- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 19, 2001

Arab states have condemned the attacks but nervously await the reaction as the United States ponders its response to last week's terrorist strikes in New York and Washington.

With governments across the Arab world struggling to contain fundamentalist Islamic movements within their own borders, governments such as Egypt, Algeria and the United Arab Emirates have warned Washington that any retaliatory strike could inflame their own domestic problems.

UAE President Sheik Zayed bin Sultan Nahyan told President Bush in a phone call Monday his country was prepared to back a focused U.S. military strike, but immediately urged Mr. Bush "to be patient and to be certain of the evidence so that any response against terrorism can gain international legitimacy."

The great fear, expressed in country after country in the Middle East: A quick and bloody U.S. response, perhaps a massive military strike and ground invasion against the terror network of Afghanistan-based Saudi financier Osama bin Laden, could harden anti-American attitudes in the Muslim world and provoke a cycle of religious-based violence.

Such an action "would be seen in the Muslim world as evidence supporting the worst paranoid suspicions of the fundamental extremists," Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak told The Washington Times in an interview.

Mr. Mubarak, who has struggled against a powerful Islamic fundamentalist challenge to his regime for more than a decade, has been trying to coordinate an Arab response to the crisis, hosting meetings with Syrian President Bashir Assad and Jordan's King Abdullah II this week. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is scheduled to meet with Mr. Mubarak today.

Bush administration officials have been quick to praise the support pledged so far in the Arab world. They also are trying to ease fears in the region that any retaliatory strike against the terrorists found responsible for the attacks represents a larger assault on Islam or on Arab interests.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, in an interview broadcast yesterday by Qatar's Al-Jazeera television network, insisted the U.S. effort to rally international support "is not directed against Arabs or anyone of the Islamic faith. It's against terrorism."

Toby Dodge, a Middle East analyst with the London-based Institute of International Affairs, said last week's attacks prompted a "hearty condemnation to what went on" by virtually every Arab government.

But "as the ramifications of what the U.S. might actually do become more obvious, there's a lot of shaking knees around the region," Mr. Dodge told Bloomberg News.

Seeking to ease the political strain for Arab countries, Mr. Powell ruled out any military role for Israel in the retaliation.

"I don't see nations such as Israel playing a role in that kind of operation," Mr. Powell said, although he did not rule out using Israeli intelligence assets in the hunt for the terrorists.

In Israel, a senior official said the Jewish state would share intelligence with the United States, but echoed Mr. Powell in saying that any military cooperation with Washington was not likely.

"We will cooperate in any way we are requested to," said Zalman Shoval, former Israeli ambassador to Washington and now a senior adviser to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

"Our support is guaranteed. Military cooperation is not what is requested of us. I don't think so. But as far as the overall effort goes, we are on board," Mr. Shoval said.

The outpouring of sympathy from the Middle East has extended even to nations long hostile to the United States. Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi and Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei have both condemned the attack and offered aid for the victims.

But Iran, which has had its own tense relations with Afghanistan's ruling Taliban regime, was among those warning that the United States risked a backlash if it struck too hard, too fast.

"If America were to enter Pakistan and dispatch forces to Afghanistan so as to expand its might in the region, its problem will multiply daily," Ayatollah Khamenei said in an interview broadcast yesterday on Iranian television.

Fearful of domestic strains of anti-Americanism, several Arab and Muslim states have pushed hard for the United Nations to oversee any international campaign against bin Laden and the Afghan regime that shields him. U.S. officials have shown little interest in letting the United Nations take the lead, but many in the Arab world clearly feel it could provide them political cover at home.

Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, in comments reported by the Iranian IRNA news agency, warned: "To prevent a new catastrophe in Afghanistan, we must keep every action within the framework of the United Nations and under its supervision."

Many Arab states have pushed a linkage between rooting out bin Laden's network and ending the violent standoff between the Palestinians and Israel. They say that the depth of the anti-American feeling in the region springs from frustration over the lack of progress on peace talks and what is seen as a clear U.S. tilt toward Israel.

Analysts say they also fear that a U.S.-led global counterterrorism campaign could turn its focus to militant Arab groups that have long battled Israel from bases in Lebanon, Syria and on the West Bank.

Said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher: "We have obviously noted that many in the Arab world who we work with in the coalition are very concerned about the situation in the region. And we have assured them that we will continue to work on the issue of peace in the Middle East."

Osamu Tsukimori contributed to this report.

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