- The Washington Times - Monday, April 1, 2002

In a CNN interview on September 11, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres emotionally remarked that, "Today each of us feels American, like an American, with all the seriousness, all the pains, and all the determination." It is a gravity and pain to which Israel was no stranger, and its empathy for America was thus of the deepest nature. Moreover, Americans as a people suddenly subjected to the profound insecurity that stems from a ruthless terrorist attack began to get a fear-ridden taste of what it means to be an Israeli. Accordingly, President Bush seemed to respect Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's right to prosecute his anti-terror campaign in the best way he saw fit.
Until recently.
In the last few weeks, the administration took three steps that, in the context of our own war, cannot be viewed as anything but blatant hypocrisy. Mr. Bush first referred to Mr. Sharon's Ramallah offensive as "not helpful" to the cause of peace; Gen. Anthony Zinni was re-dispatched to the region; and Colin Powell strongly cautioned Mr. Sharon to pull back in preparation for Gen. Zinni's visit.
Mr. Bush's rebuke begs the question: What peace? The Middle East, sadly, is no longer a place fertile to hopeful discourse; it is now a war zone in which any attempt to foster peace would be transparent and fleeting in the face of escalating violence. The peace process, at least for now, is over.
And Mr. Sharon is fighting the war he needs to fight, a war where strategic offensives and homeland security are rolled into one. Imagine the Kandahar campaign being fought in the suburbs of Washington, as a suicide bomber detonated himself in a crowded Metro station. Imagine how much more terrified Americans would be if both fronts of the war were fought at home.
And now imagine how we would feel if another country sent an envoy for its preordained agenda of peace into the middle of our war. The continued bloodshed evinces that members of Hamas and al-Fatah have not ceased to strap bombs to themselves at Gen. Zinni's arrival. Should the Israeli army perhaps the most strategically advanced in the world be handcuffed by a misguided political voice, coming from across the Atlantic?
American political pressure, not Israeli defense operations, is truly what is "not helpful" in this conflict; and a trip by Dick Cheney to garner Arab support for the Iraq offensive was no justifiable explanation for America to wag its finger at Israel. One might expect such behavior from European moral relativists the same individuals who complain about American unilateralism while doing nothing to modernize their own forces. But not from America; not from a defense-oriented administration for which the goal of security has become a ubiquitous priority.
Israel listens to America. Israel listened in the Gulf War, when Scuds rained down on Tel Aviv as the Israeli soldiers remained quietly in their camps. And yes, Israel listened again last weekend, pulling out of Ramallah and two other West Bank towns, a move which did much to appease Gen. Zinni but little to curb the violence. Will we continue to reduce Israel to fighting her wars in the battlefield of world public opinion?
There is a reason that America is Israel's best friend, and it is not only because our government responds to the powerful advocacy of the American Jewish community on its behalf. Israel loves America most because America (usually) lets Israel be Israel. We realize that Israelis know more about Israeli survival than anyone. America is a staunch ally, and yes, a moderator for peace when the time is right. But America has not been, and must not be, a politically focused hypocrite under circumstances in Israel that have now hit Americans so close to home.
Kowtowing to the politics of an impossible peace is dangerous for another reason. Saddam Hussein, at present, has the launch capacity to aim his weapons of mass destruction at only one place where he would seek to aim them: Israel. But America (for Arab support) needs a non-retaliation guarantee from Israel if Saddam attacks. How can we ask Israelis to sit on their hands (as we will) and hope for them to listen (as they will) if we cease to respect their strategic needs at home?
As Israeli columnist Nahum Barnea wrote, "When we hear these things from Bush, the reaction is: Come on, not from America, not this year." Israel is no more a warmongering country than America. It simply faces September 11ths each and every day, with no end in sight. Let us not forget, as Americans, what that means psychologically, politically and militarily. Let us let them fight their war.
Any resolution to the Middle East conflict must be rooted, as the late Yitzhak Rabin said, in a "peace of the brave." That, as Mr. Bush knows, is the only real peace and it is not, as American anti-terror offensives have repeatedly attested, achieved through words alone.

Alan L. Isenberg is on staff at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, International Security Program in Washington.


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