Latest Violence Raises Threat Of Large-Scale Communal Warfare : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Latest Violence Raises Threat Of Large-Scale Communal Warfare Thursday, October 12, 2000 By Jonathan Broder WASHINGTON  Israel's helicopter attacks near Yasser Arafat's West Bank and Gaza Strip headquarters on Thursday underscore Prime Minister Ehud Barak's angry and increasingly desperate efforts to quash two weeks of communal warfare that have ominously defied the power of bullets and diplomacy to contain it.

At the same time, an apparent terror attack on a U.S. destroyer in port on the Arabian peninsula that killed at least four American sailors suggests the deadly passions sparked by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are surfacing in the wider Arab world, where the United States is increasingly seen as siding with its ally, Israel, particularly over the explosive issue of Jerusalem.

Even before Israel's retaliation for the brutal mob killing of two of its soldiers, Barak had threatened to move more forcefully against the Palestinians to stop the latest spasm of Arab-Israeli rioting and shooting that has left more than 90 people dead and more than 2,000 wounded, mostly Palestinians. Barak also has massed troops along Israel's northern border, threatening to move against Lebanon and its Syrian overlords after guerrillas snatched three Israeli soldiers near the border fence.

Palestinian officials accused Israel of unleashing "all-out war" against them and appealed for international intervention. But while the two Israeli helicopters attacks do not constitute all-out war, they represent a significant escalation of the level of force Barak is now willing to employ against the Palestinians.

Moreover, the attacks, which sent rockets crashing into the streets near Arafat headquarters, also carried the blunt political message Israel is seriously reconsidering its assessment of Arafat as a partner in their peace negotiations. The fact the rockets deliberately missed the Palestinian leaders offices could be interpreted as Barak's leaving the door open to Arafat to reassert his authority, issue orders to his security forces to halt the unrest and eventually return to the negotiating table.

But in the Middle East, violence often eclipses the efforts of leaders, diplomats and officials to control it. The mob killings and helicopter attacks occurred the same day Israeli and Palestinian security chiefs were due to meet with CIA Director George Tenant to discuss ways to cooperate against the violence.

The escalation of violence also outpaced efforts by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who was also in Israel, trying to arrange an Israeli-Hezbollah prisoner swap to defuse the situation on the northern border. Annan was also trying to reach agreement on the establishment of an inquiry commission to fix responsibility for the initial explosion of Israeli-Palestinian violence two weeks ago. Those efforts now appear to be suspended.

But Benyamin Eliezer, an Israeli cabinet minister, said Thursday "the peace process is finished" - an assessment Barak has not been willing to make publicly yet, but which appears to reflect the reality on the ground.

That reality reflects the most complicated and painful kind of conflict - a battle not so much between the marching armies of enemy countries but between the entire communities of Palestinians and Israeli Jews. The pattern of violence over the past few weeks has involved Palestinian mobs violently clashing with Israeli soldiers, followed by mobs of Israeli settlers and Jewish Israelis clashing with Palestinians in the West Bank or Israeli Arabs inside Israel proper.

Israeli television is broadcasting pictures of the two dead Israeli soldiers, whose mutilated bodies were paraded through the streets of Ramallah. Such images are virtually certain to spark retaliation by ordinary Israelis.

In short, it is the kind of violence that is reminiscent of other deadly communal conflicts - between Hindus and Muslims in British-controlled India in 1948 and between Jews and Arabs in Palestine the same year.

It is also a reality in which Israel's overwhelmingly superior firepower does not preordain the results. While Israeli helicopters can rocket Palestinian targets with impunity, Barak's army cannot move forcefully into the West Bank and Gaza and reoccupy the territories, first captured in 1967, without risking another situation like it faced in southern Lebanon.

For nearly 22 years, Israeli troops occupied a narrow strip of Lebanon to prevent attacks on Israel's northern border. The Lebanese who lived there, fighting under the banner of the Hezbollah, waged a low-level but murderously effective guerrilla that eventually forced the Israelis to withdraw last May.

Indeed, many Palestinians have said it was Hezbollah's ultimate victory that inspired them to take on the more powerful Israeli army in the latest round of fighting in the West Bank and Gaza.

With events on the ground moving so quickly, it is difficult to predict what may happen next. But in the short term, it is not likely the fighting will take the form of an all-out Israeli offensive and reoccupation of the Palestinian-run areas, which form small islands of autonomy within the larger expanse of the West Bank still under Israeli control.

Rather, it is far more likely Israel will reinforce its military presence in the areas it already controls, surround the Palestinian islands and besiege them - both economically and with firepower if necessary - to strangle their revolt.

But if the past is any guide, the communal conflict will be hard to contain. While Israel has tried to prevent any Palestinians from entering Israel proper, suicide bombers of the Islamic groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad have slipped through roadblocks to detonate devastating explosions in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem that have killed scores of Israeli civilians. And with Israel's million-strong Arab population now increasingly radicalized, the danger of terrorism could come from within.

The continued fighting threatens to radicalize moderate Arab states, some of whom America and the West depend upon for their oil supplies. For these Arab leaders, the main issue is the future of a patch of Jerusalem known to Arabs as the Harem Al Sharif, or the Nobel Sanctuary, and to Jews as the Temple Mount. In the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the site is ground zero.

With the terrorist attack on the American destroyer USS Cole in the port of Aden in Yemen Thursday, Americans may be about to learn once more Jerusalem's power to inspire violence in its defense, not only among Palestinians but in the wider Arab world.

During Wednesday evening's debate, both Al Gore and George Bush called on Arafat to stop the violence and pledged America's unwavering support for Israel. With diplomacy failing and no end to the violence in sight, it now appears the next president will face a dangerous and unpredictable foreign policy crisis the first day he shows up for work.'s Jonathan Broder spent 17 years as a foreign correspondent in the Middle East.

-- Martin Thompson (, October 12, 2000

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