- The Washington Times - Friday, April 19, 2002

In an effort to portray Secretary of State Colin Powell's Mideast peace mission as a success, the White House spin doctors are desperately attempting to show something they can tout as "progress." Mr. Powell's achievements, White House officials said, included persuading Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to express "a clear intention" to withdraw from Palestinian cities captured during Israel's 3-week-old anti-terror campaign in the West Bank and "a denunciation of terrorism" from Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat.

None of this amounts to much. A pullout by the Israel Defense Forces is only desirable if it occurs after the Palestinian terrorists' infrastructure, including bomb-making factories and command-and-control centers, is destroyed, and the terrorists who have been planning and carrying out suicide attacks that have killed more than 400 Israelis over the past 18 months are captured or killed. The Israeli military campaign has done considerable damage to the terrorist network, culminating in Tuesday's capture of Marwan Barghouti, the Arafat aide responsible for coordinating the violence.

But Israelis are reminded every day that the terrorist war against them continues. On Tuesday and Wednesday, for example, Israeli forces defused a massive pipe bomb found in a Bethlehem mosque; discovered two explosive belts, hundreds of bullets and a letter by a potential suicide bomber in an apartment in Ramallah; arrested a Palestinian in a small West Bank village who was preparing a suicide bomb attack in Israel; arrested a Hamas operative suspected of dispatching the suicide bomber who killed 27 persons in Netanya March 27; and arrested two members of Mr. Arafat's Fatah organization for several shootings of Israelis. It is no exaggeration to say that many more Israelis would have died in suicide bombings and other attacks during the past 21 days if Mr. Sharon had not acted when he did.

The worst outcome of all would be if Israel, undermined by U.S. pressure, were to withdraw prematurely, leaving some of the West Bank terrorist cells in place. The inevitable result would be more terrorism directed at Israel, and Israeli retaliation that would be far more severe than anything that has occurred in recent weeks. As for the White House's suggestion that Mr. Arafat's "condemnation" of terror coming just one day after one of his suicide bombers killed six persons and wounded 80 in a Jerusalem market is some kind of achievement, this is simply farcical.

The one thing Mr. Powell did achieve was a temporary respite in Hezbollah attacks on northern Israel. But there can be little doubt that Hezbollah will resume its attacks when Syria and Iran give the go-ahead. So long as it can count on support from Tehran and Damascus, Hezbollah will remain a deadly threat to Mideast peace.

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