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US Commentators Warn of Mideast Danger - 2001-08-22


Some American commentators are either urging an intensified war in the Middle East or warning of its dangers. Others say terrorism and political destabilization are the greater threats as the Israel-Palestinian conflict continues.

"This cannot go on," writes columnist Charles Krauthammer in The Washington Post. The suicide bomber that left 15 Israelis dead and more than 100 wounded in Jerusalem calls for a lightning massive attack on the Palestinian infrastructure. If Israel is not allowed to defeat terrorism, says Mr. Krauthammer, the region will be sentenced to endless wars.

That is a prescription for endless wars, writes Arnaud de Borchgrave in The Washington Times. Arab populations are already outraged by the killing of Palestinians. Killing still more might push them over the brink and despite defeats in 1967 and 1973, lead them to war again against Israel. Some movements of troops and weapons are underway among the Arab nations.

If that kind of war should develop and endanger Israel, writes columnist Georgie Anne Geyer, the United States would be drawn in. Arabs, she says, see the two nations as one.

Some minor escalation of the conflict may be expected, says Michael O'Hanlon, military analyst for the Brookings Institution in Washington. Rockets could be launched at Israel from southern Lebanon. But he does not anticipate a wider war, given past Arab defeats.

"I think the real concern is general political instability in the region and what that could do to the hold on power of some of our good friends the Jordanians, the Saudis, the Egyptians," said Mr. O'Hanlon. "There certainly could be a lot of domestic unrest. If there were ever a major coup in one of those countries, it is conceivable that an extremist element that took over government could then decide to wage war directly on Israel."

Mr. O'Hanlon adds that Israel would hit back and if hard-pressed, could resort to nuclear weapons, but he expects the conflict to continue at roughly its current level.

"I think it will be strike, counter-strike, and it could go on for a very long time until either the Israelis give greater concessions, the Palestinians give greater concessions or perhaps most likely of all, the two populations essentially just wall themselves off from each other. I am beginning to think that may be the most likely outcome," he said.

Ivan Eland, defense policy analyst at Washington's Cato Institute, thinks the conflict will be contained because Israel is too powerful to invite attack.

In his opinion, the Arab states have little incentive to intervene militarily. "I think a lot of the Arab governments pay rhetorical homage to the Palestinian cause," he explained, "but you see them even skimping on the funds they send to the Palestinians. So I do not see them going to war over the Palestinian cause."

Nor are these states likely to be swayed by their populations, says Mr. Eland. He thinks the power of the Arab streets is exaggerated. "In Syria and Iraq, we do not usually have a groundswell of public opinion pressuring the regime. The regimes are dictatorial. I think those governments have pretty much control over their populations. In fact, they control the information that the population gets, and they use the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for support of their own regimes," said Mr. Eland.

Edward Walker, President of the Middle East Institute and former U.S. ambassador to Israel and Egypt, says a broader war is not likely because there is no combination of forces that can overcome Israel. It would be a high-cost, no-gain operation for the Arab states.

But he says another kind of warfare is all too likely. "The greater risk by far is more aggressive terrorist activity, the growth of fundamentalism, the spread of fundamentalism in terrorist operations to other countries like Egypt, Jordan, destabilizing forces in Jordan. All of those things I see as far more likely than a major war in the region," he said.

The United States should do all it can to end the present conflict, says Ambassador Walker. Otherwise, it will face a more insidious long-term war deeply damaging to its interests and to the region.

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