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News and views on Israel, Zionism and the war on terrorism.

April 05, 2003

Is It Good For the Jews?

Bill Keller writes in the New York Times about Israel's stake in the Iraq war:
Making the world safer for us — defusing terrorism and beginning to reform a region that is a source of toxic hostility to what we stand for — happens to make the world safer for Israel as well. But the idea that Israel's interests are driving one of the most momentous shifts in America's foreign policy is simple-minded and offensive. (There is also a simple-minded and offensive flip side, which holds that opposition to the war is heavily fueled by anti-Semitism — another sweeping slander with a grain of truth in it.)

What is demonstrably true is that Israelis believe that the war in Iraq is — to use a phrase that is a staple of Jewish satire — good for the Jews. Even though Israel is a likely target of Iraqi reprisals when war breaks out, it is the only country I know of where polls show overwhelming support for an invasion to oust Saddam, preferably sooner.

The administration prefers not to advertise Israel alongside Bulgaria and Spain on its marquee of allied supporters, for the same reason it has gone to tremendous lengths to keep Israel out of the coming war. No one wants to feed the dangerous idea that this is, as the jihad propagandists claim, a war of Americans and Zionists against Arabs and Islam.

 There are obvious reasons that Israelis would like to rid the region of a man who trains terrorists and pays blood money to suicide bombers' families. But the deeper explanation, says Stephen Cohen, an analyst at the Israel Policy Forum, is profound despair over the bloody dead end in which Israeli-Palestinian politics sit. A conquest of Iraq offers the prospect that the United States will take the region in hand. It is, to many Israelis, the only hope of change for the better.
A key question is, what will happen to the Israel-Palestine conflict after Iraqi liberation:
What will Mr. Bush make of this moment? If the U.S. manages to make a more benign Iraq — and perhaps a chastened Syria — the Israelis could decide to dig in their heels: Our friend Mr. Bush is here, he's on our side; we can now sit tight, wait for the Palestinians to read the handwriting on the walls of Baghdad and maybe offer them half a state.

Or the Americans could seize the opportunity to say to Ariel Sharon, who has shown no prior gift for strategic statesmanship: "We are here now — you know we won't let you down. It's time to roll back the settlements and close a deal."