- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 5, 2001

Arab leaders differed sharply from the Bush administration in their response to the latest Middle East violence, but U.S. officials said yesterday they remained firmly with the coalition against terrorism.

"I have not seen anything indicating a decrease of support in the war on terrorism," said State Department spokesman Philip Reeker.

However, if Israel targets Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat for assassination or expulsion and tries to dismantle the Palestinian Authority, it will endanger Arab public support for the anti-terror war, said former State Department official Richard Murphy.

Mr. Murphy said it was not clear how far Israel would go in its latest offensive. But an Israeli diplomat said yesterday that "there are red lines we will not cross. These are getting rid of Arafat and dismantling the P.A."

The diplomat, speaking on the condition of anonymity, did not make clear whether the red lines were drawn by Israel, the United States or both.

Arab leaders yesterday bitterly criticized the Israeli offensive against Palestinian targets mounted in reprisal for weekend suicide attacks that killed 25 Israelis and blamed the cycle of violence on Israeli settlement policies. However, none of the Arab leaders threatened to pull out of the anti-terror coalition to protest Israeli actions.

Jordan yesterday called for an emergency meeting of Arab leaders in Cairo for Sunday to discuss the latest violence in the region.

Government spokesman Saleh Kallab warned Israel that an attack on Mr. Arafat would undermine his leadership of the Palestinian people and "would mean an all-out explosion that will spread beyond the Palestinian territories and the region."

Mr. Reeker said in an interview that despite the intense Israeli reprisals against Palestinian security sites during the past two days, the war against terrorism continued "on many angles."

He cited bans announced by the White House against groups believed to support terrorism and continued cooperation from Muslim countries on law enforcement and intelligence sharing.

Arab and other Muslim leaders, even those strongly allied to the United States, such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia, had waffled on joining the anti-terrorism coalition when it was proposed by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell soon after the September 11 attacks on New York and the Pentagon.

Some said they were sorry about the attacks but felt the United States should drop its strong support for Israel if it wanted to prevent future Muslim fundamentalist terrorism.

But as the U.S.-led coalition forged ahead with a warning from President Bush that "either you are with us or you are with the terrorists," such talk disappeared.

Mr. Murphy, now with the Council on Foreign Relations, said: "If Israel attacks in a clear attempt to eliminate Arafat and the Palestinian Authority, and there is assumed American agreement with this, this will definitely impact on the readiness to continue cooperation in the coalition against al Qaeda.

"We have respect in the Arab world for the military prowess displayed in Afghanistan," he said in a telephone interview from New York.

Muslim countries might continue to share intelligence quietly in the search for fugitive Osama bin Laden even if Israel ratchets up its attack on the Palestinians, he said, but it would become impossible for Arab leaders to stand publicly on the side of the United States in the terrorism war.

Mr. Reeker said the Middle East conflict and the war against terrorism "are mutually exclusive things we don't see why they should be linked."

Bin Laden, the suspected mastermind of the September 11 attacks, has said he is fighting America in part because of its support for Israel. His followers say they are fighting a "jihad," or holy war, to defend Islam against Christians and Jews, and they cite the Middle East as one battlefront.

But the United States has persuaded Pakistan and other Muslim countries to back the anti-terrorism war in Afghanistan without toning down its support for Israel.

If anything, administration support for Israel since the weekend has been stronger, with no call for Israel to use restraint in its response to the latest suicide bombings.

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