Something colossal happened last Thursday morning – something inconceivable for the rational mind. At Pi Glilot, Israel fell victim to a barbaric act of war of cataclysmic proportions. Enemy forces staged a well-planned, well-informed attack on a strategic target. They planted a bomb, and after waiting until the proper moment for maximum impact, detonated the device.
Their plan and intention was to kill thousands who would burn to death in the massive fireball their bomb would ignite. Nearby security installations would be incinerated. Motorists would be trapped during Tel Aviv's infamous morning traffic jam with no means of escape as the busiest highway junction in the country became a mass graveyard.
The name Ramat Aviv Gimel, which as one of Tel Aviv's most affluent neighborhoods conjures up images of nouveau riche extravagance, would forevermore, according to the plan, call to mind pictures of destruction entire families wiped out, and a nation sitting on the ground in sackcloth and torn shirts in shock and mourning.
Only a fluke the fact that the bomb was planted on a diesel fuel rather than gasoline tanker prevented the catastrophe.
And as The Jerusalem Post's Matthew Gutman writes in today's paper, the Pi Glilot fuel depot is far from an isolated target. The country is jam-packed with sensitive facilities and vital resources that can be targeted.
Since the attack, our politicians and bureaucrats have taken to finger-pointing and mutual recriminations regarding who was remiss in taking the necessary precautions that could have prevented this heinous attack. The government and the courts have decided that for the duration, Pi Glilot is to remain closed.
Similar to the intense post-Pi Glilot discussions taking place regarding the breaches in security at the fuel depot and other sensitive installations is the current debate in the US over whether it could have been possible to prevent the September 11 attacks.
Today, it is the FBI that is under scrutiny. After it became known that in at least two separate instances last summer, the FBI chose not to follow up reports from field offices relating to suspicious Arabs enrolled in flight schools, FBI Director Robert Mueller was forced this week to accede to mounting criticism.
On Wednesday, Mueller recanted earlier statements to the effect that the FBI could not have foreseen or prevented September 11, and in a candid admission he stated, "I cannot say for sure that there wasn't a possibility we could have come across some lead that would have led us to the hijackers."
The truth is, it is not as simple as blaming the FBI for shoddy analysis and threat assessment or blaming our government for failing to close the Pi Glilot facility years ago. Neither the FBI nor Pi Glilot have operated in a vacuum. Over the past decade, the specter of today's terrorist war against both Israel and the US has been clear for all to see.
The fact that the World Trade Center was a target for a terrorist offensive was obvious, since Islamic terrorists first attacked it on February 26, 1993. The fact that terrorists were planning to attack US targets with hijacked planes was known since 1995, when the US stumbled upon Abdel Hakim Murad, an accomplice of the World Trade center bombers, in Manila. According to Seymour Hersh in the current issue of The New Yorker, he told US intelligence officials that "he had earned his pilot's license in an American flight school and had been planning to seize a small plane, fill it with explosives, and fly it into CIA headquarters."
Here, the fact that Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat views terrorism as a tool for advancing his demands was similarly self-evident. While Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, in an interview with Israel Radio yesterday, continued to play down the difference between Palestinian terrorism before the Oslo process and since the Oslo process, the raw numbers prove his contention that the two are the same to be patently untrue.
Although Palestinian terrorism has been a thorn in our side since the establishment of the Zionist Yishuv in the late 19th century, there has been nothing run of the mill about the terrorism Israel has suffered since Oslo. Whereas from 1978-1993, Israel suffered 254 fatalities from Palestinian terror, in the first five years of Oslo, from 1993-1998, Israel suffered 279 fatalities. Suicide bombers only became a regular feature in 1994.
And yet, throughout the 1990s, as the threat and actuality of Islamic and Palestinian nationalist terrorism against the US and Israel became more and more tangible, both nations repeatedly failed to address the source of their vulnerability. And that source is not primarily, as the current debate in both countries would have it, the failure to take proper precautions at home.
The source of both nations' vulnerability to mega-terrorist attacks like September 11 and Pi Glilot is the terrorists who plan and carry out these attacks and the societies and states that give license and support for their actions and plans. Of course, it is imperative to take all possible measures to protect ourselves on the home front, but even the most elaborate measures will fall short if the source of the problem is left to fester and grow.
After September 11, US President George W. Bush set out a two-pronged plan for defeating terrorist forces. On the one hand, he set up the Office for Homeland Security, responsible for coordinating all domestic measures for thwarting terrorist attacks on US soil. On the other hand, he went to war in Afghanistan and has sent additional troops out to places as far flung as Georgia and the Philippines to assist other governments in routing out their terrorists. Bush understood that to successfully meet the threat of terrorism, a nation needs to both secure itself and destroy its enemy's ability to operate.
Since last Thursday's miraculously averted catastrophe, nary a word has been spoken here about the Palestinian terrorists who carried out the attack on Pi Glilot. These hardened professionals implemented a well-planned, well-executed mission that presumably took months of planning. They had to track fuel tankers, and learn their routes and refueling procedures. They needed to identify a tanker that regularly parked overnight in an unsecured location. They needed to find an observation point from which they could watch undetected as "their" tanker entered the fuel depot and, surrounded by eight others, filled its tank. Today, these unknown, devastatingly dangerous enemies are, undoubtedly, sitting comfortably in their bases – private homes, PA security offices – going over their notes, learning from their mistakes, and plotting their next moves.
This clear and present danger to the lives of all Israelis and Israeli installations can only be neutralized if our enemies now operating out of PA-ruled areas are destroyed militarily. Doing so, however, requires political will, the same political will which has been palpably absent since September 13, 1993, when Yitzhak Rabin shook hands with Arafat to the cheers of the American president on the White House lawn.
CIA Director George Tenet, who is set to arrive here today to set a course of reform in the PA security forces, was instrumental in training these same forces during the decade of delirium which was the 1990s. He brought PA security forces to CIA training bases and taught them the arts of counterterrorist warfare, arts which they have used to such advantage in perpetrating acts of terrorism against Israeli civilians. Rather than following through on Bush's strategy for denying terrorists the ability to operate, Tenet is set to enhance this ability.
Similarly, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon exposed his lack of political will to destroy our enemies' ability to make war against us when he chided Chief of General
Staff Lt.-Gen. Shaul Mofaz at the security cabinet meeting on Wednesday for insisting that it would "be an historic mistake" if Israel does not expel Arafat, the field marshal of the Palestinian terrorist forces.
Today, as the US once again becomes embroiled in European and Arab plans for resuscitating Arafat's PA and setting timetables for final-status talks, Washington seems to have put its war against terrorism on the back burner. Iraq is on hold. The Saudis, far from being investigated for their role in supporting terrorism against the US, are being touted as peacemakers.
Likewise, Israel's government, perhaps due to US pressure, is refusing to take concerted action against the PA, which continues to equip suicide bombers and harbor terrorists who plot cataclysmic attacks.
The connection between the "peace process" and inaction against terrorism is too glaring to ignore. In the 1990s, with both the US and Israel under the tantalizing spell of the Oslo process, Osama bin Laden and his cohorts on the one side and Arafat and his cronies on the other were able to build up their offensive capabilities unhindered. So, too, today a week after Pi Glilot and eight months after September 11 both governments are dissipating their anti-terrorist energies in deflecting blame for their failure to prevent attacks, rather than destroying terrorist bases to prevent future offensives.
The peace process is indeed a powerful potion. So powerful that it has become the principal weapon of the enemies of the US and Israel in preventing the two democracies from taking the military measures necessary to enable true peace to be achieved.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post