By MICHAEL B. OREN|
The Wall Street Journal
Tuesday, April 9, 2002
JERUSALEM -- President Bush yesterday called once again for Israel to withdraw its forces from the West Bank "without delay." Until last week, Mr.
Bush had displayed remarkable courage in resisting demands to curtail Israel's right to defend itself against relentless Palestinian terror. Now, abandoning
that principled position in the quest for an elusive cease-fire, the president has revived the expectation that the Israelis must cease while the Palestinians
keep firing. More tragically, he has reverted to a misconceived U.S. policy in the Middle East that, for over 50 years, has consistently backfired.
Since its creation in 1948, Israel has been the target of Arab terror. In the 1950s and '60s, "armed
infiltration," as it was then called, caused hundreds of casualties and made life on Israeli streets and border
settlements nearly as precarious as it is today. Yet, in spite of these losses and Israel's clear-cut case for
avenging them, the U.S. denied Israel's right to retaliate. "The USG has consistently opposed reprisal raids,"
Secretary of State John Foster Dulles wrote in March 1955. "Such raids dangerously heighten existing
tensions." Similarly, in November 1966, Dean Rusk declared, "We have said frequently that we cannot
agree to or condone [Israeli] retaliatory action."
The rationale behind this policy was not so much moral as it was economic and strategic. American leaders
claimed that Israeli reprisals could interrupt the flow of Arab oil to the West, while driving moderate Arab
states into Soviet -- later, Islamic radical -- arms. There was also the belief, ultimately belied by Jordan's
King Hussein, that an Arab defeated by Israel is an Arab less willing to make peace.
None of these scenarios ever transpired, however, and, rather than peace, America's policy helped produce
the very wars it sought to preclude. The terrorists learned that Jews could be killed with impunity, while frustrated Israeli leaders concluded that if they
were going to be condemned for minor retaliations, they might as well respond massively.
Such was the case in 1956, when the Israelis, forbidden by America to strike back at terrorist bases in Egyptian-controlled Gaza, went ahead and drove
the Egyptians from Gaza and Sinai. In 1967, again, Washington's refusal to let Israel go after Yasser Arafat and his al-Fatah terrorists emboldened
Egypt's President Gamal Abdel Nasser to remilitarize Sinai and rally the Arab armies to war. Israel replied with a pre-emptive strike that snowballed into
the Six Day War. The pattern resurfaced in 1982 when Israel, fed up with rocket attacks over its northern border, and America's objections to punishing
the PLO for launching them, invaded Lebanon.
Once war broke out, America repeatedly pressured Israel to cease firing before it could achieve its objectives. The results were disastrous. By forcing
Israel to relinquish its gains in Sinai in 1948 and 1956, for example, the U.S. aided Egypt's ability to threaten Israel's existence again in 1967. The
U.S.-imposed cease-fire in the 1973 Yom Kippur War saved attacking Arab armies from destruction but impaired Israel's deterrence power for years.
The current onslaught of Palestinian terror can be traced in part to Arafat's last-minute evacuation from Beirut in 1982, another feat of U.S. intervention.