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by Yoram Ettinger



Contrary to conventional wisdom, the Palestinian issue is not a primary Middle East concern.

Pro-Western oil-producing Persian Gulf leaders are traumatized by the lethal Iranian nuclear threat, by a raging Arab Street of their own and by a potential Iraqi "earthquake" in the aftermath of the US evacuation. The pro-Western Hashemite regime is threatened by intensified discontent among its Bedouin power base; the Muslim Brotherhood hosted an anti-Western Arab conference in Cairo on July 24-25, 2011; Strategically-critical Turkey is becoming more-Islamic and less-western; the pro-Western Moroccan monarchy is imperiled by the ripple effects of the Tunisian, Libyan and Egyptian turmoil; Islamic terrorism is gaining ground; Russia, China and North Korea are expanding their penetration into the Middle East and the US posture of deterrence is eroding substantially.

However, while the Middle East is burning — irrespective of the Palestinian issue, of the Arab-Israeli conflict or Israel's policies and existence — the American and the European foreign policy establishments are playing the Palestinian fiddle. Their track record features the support of Khomeini and the betrayal of the Shah, the embrace of Saddam as a constructive force, the crowning of Arafat as a messenger of peace, the hailing of Bashar Assad as a moderate leader, the legitimization of Qadaffi as a reformed ruler and the idolizing of Mubarak as an Egyptian Rock of Gibraltar. They are convinced that the Palestinian issue is a root cause of Middle East turbulence and the crown jewel of Arab policy-making. Therefore, they assume that the resolution of the Palestinian issue — by pressuring Israel to yield Judea and Samaria to the Palestinians — would moderate the Middle East, would subside anti-Western terrorism, would appease the Arabs, would enhance Western ties with Arab countries and would facilitate a Western-Arab coalition against Iran.

But, such foreign policy assumptions are invalidated by the real Middle East, which highlights the root causes of regional turbulence: inherent fragmentation, instability, unpredictability, volatility, violence, terrorism, hate education and tenuous policies, commitments and alliances. None of these 1,400 year old root causes is related to the less than 100 year old Palestinian issue.

Arab leaders have never considered the Palestinian issue their prime concern, but an intra-Arab tool and a pawn against Israel. They are aware of the subversive and treacherous history of the Arafat-Abu Mazen wing of the Palestinians, which was therefore expelled from Egypt in the late 1950s, from Syria in 1966, from Jordan in 1970, from Lebanon in 1982 and from Kuwait in 1991.

Thus, Arab leaders marshal their rhetoric, but not their resources, on behalf of Palestinians. For example, during the October 2010 Arab Summit in Libya, Arab leaders pledged $500MN to the Palestinian - only seven percent was ever delivered. More than $2 billion were pledged by the Arabs in support of the first and second Palestinian Intifada against Israel, but less than $500 million reached the Palestinians. During the 1980s, Arab financial support of the PLO was less than 10% of Arab financial support of the anti-Soviet Muslims in Afghanistan.

Arab regimes did not actively support the PLO during its 1982 war (in Lebanon) against Israeli and they did not flex a significant muscle on behalf of the Palestinians during the 2008 war in Gaza. In fact, this has been the Arab attitude toward the Palestinian issue since 1948, irrespective of the identity of the Palestinian leader: Haj Amin al-Husseini, Shukeiri, Hammuda, Arafat, Abu Mazen or Haniyeh.

The Red Carpet, which welcomes Palestinian leaders in the West, is transformed into a shabby rug upon landing in Arab capitals. What do Arab regimes know about the Palestinian issue that Western policy makers do not know or understand?!


The recent surge in Palestinian terrorism behooves Israel to revisit the fundamentals of counter-terrorism.

For example, the most effective defense against terrorism — operationally, financially and morally — is not retaliation and a limited, surgical offensive, but a comprehensive, decisive, sustained and disproportionate preemptive ground offensive, which aims to obliterate terror infrastructures and capabilities, and bring the enemy to submission. A decisive defeat of terrorism requires a victory over — and not coexistence or ceasefire agreements with — terrorism; uprooting — and not just stopping — terrorism.

Any response to terrorism which is short of devastating the ideological, political, financial, logistic and operational terrorist infrastructures, reassures terrorists that they are immune to annihilation. Moreover, it nurtures their hope-driven terrorism: the hope to whack Israel's psyche of defiance, wreck Israel's steadfastness, and sustain the 1993-2011 trend of sweeping Israeli ideological and territorial retreats.

Furthermore, a limited response to terrorism exacerbates wars of attrition — the dream of terrorists and nightmare of democratic societies. The limited-retaliation response to terrorism adds fuel to the fire of terrorism, feeds the self-defeating assumption that, supposedly, there is no military solution to terrorism, hence significantly eroding Israel's posture of deterrence.

Contrary to that self-defeating assumption, Palestinian terrorism was curtailed by 90% - when, in 2002, Israel's military took over the Palestinian breeding ground of terrorism in Beit Jallah, Bethlehem, Hebron, Ramallah, Jenin, Nablus and other major towns in Judea & Samaria. Israeli military re-engagement with these areas — rather than the Fence or the Wall — reasserted Israel's initiative in the battle against Palestinian terrorism.

The more defensive and retaliation-driven the Israeli response to terrorism, the more emboldened are Palestinian terrorists, the less confident are Israelis in their government's capability to safeguard personal and national security, the more taxing is mental fatigue, and the less convinced are Israelis in their cause.

The addiction to defense, and to limited response, has been embraced by Israel since signing the 1993 Oslo Accord, in order to resuscitate the “peace” process, which has triggered dramatically more hate-education, terrorism and non-compliance than the pre-Oslo reality. 250 Israelis were murdered by Palestinian terrorism in the 15 years prior to Oslo, but over 2,000 have been murdered in the 18 years since Oslo.

Limited response has also been implemented, in order to soothe international public opinion - which is never satisfied with Israeli concessions - thus recklessly subordinating national security to public diplomacy considerations. Sometimes it yields false sense of security and enhances short-term tactical popularity. However, limited response always undermines long-term strategic interests and international respect towards Israel, generating more pressure on Israel, radicalizing Palestinian terrorism and distancing the area from peace.

Will Israel's response to the current wave of Palestinian terrorism perpetuate the terrorist-preferred war of attrition? Or, will it be a milestone on the road to reclaiming the pre-Oslo Israeli posture as the role-model of deterrence, defiance of odds, determination and gumption in the battle against terrorism, which paved the road to the 1948 Declaration of Independence, the 1967 Six Day War, the 1970 deterrence of the Syrian invasion of Jordan, the 1976 Entebbe Jonathan Operation and the 1981 bombing of Saddam's nuclear reactor?

Rather than retreating toward the pre-1967 ceasefire lines, Israel should take charge of the breeding ground of terrorism, which would enhance Israel's power of deterrence, human-intelligence and interception capabilities. It would reduce the Palestinian capability to conduct hate-education, to incite, to recruit, to train, to manufacture and smuggle terrorist and military hardware, to plan, to maneuver and to perpetrate terrorist activities.

It would reduce Palestinian terrorism by 90%!


Israel's battle against Palestinian terrorism and conventional military threats must not be inhibited by its ties with the USA and Egypt.

In 1982, Prime Minister Begin launched a comprehensive war on PLO terrorist headquarters in Lebanon. In 1981, he ordered the bombing of Iraq's nuclear reactor. Both operations were executed irrespective of bullying US pressure and notwithstanding the fragile 1979 Israel-Egypt peace treaty. Begin realized that a failure to eradicate these threats would imperil Israel's survival, erode its posture of deterrence, thus undermining the deterrence-driven peace with Egypt and the strategic cooperation with the USA.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, the Israel-Egypt peace treaty did not collapse. Once again, Arab leaders did not rush to rescue the PLO, demonstrating that the Palestinian issue was not a crown jewel of Arab policy-making. Moreover, Egypt — just like all other Arab countries - would not sacrifice its own national interests on the altar of the Palestinian issue.

While the US Administration condemned Israel for the large scale preemptive military operations, and imposed a brief military embargo, these operations yielded the 1981 and the 1983 strategic Memoranda of Understanding between the two countries, which enhanced joint national security projects, upgrading Israel's long-term strategic posture.

From 1983 to 1992, Prime Minister Shamir was severely criticized by Presidents Reagan and Bush for crushing Palestinian terrorism during the 1st Intifadah and expanding Jewish communities in Judea, Samaria and eastern Jerusalem. However, US-Israel strategic cooperation was unprecedently augmented during his terms in office. Washington recognized that US-Israel cooperation never evolved around the Arab-Israeli conflict. The mutually-beneficial US-Israel ties are based upon shared values, mutual threats, such as Islamic terrorism, ballistic missiles and rogue regimes and joint interests, such as research & development and job-creation in the high-tech market and in the defense industries.

In August, 1948, the US Ambassador to Israel, James McDonald, recorded Prime Minister Ben Gurion's response to the American demand (accompanied by a regional military embargo) to end the "occupation" of Arab land or agree to a land swap, to accept the internationalization of Jerusalem and to allow the return of the Arab refugees: "Speaking with solemn emphasis, [Ben Gurion] added that much as Israel desired friendship with the US and full cooperation with it and the UN, there were limits beyond which it could not go. Israel could not yield at any point which, in its judgment, would threaten its independence or its security. The very fact that Israel was a small State made more necessary the scrupulous defense of its own interests; otherwise it would be lost... Ben Gurion warned President Truman and the Department of State that they would be gravely mistaken if they assumed that the threat or even the use of UN sanctions would force Israel to yield on issues considered vital to its independence and security. [He] left no doubt that he was determined to resist at whatever cost 'unjust and impossible demands.' On these he could not compromise (My Mission. 1951, pp 49-50)."

Ben Gurion's defiance transformed the image of the Jewish State in Washington - from a strategic liability to a potential strategic asset.

In 1973, Prime Minister Golda Meir subordinated Israel's national security concerns to its ties with the UA, rejecting the advice to preempt the pending Egyptian-Syrian offensive, lest Israel be perceived as the aggressor. Irrespective of Israel's military victory, the trauma of the 3,000 Israeli fatalities and the near elimination of Israel still haunt Israelis and embolden Israel's enemies.

In 2011, Israel benefits from a robust economy, demography and military and from the growing Western awareness to the threat of Islamic terrorism and to the violence and volatility of the Arab Street. Therefore, Israel should not refrain from flexing its decisive military muscle in face of military threats, lest it reaffirm the image of a restrained and indecisive Israel, thus inflaming anti-Israel and anti-Western terrorism.

Ambassador (ret.) Ettinger, the Executive Director of "Second Thought: A US-Israel Initiative," an expert on Middle East politics and US-Israel relations, served as Minister for Congressional Affairs at Israel's Embassy in Washington and Consul General in Houston, Texas. He regularly briefs Israeli and US legislators and their staff on US-Israel strategic ties, Mideast politics and overseas investments in Israel's high tech. His articles are published at:

This essay is composed of three independent essays.
Part 1: "The Palestinian Fiddle" was published August 2, 2011 in Israel hayom and is archived at
Part 2: "Preemption, No Retaliation! was published August 22, 2011 in Israel hayom and is archived at
Part 3: "Defiance, Not Inhibition" was published August 28, 2011 in Israel hayom and is archived at

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