Writing Tuesday in The Daily Telegraph, British military historian John Keegan compared the Palestinian terror war to the Iraqi insurgency. "What is going on in Iraq," Keegan writes, "resembles the second Palestinian intifada, though it is more intensive and better organized. It is also more difficult to counter, since the Western forces lack the detailed intelligence to which the Israeli security forces have access."
Keegan's statement is both true and false. It is certainly true that, from a strictly military perspective, Iraqi terrorists and foreign terrorists who fight with them in Iraq have mimicked Palestinian terror techniques, just as American forces have adopted IDF counterterror tactics in combating them. It is also true that Israel, which has been fighting the Palestinians for upwards of 100 years, knows its enemy much better than coalition forces know their opponents in Iraq.
Yet, tactical capabilities aside, the US and its coalition partners will likely emerge victorious in Iraq, while Israel is losing its war against Palestinian terrorism. The reason for this has little to do with military prowess and everything to do with a vision for the future. The Americans and their allies in Iraq, including the 85 percent of Iraqis who intend to vote on January 30, have a clear vision of where they want to go. They wish, through ushering in democracy and liberalization, to better the lot of the Iraqi people while ensuring, through counterterror warfare, that the terrorists will have no future at all.
In Israel, in spite of the IDF's mastery of its realm, the policies of the government are creating a situation in which Palestinians who are not involved in terrorism continue to live on a dead-end street while the terrorists who are responsible for both their suffering and the suffering of the Israeli people are given respect, legitimacy, power – and the future.
This week, the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), which monitors the Arab press, released a transcript of the televised confession of Muayed al-Nasseri, who commanded Saddam Hussein's "Army of Muhammad" throughout 2004. In his confession, Nasseri said that his organization was founded by Saddam immediately after the fall of Baghdad to US troops in April 2003. He then detailed its links to the Syrian and Iranian regimes and to other terror forces operating in the country.
The fact that the Iraqi interim government decided to run Nasseri's statement on television speaks volumes about the nature of Iraqi politics today. The Iraqi people want to know, and the interim government whose members are now running for election want them to know, who it is that is bombing them every day. As Nasseri made clear, the Iraqis' enemies are not the coalition forces who are fighting day and night to kill and capture the terrorists. Their enemies are Saddam's henchmen and their Arab and Iranian neighbors who would prefer to see Saddam and his tyrannical rule reinstated than see the Iraqi people prosper in a free, open and democratic country.
It is interesting to note that in spite of being the most visible politician in Iraq, it is projected that Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi will lose his power in the elections. Allawi, a Shi'ite and former Ba'athist who was anointed by the Jordanian monarchy, UN representative and former Arab League chairman Lakdar Brahimi and the CIA, is headed for defeat largely because the Iraqi public was angered by his decision to stop the de-Ba'athification process initiated by the provisional governing council appointed by the US after the fall of Saddam's regime.
Speaking this week to The Financial Times, Mohammed Tawfiq, one of the leaders of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, said the Shi'ite party that is set to take over from Allawi's interim government will vigorously reinstate the process.
One of the most outstanding features of the upcoming elections in Iraq is that they are only the first step toward the democratization of the country. The elections next week are not for a permanent government, but for a Constitutional Assembly. That elected body will select an interim government that will run Iraq until the assembly has completed the writing and ratification of a new Iraqi constitution. Only after the ratification process is completed will there be elections for a non-transitional government. And that government, in accordance with the constitution, will be both democratic and opposed to terrorism.
Meanwhile, the situation with the Palestinians is the exact opposite of the situation in Iraq. Yasser Arafat's death in November provided the Palestinians with their first real opportunity to begin the process of liberalization and democratization. Arafat, who ruled by terror and tyranny since the founding of Fatah in 1959, prevented all challenges to the PLO's preeminence among Palestinians. The fact that his patently dictatorial declaration that the PLO is the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people was accepted shows that the entire world, over time, came to believe that Palestinians have no right to freedom in any real sense.
And so, when he finally passed away, for a moment it seemed that it would be possible to usher in a new period in Palestinian history. Just moments, however, after Arafat was finally declared dead, the nations of the world, led by Israel, America and the EU, ensured the continuation of Arafat's authoritarian, terror-supporting regime by anointing his deputy of 40 years, Mahmoud Abbas, to replace him. That Abbas's election last week was a sham was testified to by the resignation en masse of the Palestinian Central Elections Committee last Saturday, just hours before Abbas was sworn in as the new PA chairman.
Ammar Dwaik and Baha al-Bakri, two of the former election officials, told The Jerusalem Post that a group of gunmen, including at least one security officer from the PA's General Security Force, stormed their offices on Election Day and demanded that non-registered Palestinians be allowed to cast ballots. The purpose of the fraud, they claimed, was not to change the results of the election, in which Abbas ran without significant opposition, but to ensure a convincing victory for Abbas, who was declared the winner with 62 percent of the vote.
Abbas has made no bones about the course his leadership will take. On the day he was sworn into office, two Palestinian youths were shot to death in Nablus for "collaborating" with Israel, and in Gaza, a Palestinian court sentenced five men to prison for the same "crime." Abbas stated that rather than fight Palestinian terrorists, he will negotiate with some and integrate others into the Palestinian security services.
And what of the law-abiding Palestinians who voted for him? Last Thursday night's attack on the Karni cargo terminal, which was carried out jointly by Hamas and the Fatah's Aksa Martyrs Brigade – with whom Abbas is now negotiating – forced Israel to close down the terminal through which Palestinian farmers and businessmen transport their goods to market.
The Hamas bomber who blew himself up at Gush Katif junction this week hid his bomb in his underwear. This means that Palestinians waiting at checkpoints will now, no doubt, have to undergo still more intrusive inspections before traveling. To them, Abbas promises nothing other than to demand that Israel release thousands of terrorists from its prisons – terrorists who, if released, will undoubtedly return to terror, forcing Israel to take still more military measures to protect its citizens and thus exacerbating the conditions in which rank-and-file Palestinians live.
The US has made several mistakes in Iraq. It was wrong for it to stop pursuing the de-Ba'athification process. It was probably a mistake for it to call for the Iraqi army not to fight its fo
rces when they invaded in March 2003. In so doing, the Americans enabled Saddam's army to escape intact, to fight another day on the terror battlefield of its choosing. And it was wrong not to seal Iraq's borders with Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia immediately after the terror war began in the summer of 2003.
Yet, for all it has done wrong, the US has learned from its mistakes. Ahead of the elections, Iraq's borders will be sealed. The US is building an Iraqi military whose forces wish to fight the terrorists. The US is making clear to Iraq's neighbors that they will pay a price if they continue to interfere in Iraq. And the US has made absolutely clear that its forces will not leave Iraq until their job is complete.
In Israel, where the lessons of our government's decision in 1993 to reward terrorists with arms and territory have been learned on the backs of the more than 1,300 Israelis who have been murdered since then, we find that rather than apply those lessons, our government is repeating the mistakes. Rather than forming partnerships with Palestinians like Dwaik and Bakri and the thousands of Palestinians who are demanding democracy, we have anointed yet another dictator who seeks to shore up his legitimacy not by fighting and exposing terrorists, as the Iraqi government is doing, but by incorporating terrorists into his government and security services.
Speaking to Egyptian journalists shortly after Saddam's capture in December 2003, US Ambassador to Egypt David Welch, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's nominee for assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, said, "America does not covet territories, it does not covet resources… America does covet ideas, and we believe – to quote Winston Churchill – 'ideas are the empire of the future.'"
While it is still too early to say whether the American idea of an Iraqi democracy will succeed, it is, sadly, self-evident that the Israeli idea of rewarding Palestinian terrorists with land and power in exchange for them not fighting other Palestinian terrorists is doomed to failure. It is true that America has much to learn from Israeli battlefield tactics. But Israel has even more to learn from America's vision for victory.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.