A war to the finish guarantees more insecurity, not less

When gunmen fired at point blank range into the face of Israeli cabinet minister Revaham Zeevi, they were playing out the ongoing tragedy of tit-for-tit: you kill our guy, we’ll kill yours. They were also unwittingly pointing out the utter futility of the way George W. Bush has decided to wage war on terrorism.

The gunmen, members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, ambushed Zeevi at about 7:00 a.m. while the Israeli minister of tourism was returning from breakfast to his room in a Jerusalem hotel. Zeevi, who had some chose words for Palestinians — they’re “lice,” they should be driven out of the West Bank and Gaza — didn’t have a bodyguard. Palestinians needed bodyguards, not Israelis, he said.

But bodyguards didn’t protect Abu Ali Mustafa, a Palestinian Authority official. On August 27, Israeli helicopters fired missiles into his office. The Palestinian leader died instantly, one of a growing number of victims of Israel’s policy of extrajudicial assassinations, a program eerily similar to Washington’s plan to root out terrorists where they live.

The gunmen who shot Zeevi said they were seeking revenge for Abu Ali Mustafa’s death, also eerily similar to the revenge a US intelligence source warned the Senate of when he said “there is a 100 percent chance of an attack should the United States strike Afghanistan.” You would think Washington would learn. Israel’s crackdown on the Palestinians hasn’t rooted out terrorism. You can’t root out revenge.

One of the main architects of this escalating violence, Ariel Sharon, not too long ago criticized Ehud Barak, his predecessor, for not being tough enough on Palestinians. Sharon knows something about being tough, having let Lebanon’s Christian Falange massacre Palestinian refugees at the Sabra and Shatilla camps. Still, that toughness, didn’t stop the first Intifada, or prevent the second.

Sharon charged that Barak’s meekness — he was anything but — encouraged the Palestinians. That’s why the Al-Aqsa Intifida was touched off, he said, conveniently omitting that he himself had provided the spark to set off the kindling of rising Palestinian discontent over the failure of the Oslo accords, by visiting the mosque and declaring provocatively that it would always be Israeli.

In the election that followed, Sharon appealed to the rising anxiety of the Israeli public. He would deal with the Palestinians, he promised.

And so, having won the election, he has. Assassinations. Invasions. Stepped up killings of civilians. Destruction of homes. Helicopter gun ships, even fighter jets, pressed into service to put down Palestinian violence. Do Israelis feel safer? Hardly. Are they more secure? Not at all.

Soon after Zeevi was gunned down, a Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself up, wounding two Israeli soldiers, a reminder of the lengths to which oppressed people will go, are forced to go, when an unbending, bloody-minded, opponent holds all the cards.

Tel Aviv’s policy of assassinating suspected terrorists before they commit terrorist acts has done nothing to stop the number of terrorist incidents from rising. And it’s far harsher than the anti-terrorist measure of “preventive detention” that Western governments have embraced. Indeed, the only way of preventing terrorist attacks against Israelis altogether is to assassinate every Palestinian, something Zeevi, corrupted by anti-Palestinian venom, may have approved of.

Or you could try something else. End the military occupation. Dismantle the settlements. Let the refugees return. Build Israel on civil, not religious, foundations. In other words, deal with the roots of Palestinian violence. Justice, not “just” cause.

But while the root cause of the uprisings in the occupied territories is easy to identify, identifying the root cause of the Sept. 11 attacks, and the recent anthrax attacks, is quite another matter. Not because the grievances of those who have been blamed for the attacks aren’t legitimate, not because there aren’t root causes, but because it’s unclear who’s really behind the attacks.

Much as the media and Western governments have rushed to pin the blame on Osama bin Laden, these attacks are fundamentally different from other terrorist attacks — no one is taking responsibility for them, and hence it’s unclear, Washington’s feigned certitude aside, who ordered them. Washington was also sure the pill factory its cruise missiles blew up in Sudan in 1998 was manufacturing biological weapons. It wasn’t. And the bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade in 1999: the Pentagon was sure it was a Yugoslav government building, or so they said.

The gunmen who assassinated Zeevi said who they were, and why they did what they did. That’s what terrorists do. That’s the whole point of terrorism. The group to which they belong, the secular Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing that followed. And they made clear what they hoped to accomplish.

So far, all Washington can say is, “bin Laden is evil, he’s done this kind of thing before, therefore it was probably him.” Yes, bin Laden has been behind terrorist attacks before – though on a smaller scale — but when he has, he’s taken responsibility. So why not now?

And no, the recent Al-Qaeda statements that warn of more airplane attacks against more towers isn’t an admission of guilt. It’s a prediction of a likely future event, qualitatively the same as the prediction from US intelligence sources that an attack on Afghanistan makes future terrorist attacks against US targets 100 percent certain. Are we to conclude that US intelligence is behind the Sept. 11 attacks because they warn of future attacks?

And if Al-Qaeda was really behind the attacks, why would its spokesman warn of future aerial attacks, and not future anthrax attacks? Apparently, Al-Qaeda is as much in the dark as the rest of us.

The terror attacks that have disoriented, frightened, cowed, and terrified Americans don’t have the exact footprint of terrorist attacks. They have something that looks close enough to be easily mistaken for the genuine article, but there’s something off, not quite right, like a Sikh mistaken for a Taliban Muslim, because he wears a turban. The similarities are there, but the fit is wrong.

In being anonymous and unanticipated, the Sept. 11 and anthrax attacks have more the character of what the US military calls a psychological operation, something the 4th Psychological Operations Group, at Fort Bragg, N.C. would say was designed to frighten a civilian population into submission.

Whether this is a psychological operation, and who’s behind it, is unclear, like much else that’s happened since Sept. 11.

But what is clear is that the terror is playing into the hands of people who would have Americans submit to war, to the loss of American lives in war, to bigger military budgets, to the abridgment of civil liberties, to intolerance of dissent, to bigger tax cuts for the wealthy, to the raiding of Social Security, to impatience with the anti-globalization movement, to the ceasing of any questioning of the legitimacy of the Bush presidency, to the turning of attention away from Israeli war crimes and human rights abuses in the West Bank and Gaza, to the possibility of racial profiling (which is far too close to having Jews wear the Star of David, for my liking), and bizarrely, to Star Wars, a system completely useless against terrorist attacks.

Before he was sentenced to death at Nuremberg, Nazi leader Herman Goering mused on psychological operations, and the reason for them.

“Why of course the people don’t want war,” Goering said. “Why should some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece? Naturally, the common people don’t want war: neither in Russia, nor in England, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But after all it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship … Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger.”

All you have to do is tell the people they are being attacked. And then make it all the more likely — indeed, 100 percent certain, as US intelligence says — that they will be attacked.

Ariel Sharon, who knows nothing other than war, is using the Zeevi killing, as a pretext for “a war to the finish,” assigning “full responsibility” to Arafat, “as someone who has controlled, and continues to control, terrorism.”

Arafat had nothing to do with the Zeevi killing.

That sounds awfully close to George W. Bush holding Al-Qaeda and the Taliban fully responsible, as organizations that have controlled, and continue to control terrorism, without having any evidence either organization ordered the Sept. 11 attacks.

Sharon hopes to make the West Bank and Gaza Israeli, once and for all.

Bush hopes to put Afghanistan and central Asia firmly under US control.

Most of the rest of us simply hope to see justice done and a sense of security return to our lives. Neither seem likely now.

Mr. Steve Gowans is a writer and political activist who lives in Ottawa, Canada.

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