeopardize this country's real and abiding interest in the Middle East: ensuring the continued survival and flourishing of its only reliable and democratic ally, Israel. At the very least, the mere presence of our people on the ground will be a tangible expression of moral equivalence between Arabs initiating the majority of the attacks and Israelis at the receiving end.

When (not if) Americans get hurt, even if it is by Palestinians, popular opinion in this country will likely find fault with Israel for needing such monitors in the first place.

It can only be hoped that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will recognize the danger inherent in taking the first step on this classic slippery slope. He should revert to Israel's traditional and validated attitude by telling his friend, George W. Bush, "Thanks, but no thanks" with respect to putting any foreign monitors, including Americans, into the combustible Israeli-Palestinian mix. Even if he doesn't, Mr. Bush should come to his senses before the Arabists in his State Department and the "international community" embroil him in another, far more problematic mission in the Middle East than that he inherited in the Balkans.

Frank J. Gaffney Jr. is the president of the Center for Security Policy and a columnist for The Washington Times.

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