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Israeli Leaders Warn Against Weapons of Mass Destruction - 2001-09-12


Israeli political leaders and analysts are calling for joint international action to prevent terrorist groups from gaining weapons of mass destruction, in the wake of the catastrophic attacks in New York and Washington. At the same time, Palestinian leaders and commentators are distancing themselves from television footage showing groups of Palestinians rejoicing over the tragedy.

The specter of barbarians outside the gates of Western civilization who may strike next time with weapons of mass destruction, not just hijacked airliners, has now become a real threat. This is the warning that has emerged from Israeli political leaders and counter-terrorism experts in the wake of the spectacular surprise attacks that shook the United States on Tuesday.

Professor Gerald Steinberg is a strategic expert at Tel Aviv's Bar-Ilan University. He believes that some extreme Palestinian groups may be emboldened to carry out daring terrorist missions against Israel because of the spectacular nature of the attacks in the United States. "There will be some copycat activities but there will also be a great deal of greater security and awareness in efforts to prevent those from taking place," he said. "That has been the history of terrorism and counter-terrorism."

Mr. Steinberg says that it is crucial now for Western nations to stop Islamic militant groups - which he presumes are responsible for the terror attacks in the United States - from gaining weapons of mass destruction, such as nuclear devices. "I think we will see a much closer relationship between the U.S. and Russia and China on these issues, because all three powers are all equally threatened by this kind of nuclear proliferation problem," he said.

Yoram Schweitzer at Israel's Center for Counter-Terrorism agrees that there may be a risk sometime in the future of terrorist cells gaining weapons of mass destruction. But he says the attacks in the United States showed how dangerous such groups can be with more limited resources at their disposal. "We may face this in the future, these kinds of attacks as well, not in the near future," said Yoram Schweitzer. "But you see that with even simple means, with very concerted effort, they managed to succeed with the same results as if they used a mass WMD."

Meanwhile, Palestinian political leaders and analysts have been at pains to distance themselves from television footage showing some groups of Palestinians dancing in delight over the catastrophe.

Hanan Ashrawi is a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council. "I think this is entirely misleading," she said. "I know that before people understood the implications of what was happening, some people reacted, and a minority, children - people who do not understand - once people understood the magnitude and understood what actually did happen. I know from the people I saw and spoke to, from the leaders from President Arafat on down, to civil society, to people on the streets to the leadership of the intifada, they all expressed horror, they all expressed condemnation, they all expressed grief."

Nabhan Khreishi is the Media Resource Center Director at Ber Zeit University in the West Bank. He says that there is widespread anti-American sentiment in the region. But he says the majority of Arabs have never been motivated by such feelings to carry out terrorist attacks. "It's nothing new," he said. "Politically saying Americans are aligned with Israelis, so I don't see that people in the Middle East, especially the Arab people don't love America, but not to the extent that they can launch so horrible, terrible, terrorist acts on the United States."

But despite such assurances, Israeli commentators have said that the Palestinian leadership should finally declare whether it is really serious about stopping all forms of terrorism.

Writing in the Hebrew daily newspaper Ha'aretz, Israel's leading political commentator, Ze'ev Schiff says the Palestinian society must take a clear position on the issue.

Mr. Schiff says that the Palestinian expressions of grief over what happened in the United States cannot be taken as credible, as long as Palestinians continue to support suicide bombing missions against Israelis.