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Sharon should have said no to U.S.

By Jeff Jacoby

Secretary of State Colin Powell rebuked Israel last
week for sending tanks into
Gaza following Palestinian mortar
attacks on the Israeli town of
Sederot. “The Israeli response,” he
said, ~’was excessive and dispropor
tionate.” Of his own “Powell
Doctrine,”which prescribes over
whelming force when there is a mil
itary objective to be achieved, he
made no mention. He was almost
as reticent about the Palestinian
violence that triggered the Israeli
move, describing it merely as
.”Provocative. “Would he be similarly
understated; one wonders, if
Mexican terrorists, abetted by the
Mexican government, began
shelling Laredo and El Paso?
I What was “excessive and dispro
portionate” was Powell’s slap at
Israel, not Israel’s attempt to pro
tect Jewish communities from Arab
artillery. Unlike the Palestinians
attacking them, the Israelis did not
aim their weapons at civilians or
~dehberatey set.out to shed as much
~blood as possible. They entered
I Gaza only to stop the shelling, and
miade it clear that they had no
[~tention of reaccupying territory
~haat has bneen turned over to the
Palestinian Authority.

in any me, his slap had its effect:
Vithin hours IsraeFs forces with~’rew, Jerusaim clabned that the
~ecisioir to retreat had been made
Wore the U,S. reprimand, but no one
~as fooled. Least of all Yasser Arafat,

ho do’ that Washington had
Ct ;ven &a green light to keep
417ing to kill Jews.

Sure enough, the shelling
resumed as soon as the Israelis
~’were out. Early Wednesday morn-

rg, Palestinian mortars began hiting Israeli targets on both sides of
the Green Line; two landed in the
,ptsuchoolyard at Nevei Dekalim, just

before the children showed up for
class. By mid-afternoon, Israeli
tanks were back in Gaza, briefly, to
demolish a Palestinian “police” station from which explosives were
being fired. When that failed to
stop the shelling, the tanks
returned yet again on Saturday.

These hokey-pokey operations –
you put your ground troops in, you
pull your ground troops out – will
do nothing to enhance Israels security, and less than nothing to deter
Palestinian violence. As if to prove
the point, a suicide bomber killed
one Israeli and wounded 41 more in
a rush-hour blast Sunday morning.

Israelis overwhelmingly elected
Ariel Sharon prime minister because
he vowed to be tough: to shut down
Arafat’s terror campaign and to rehabilitate Israel’s reputation for fearsomeness. If he were still the leader
of the opposition, he would bepow
with outrage at last weeles cave-in to
Powell. His failure to insist on
lsrael`s,r~ght to protect its population

from acts of war came across as a dismaying lack of backbone.

Of course no Israeli official
wants to pick a fight with the
United States. But Powell does not
speak for all Americans. At times
he doesn’t even speak for the Bush

Powells call to continue the

Clinton administration’s approach to
North Korea, for example, was repudiated by President Bush. So was his
pitch for easing the sanctions
against Iraq. In other policy areas –
China, Russia, missile defense – the
administration is plainly divided
between the accommodationist State
Department and the conservative
hawks led by Defense Secretary
Donald Rumsfeld. Powell’s views on
the Middle East may reflect conventional State Department wisdom.
But it’s a safe bet that not everyone
. in the Bush inner circle shares them.

After all, the administration has
already-made it clear that settling
the Arab-Israeli conflict is not its

top priority. Bill Clinton made a
fetish of the “peace process,” but
Bush, Rumsfeld, and Vice President
Dick ene understand that
America’s re interests in the
Middle East do not revolve around
Israel’s borders or Arafafs promises. Washington has more pressing
concerns: hostile dictatorships,
Islamist extremism, terrorism,
threats to pro-Western governments, the danger of regional war.

Of all the nations in the Middle
East, only Israel stands with
America on each of those issues,
just as it is the only one that shares
America’s democratic values. Israel
is such a key American ally because
of its strategic importance to U.S.
security interests. That importance
does not depend on Jerusalem’s consent to everything Washington says
about the Arab-Israeli conflict. It
does depend on Israel’s remaining a
potent military power with a deterrent capacity feared by its enemies.
And that in turn sometimes means
saying no to the United States.

In 1948, David Ben Gurion
resisted U.S. pressure not to proclaim Israeli statehood. In 1967,
Levi Fshkol, defying U.S. wishes,
launched a preemptive strike
against Egypt. In 1981, Menachem
Begin braved American fury to
bomb the Iraqi nuclear plant at
Osirak. In each case, saying no to
Washington led to short-term tension in U.S.-Israeli relations. But
today even Washington would agree
that in each case, Israel was right.

What makes Israel so valuable to
the free world is its steadfastness,
strength, and readiness, when necessary, to stand alone. Colin Powell
may not understand that. Ariel
Sharon should.

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