"The terrorism is not anonymous. It has a name, it has an address…. It is spearheaded by a country – Iran. Teheran has become the capital of terror. A conclusion must be drawn on how to contain it."
So said then prime minister Shimon Peres in March 1996 after Hamas and Islamic Jihad went on an eight-day murder spree that left 62 Israelis dead in the streets of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Ashkelon. Peres's words were echoed by then US president Bill Clinton.
Back then it was well-known that Iran supported Palestinian terrorists. Islamic Jihad is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Teheran. Hamas, while receiving the bulk of its funding from Saudi Arabia and from Arabs in the West, also received funding from Iran.
One of the main pieces of evidence used to prove that Teheran ordered the attacks was the fact that two days before the last bombing the Iranian vice president met with the heads of Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Damascus.
Peres and Clinton played up the terror parley, but played down its location. Syria's role in sponsoring Palestinian terrorists was a source of political embarrassment because at the time Peres was carrying out intense negotiations with the Syrians at Wye Plantation, and secretary of state Warren Christopher had just rounded out his 18th trip to president Hafez Assad's house.
Likewise, the fact that Yasser Arafat had been coddling Hamas ahead of the bombing spree was ignored. Six weeks before the offensive, Arafat paid a televised visit to Hamas terror chieftain Yihye Ayyash's family after he was killed by Israel. Arafat had PA security forces hail the felled mass murderer with a 21-gun salute at his funeral.
Ayyash's replacement as Hamas bombmaker, Muhammad Deif, who engineered the February and March attacks, was under the personal protection of Arafat's security chief Muhammad Dahlan.
Neither Peres nor Clinton could acknowledge the role played by the PA and Syria in enabling the bombings. Doing so would have been tantamount to admitting that their entire policy of peace processing was based on flawed assumptions. So rather than admit the truth, both men called for Arafat to be strengthened.
The US pledged to step up its training and equipping of the PA security services and Clinton paid a historic visit to Gaza. Peres allowed Arafat to complete the construction of the Gaza airport in spite of the fact that it had been built without an agreement and Palestinian security forces had threatened to open fire on IDF forces who came to stop its construction.
TODAY WE see an almost exact repeat of this history. On Friday night, immediately after the suicide bombing in Tel Aviv, both Israeli and Palestinian sources were feeding the media the line that Hizbullah or Syria or Iran was responsible for the latest massacre.
There is no doubt that Hizbullah plays a significant role in fomenting, directing and financing Palestinian terrorism. And there is no doubt that Hizbullah's patrons – Iran and Syria – have vastly increased their involvement in Palestinian terrorism in recent years.
But, it is also true that all the Palestinian terror groups and the Palestinian Authority – which itself has received weapons from Syria, Hizbullah and Iran – have welcomed this involvement. In the last few years Fatah cells have exceeded both Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the amount of direct payments and direction they have received from Hizbullah.
And the truth is that since the Palestinians began their terror war in September 2000, the various terror organizations have been working together in the open. Indeed, since Arafat ordered Fatah chief Marwan Barghouti to form the "Unified Command of the Intifada" with Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the separation of the various terror groups has been more theoretical than real.
Case in point is Friday's bomber Abdullah Badran. While Badran apparently acted as an agent of Islamic Jihad, Palestinians in Tulkarm say that he was a longtime member of Fatah.
TODAY, BOTH Israel and the US believe that Arafat's replacement, Mahmoud Abbas, must be strengthened. Sharon has released terrorists from jail and severely restricted all Israeli counterterror operations in a bid to strengthen Abbas.
Both Israel and the US have placed their faith in Abbas despite his coddling of terrorists during his election campaign; his decision two weeks ago to unfreeze Hamas's bank accounts; his refusal to take action against any terrorists or their support networks; and his plan to bring terrorists into his "reformed" security services.
As was the case with the 1996 finger-pointing at Iran, the government's accusations against Hizbullah, Syria and Iran today are both illuminating and misleading. It is true that all three are actively fomenting Palestinian terrorism. But that does not mean that we no longer need to focus most on Hamas, Fatah, Islamic Jihad and the PA whose forces are on the ground attacking us.
It is hard to escape the feeling that, as was the case in 1996, at least in part, the government's emphasis on distant enemies is aimed at distracting the public from the dangers closer to home.
Just last week Abbas requested that the nations of the world provide him with offensive weaponry. Russia has already responded that it will give armored personnel carriers to the PA. So far, the government has given no indication that it has a problem with this state of affairs.
This, in spite of the fact that such Palestinian offensive armament is in total contravention of the Oslo agreements and, more importantly, flies in the face of Israel's security doctrine since the founding of the state. This doctrine has completely ruled out the introduction of offensive weapons systems to the territories. But then, if the government goes through with vacating Gaza, it will have no ability to sustain this doctrine.
Syria, Iran and Hizbullah are all formidable enemies of Israel. But this fact must not obscure the serious terror problem posed by the PA and its terror allies right here. And this problem will only grow if Israel vacates Gaza, providing them with a secure base of operations where Syria, Iran and Hizbullah will be able to arm and train them to attack at will.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.