- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 24, 2002

Israel's rocket attack on a crowded apartment building in Gaza yesterday is likely to undermine the U.S. Middle East peace plan and spark violent Hamas reprisals, but it will soon be forgotten by allies and critics unless it is repeated, analysts believe.

"They spike, and they disappear," said Middle East analyst Richard Murphy, speaking of criticism over Israel's attack. "Is it going to hurt Israel? Probably not."

Despite criticism by President Bush that the Israeli attack was "heavy-handed" in killing 14 civilians along with Hamas commander Salah Shehada, the United States remains firmly committed to Israel's security.

The Bush administration recognized Israel's right to defend itself during previous military operations and yesterday declined to call the use of U.S. weapons a violation of American law.

"The Arms Export Control Act requires us to do a report if we believe that U.S. weaponry was … not being used for legitimate self-defense or internal security," said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher. "As we've said before, we've not made such a report regarding Israel's actions."

European nations have been far more critical of Israel than the United States, and the Gaza attack should do little to change that point of view, said Mr. Murphy.

Arab and Third World countries, he said, would find the attack fits into their deeply held view that Israel is the aggressor in the Middle East conflict.

The United States is likely to remain sympathetic to Israel in the long run, despite the loss of civilian and children's lives yesterday, because the Bush administration has made the same choices in Afghanistan, said Mr. Murphy.

U.S. and Israeli forces both used high-tech rockets and bombs to kill enemies from afar even though some innocent civilians were killed rather than risking the lives of ground troops, said Mr. Murphy, a former State Department official and currently senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.

Even though U.S. support for Israel is expected to remain firm, the attack is likely to damage a U.S. plan to start talks with Israelis and Palestinians on security, humanitarian relief and political reforms, said University of Maryland analyst Shibley Telhami.

"The impact of the attack will be immediate on American efforts to put a modest peace process in place," he said.

"The American plan was based on a security plan that the United States put together through the CIA. It's hard to imagine how to get the support of Palestinian security forces in this environment."

Perhaps the more serious impact of the Israeli attack will be to ignite revenge attacks by Hamas, said Mr. Telhami.

"Hamas has a strategy that never changes that revenge is an end in itself. They can't allow major attacks, especially on their leaders, to go unanswered and in the most lethal manner."

Mr. Telhami said he expected large-scale revenge attacks that probably would set off major new Israeli operations.

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