- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 12, 2005

When it comes to President Bush’s meeting on Monday with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, the media seem fixated on the differences between Washington and Jerusalem on settlements, to the exclusion of more pressing issues the two leaders discussed, such as Iran’s nuclear weapons program and the need for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to act against terrorist groups.

Mr. Abbas has destroyed tunnels used to smuggle weapons from Egypt into Gaza and taken other small steps. But, Israel says, Mr. Abbas has yet to do what is most essential: Clamp down on Hamas and other terrorist groups, instead of waiting for Israel to give them information. Israel says that by refusing to disarm Hamas and disband its terrorist cells, Mr. Abbas is in violation of the U.S.-backed road map for peace, which requires the Palestinians to take such steps.

When it comes to Iran’s efforts to get atomic weapons, Mr. Sharon presented Mr. Bush with intelligence information showing that Iran’s nuclear program is at a very advanced stage, and that the democratic nations are running out of time to stop it. Contrary to the assertions of Britain, France and Germany, which have mounted a diplomatic campaign to persuade Tehran to halt its nuclear weapons program, the danger that Iran will eventually combine the technology and raw materials necessary to acquire such weapons is actually worsening, Israel says.

Aside from the direct dangers posed by a nuclear attack, weapons of mass destruction in Iranian hands can function as a deterrent to Israeli efforts to neutralize Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Lebanese terrorist group that funds and helps direct Palestinian terrorist activity in the West Bank and Gaza.

It is a mistake to think that Hezbollah’s growing role in supporting Palestinian rejectionists endangers only Israel. The organization’s activities, which carry with them the certainty of Israeli retaliation against Palestinians, pose a direct threat to Palestinian aspirations for freedom and independence.

When it comes to dealing with terrorism, Israeli officials regard Mr. Abbas as a well-meaning but ineffectual leader. They point to his unkept promise to neutralize 495 fugitive terrorists in West Bank cities. (Israel promised not to arrest or assassinate the fugitives if Mr. Abbas either disarmed them or prevented them from traveling from city to city.) Also, Palestinians affiliated with Mr. Abbas’ Fatah organization have been smuggling anti-aircraft missiles into Gaza, weapons that could be used to target Israeli military helicopters or bring down a civilian airliner.

The time for Mr. Abbas to act is growing increasingly short. The burden is on him to demonstrate that he is prepared to move against terrorists instead of co-opting them.

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