Soon after the 9/11 terrorist attacks struck the US, one of then-president George Bush’s first calls was to Ariel Sharon, pressing him to meet with Yasser Arafat.
Even as the second intifada was roiling Israel, Bush – according to US diplomat Dennis Ross, who told this story last week during a lecture in Jerusalem – was pressing Sharon to call Arafat.
Though Bush would never have dreamed of talking to those responsible for the terrorist attacks that hit his country, he was pressing Sharon to do so with the man responsible for the attacks striking his.
And the reason, Ross said, was because the president was prevailed upon by those in his administration who saw Israel more as problem than as partner, and whose arguments claimed that the US would be unable to enlist Arab countries in Bush’s war on terror unless Israel moved on the Palestinian track.
The tension between those who see Israel as a partner and those who see it as a problem is a common theme that has run through every US presidential administration since Harry Truman’s, Ross said. But if those who ascribe to the Israel- as-partner school of thought often get the upper hand in the US, in Europe many of the governments are in the grips of those feel that Israel is a problem.
For this reason, it is unrealistic to expect that Tuesday’s terrorist atrocities in Belgium will in any significant way alter how either Belgium or the European Union view Israel.
Anytime there is a major terrorist attack in a western country, there are those in Israel who think it will give the stricken country a different perception of what Israel faces, of its security concerns, and perhaps lead them to judge Israel more kindly or even alter negative policies toward the country.
But it never really happens.
Madrid was hit by a major terrorist attack in 2004, London in 2005 and Paris twice in 2014.
But none of those countries, nor the EU, changed their overall diplomatic stance toward Israel after those attacks.
France, for example, is now pushing forward a diplomatic initiative to restart the Israeli- Palestinian peace process – to which Israel is adamantly opposed – despite the attacks in Paris that some in Israel thought would cause the French to rethink their Mideast policies.
Experience has shown that after major terrorist attacks abroad, those who believe that the Israeli-Palestinian crisis is the source of much of the frustration, anger and despair fueling terrorism, believe it even more strongly.
While opinions of Israel may not be changing, major terrorist attacks do have a tendency to adjust the stricken country’s focus toward enhancing local security, and this has led some countries to closer security cooperation with Jerusalem.
After the November attack in Paris, the French special police unit carried out a raid and killed two terrorists in a suburb of the French capital. The commander of the unit said it “learned from the experiences of our friends as far as techniques used in places like Israel.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in his address Tuesday to the AIPAC conference in Washington, said that high-level delegations from around the world fly into Ben-Gurion Airport each day to tap into Israel’s security expertise in fighting terrorism.
“As many of them confront the rise of militant Islam and its accompanying terrorism, they come to Israel to strengthen their security,” he said. “They wish to learn from Israel’s proven security and intelligence capabilities how to better protect their own people.”
And while the number of those delegations may increase because of Tuesday’s attacks, don’t expect this to lead to a dramatic shift in voting patterns on matters relating to Israel at the UN. It never has in the past.
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