Archive for August, 1998

[Originally published in the Rutland Herald and Barre Times-Argus.]

When the Israelis undertake some incredibly bloody operation against the Arabs, as they have frequently done, we either wink and turn away or, at worst, slap them on the wrist.  When the Arabs undertake similar action, we blast then with missiles.  Worst of all, we don’t take Arabs seriously.  If we did, we would have changed our current policies in that reason.

Terrorism today has moved largely away from state sponsorship.  Out attack against Libya after the Pan Am bombing over Lockerbee, Scotland demonstrated clearly that if a state sponsored terrorism and got caught, it would be highly vulnerable to military retribution.  States have no place to hide.  In the current case, Osama bin Laden, the Saudi exile who is godfather and banker to the current terrorist spate will simply pull up stakes and move to another area.  America will be castigated for attacking “the sovereign territory” if the (blameless!) state in which he has been operating.   People like him will always be able to find places to operate (and hide).  There will always be Muslim countries that see it as being in their political interest to allow him to operate on their turf, despite the potential shower of cruise missiles.

The bombing of the Trade Center in New York City marked the beginning of a new direct state sponsorship which could significantly damage a piece of American real estate.  The true significance was that they hit us where we live.  Given the realities of our current Middle East Policy, that will almost certainly happen again.

Terrorism is a weapon of desperation available to those who know they are powerless against overwhelmingly strong enemies.  They attack America selectively because, much as they would like to, they cannot do it conventionally.  They will continue to do it as long as their region is in turmoil and as long as they perceive our Middle East policy to be unjust.   The recent embassy bombings are a harbinger of things to come.  Life will get worse before it gets any better.  Having lived with the situation for over 50 years, the Arabs are prepared to do anything to get our attention, punish us for what they view as our unjust policies and persuade us that our Middle East policy us unjust.

Terrorism is a psychologically unsettling tool.  When used by Arabs against America, its goal is not to defeat us militarily – that would be absurd.  It is simply to give America a taste of what Arabs have been fed by Israelis for 50 years with American complicity or at least indifference – spotty but relentless misery and humiliation.   A continuation of their current operation will simply put us on edge and keep us there.

What will be next?  Hit some more embassies and watch our humiliation and frustration increase?  Worse yet, suppose the Arabs start to murder American businessmen and tourists around the world.  If you don’t care about being caught, as is the case with all Arab suicide bombers, it’s easy.  What better way could there be to realty get inside the collective American psyche than to blow up a tourist group or business delegation?  We are worriers. Do we really want to visit Europe this year, darling?  Think of the impact on our overseas commercial activities.  Such operations would frustrate and humiliate us by showing our impotence and inability to stop them.

If we continue to be unwilling or unable to find a just solution to the Middle East problem and if terrorism in its current form continues and expands as it most certainly will, America can look forward to wearing a very uneasy crown.  We will be on the edge.  We will become increasingly paranoid.  Our government will become more and more frustrated.  Telling us that you have to fight fire with fire, Washington will ask us to give up more of the freedoms we take for granted in order to protect us from this new kind of terror.  We will learn that the quality of life slowly deteriorates under prolonged terrorist attack.  Just ask any Israeli who gets up in the morning wondering if he will be next.

Haviland Smith, who lives in Orange, is a retired station chief who was in charge of counterterrorism for the CIA in the mid-1970’s.

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