June 4, 2001
People get confused about the direction of aggression in the Middle East, so
let’s see if we can get the past days events straight.
On Friday night a Palestinian suicide bomber blew up 20 young Israelis,
mostly Russian immigrants, outside a disco. Israel does not retaliate. While
Israel’s cabinet meets, Yasser Arafat appears to issue a cease-fire. Israel replies
that it wants Arafat to match words with “deeds,” specifically rearresting the
Islamic militants who in the fall were let out of a Palestinian prison and then
proceeded to the recent terror campaign. A more fundamental “deed” would be
if Mr. Arafat ceased indoctrinating Palestinian school children with hatred of
Israel. Alas, no.
On Sunday a meeting of Palestinian factions — there are 14 factions — said in a
statement that “Our people have a right . . . to pursue the popular Intifada
(uprising) as a legitimate means against the continuing occupation of our land
and to achieve our national rights.”
We have arrived at a familiar place. Let us explain.
It’s almost 20 years ago that Ariel Sharon stopped by the editorial rooms of The
Wall Street Journal to tell us, as he had just finished telling the Reagan
administration, of the danger of war in Lebanon. He pulled out his famous
maps, and sketched the problem, which was that Soviet- and Syrian-backed
terrorists had set up operations in the village of Damour and, from that redoubt,
were running terrorist operations against Israel and other nations.
Upon the next incident that could be traced to any one of the terrorist factions
operating out of Lebanon, Mr. Sharon warned that Israel, which had already
massed its troops, would invade.
He was then asked what, minimally, Israel would seek to accomplish. He
said it would seek to seize enemy weapons and materiel that had been
stockpiled at caves near Damour. He said Israel would go as far into Lebanon as
need be, and he said the country intended to dismantle the PLO infrastructure
that was there. The Wall Street Journal printed 2 million copies of its story
conveying that news.
Not long thereafter, Palestinian Arab terrorists operating out of Lebanon
attacked Israel’s envoy in London, and the war began.
Arabs and their communist sympathizers and other left-wingers
sympathetic to the Arabs sought from the start to undermine support for Mr.
Sharon in Israel and abroad.
Eventually, after the Syrian-backed assassination of Lebanon’s president,
Bashir Gemayel, Lebanese phalangist forces seeking revenge entered the
Palestinian Arab refugee camps at Sabra and Shatila and committed a terrible
massacre. Mr. Sharon’s enemies pounced. An Israeli commission said Mr.
Sharon should have foreseen the danger. He was driven from the defense
ministry. The left-wing history of the Lebanon war prospered, and it took a
generation for Israel to call back Mr. Sharon to lead the nation in its worst
It would not be surprising to us if this history turned out to be the explanation
for one of the most puzzling facts about the Middle East crisis today — the fact
that the question heard most frequently: Why doesn’t Prime Minister Sharon do
Far from being reckless, it turns out that Mr. Sharon has been
exceptionally prudent in his conduct of the country’s leadership, as the past
weekend makes clear. No doubt he knows what he is doing. Our sense of the
situation is that the terrorist violence has reached the point where even his
political adversaries at home in Israel and erstwhile skeptics overseas
understand the need for action.
What the American President can do at this point is articulate his support on
behalf of the U.S. and the world. Mr. Sharon has said all along he will make his
decisions based on what is right for Israel, without allowing himself to be
pushed around by any foreign power. He is right to do so.
What was the point of having Mr. Bush demand that Yasser Arafat
condemn the latest bombing? Stopping civilian massacres is a “deed” Mr.
Arafat should have accomplished long ago.
It would have been far more appropriate for Mr. Bush to say, simply, that Mr.
Sharon and his democratically elected national unity government, including
hawks and doves, will — when they make their move — have the support and
understanding of the administration, the Congress and the American people.
There are some things that cannot be settled by diplomacy, and the kind
of terrorist war that Yasser Arafat has launched against Israel is one of them.
That he launched it in the face of an offer from then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak
that was far more generous than anyone had a right to expect only underscores