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Israel's Relations with the West, in the Wake of September 11 - 2002-09-11

After the terror attacks last September 11, many in Israel thought the world would become more sympathetic to its position as a frequent target of terrorism. But it hasn't worked out that way. September 11 and its aftermath have affected Israel's relations with the West, particularly with its most important ally, the United States.

As the world prepared to mark the first anniversary of the September 11 attacks, Israelis paused to mourn another September tragedy.

It was a September long before the terrifying attacks that struck New York and Washington one year ago, the era when international terrorism first shocked the world.

Thirty years ago this month, masked Palestinian terrorists kidnapped and murdered 11 Israeli athletes at the Olympics in Munich.

At a somber ceremony in Tel Aviv, Israelis and Germans came together to remember those who were slain. A song, entitled The Stars of September was written for the anniversary.

Israel's President Moshe Katsav made the connection between the Munich slayings and the September 11 attacks. "International terrorism is still our biggest problem," he said. "The writing was on the wall in September, 1972. Unfortunately, the international leadership never learned the lesson from this tragic event."

An expert on Islam at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Professor Emanuel Sivan, says that the warning signals continued over the next three decades. "Let me just remind you that the whole idea of [September 11] had a few precedents," he said. "Most of them were in France - the attempt to derail the rapid train near Lyon in 1994; the attempt, which failed, but was well prepared, on New Year's Day, 1995, to kidnap near Algeria a plane and fly it to France and crash it into the Eiffel Tower. Happily for the French they succeeded in commandeering the plane during a stop-over in Marseille," he noted. "It could have ended differently."

In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, Israelis believed that the United States and the world would finally empathize with the Jewish State.

Instead, the large number of Palestinian deaths during the past year of attack and counter-attack has hurt Israel in many parts of the world. And to many in Israel, it seemed that as the United States attempted to build Arab support for the war against terrorism, it initially separated itself from Israel.

Professor Gerald Steinberg of Israel's Bar-Ilan University explained, "There was a political decision, primarily in Washington, that in order to maintain the cooperation of the Arab world against al-Qaida type of terrorism, they needed to somehow separate the Israeli issue away from the type of what was called then global terrorism."

But in recent months, Professor Steinberg said, there has been a change in the American attitude. He said one reason is the large number of Palestinian attacks, and the unwillingness or inability of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to stop them. "It was more the unwillingness of Arafat and the Palestinian leadership to engage in stopping terrorism that brought the U.S. around to understanding the Israeli situation," he said.

Professor Steinberg also credits New York Times columnist Tom Friedman with changing attitudes in American Government circles.

Mr. Friedman wrote an influential column about Israel being in the front-line of a new form of warfare - suicide bombings - which if not halted in the Middle East, threatened to reach America and any part of the globe. "The warning that was sounded by Friedman was one that did echo around the world," said Professor Steinberg. "People, who may have become somewhat complacent, began to realize that suicide bombings were the type of attacks that could happen and needed to be addressed very severely."

Professor Steinberg said Israel has been dealing with international terrorism since the Munich Olympics. He said the September 11 attacks are evidence that terrorist groups are prepared to carry out even more daring operations. He said the barbarians are at the gates of Western civilization, and the West must take strong action to stop them before they gain access to weapons of mass destruction.