- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 11, 2001

Imagine for a minute that a popular restaurant in Manhattan's Times Square was blown to bits by a terrorist's bomb. Would the American public demand from the Bush administration an immediate and aggressive effort to prevent similar attacks from occurring in the future? Or would Americans prefer a wringing of hands so as not to perpetuate a "cycle of violence" or "inflame" an already volatile and dangerous enemy?

The answer is obvious.

So it is no surprise that Americans overwhelmingly support Israel's efforts to combat terrorism against its own citizens. A bipartisan poll recently released by the American Middle East Information Network (AMEIN) that Luntz Research helped conduct reveals an American public loudly, clearly and overwhelmingly in favor of Israel's use of force to protect its people.

The questionnaire language left nothing to the imagination and the results are truly striking. A convincing 73 percent of Americans believe that Israel is "justified" in "attempting to kill" a terrorist when "Israel has proof that a terrorist is planning a suicide bomb or other act of terrorism that is likely to result in the death of Israelis." Neither the wording nor the results are in question. The vast majority of Americans share Israel's view that terrorism must be dealt with swiftly and surely if it is to be dealt with effectively.

Similarly, despite the best efforts of the increasingly effective Palestinian spin machine, 55 percent of Americans describe the actions of the Palestinians as either "terrorism" or "warfare," while just 21 percent describe the Palestinians' actions as either "self-defense" or "resistance." The poll clearly shows that Americans, like Israelis, perceive the Palestinian attackers as soldiers waging war against civilians and civilians have a right to use preventive lethal force to defend themselves.

Americans believe that terrorism is on the rise worldwide, and that Israelis are the most frequent victims. But opponents of Israeli policy claim that these pinpointed killings only inflame the Middle East conflict. Again, the American people see a different story. By almost a 4 to 1 margin (39 percent to 11 percent), Americans believe that Palestinian Arabs, not Israel, are more to blame for the current violence in the Middle East. So in carrying out attacks against known terrorist operations, Americans believe Israel is acting in self-defense, not inciting violence.

Americans also appreciate the important distinction between retaliation and self-defense. While "an eye for an eye" may be one of the most oft-quoted biblical passages, if Israel sought to take one innocent Palestinian life for every innocent Israeli killed in a terrorist attack, sympathy for Israel would deteriorate. But for most Americans, removing those who would kill, before they kill, defines the phrase "justifiable homicide." Accordingly, nearly four times as many Americans sympathize with the Israelis in the Middle East conflict than do so with the Palestinians.

Admittedly, public opinion is not always an appropriate determinant of foreign policy. But public support for Israel in this case only reaffirms the practices and principles that have guided U.S. policy for decades.

Americans recognize that Israel has responded to attacks against its citizens just as any other country should including America. Take, for example, former President Clinton's decision to order cruise-missile attacks on Osama Bin Laden's base camps in 1998. The intent was to eliminate Bin Laden, the mastermind behind the American embassy bombings in Africa, or at a minimum to cripple his terrorist network and prevent future attacks.

"With compelling evidence that the Bin Laden network of terrorist groups was planning to mount further attacks against Americans and other freedom-loving people, I decided America must act," Mr. Clinton told the nation at the time. The American people agreed. According to a subsequent CNN-USA Today-Gallup Poll, two-thirds approved the military strike, while just 19 percent were opposed. And that same two-thirds now approve of Israel's efforts.

There are a few in Washington that would argue with the citizens they represent. Rumor has it that a resolution condemning Israel for using American weapons to defend its population may reach the floor of Congress in the coming weeks. But if American lives were at risk and we had the means to thwart an impending attack, would inaction be an appealing option? Not likely.

Amid the carnage and rubble of burnt-out discotheques, pizzerias and shopping centers, Israel faces a frightening predicament: either kill first or die later. Had the American authorities faced the same choice prior to the terrorist bombing of the USS Cole in October, the decision would not have been difficult. The definition of "assassination" is among the ugliest in the English language, but sometimes an ugly word (and deed) can prevent even greater injustice.

With the power of public opinion now decisively at its side, the Bush administration should endorse Israel's efforts to eliminate these terrorists before they kill innocent Israeli citizens. Congress would be well-served to follow suit. The American people have spoken and their message is clear: A nation under siege has a right to use force to maintain its security and protect its people. Both Congress and the president can take solace in knowing that Republicans and Democrats who rarely agree on anything anymore agree on this.

Frank Luntz is a pollster and analyst of public opinion.


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