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Two days after the IAF destroyed Saddam Hussein's Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981, the CIA held a classified briefing for members of Congress. Lawmakers wanted to know about the Arab reaction.
"Booyay," the CIA briefer said.
"Is that an Arabic word?What does it mean?" he was asked. It means publicly they were booing, the CIA official said, but privately they were cheering what came to be known as the great Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act of 1981.
The new Reagan administration was less than enthusiastic about the Israeli action and sent its UN ambassador to sit down with Saddam Hussein's UN envoy to draft a Security Council resolution condemning Israel. The administration followed up by halting the shipment to Israel of the same kind of aircraft that had just saved the entire Middle East from an Iraqi nuclear threat.
THERE IS a similar "booyay" response today among pro-Western Arab leaders to Israel's attack on Hamas in Gaza.
Moderate, pro-Western Arab leaders are praying five times a day for Israel to deal Hamas a serious setback, if not a fatal blow, because they see it as a proxy of Iran, which they consider the real threat to their regimes. They haven't the courage to say so publicly, but through the fog of denunciations, the message comes through.
The public rhetoric of most Arab states is filled with the usual venom one has come to expect when they speak of Israel, particularly when it has the audacity to strike back at terrorists like the Hamas thugocracy. But behind the angry denunciations, these same Arab leaders - Kings Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and Jordan, President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas - are hoping for Israeli success.
They're not appealing to the prophet out of any love for Zion, and those public denunciations are probably sincere albeit hypocritical, but they know what is at stake. Israel is fighting their war for them, sacrificing its lives and expending its treasure to strike a blow at their common enemy, Iran.
HAMAS IN Gaza, like Hizbullah in Lebanon, is the stalking horse for Iran. Egypt had brokered the truce that Hamas ended last month with rockets, reportedly in the hopes of winning a new deal on more favorable terms. Israel's counter-offer was delivered by its air force, armor and infantry.
Egyptian and other moderate Arab leaders blamed Hamas for provoking the response, but being the courageous chaps they aren't, they couched it in bitter denunciations of Israel for having the audacity to defend itself, even if was doing a service for those same Arab autocrats.
Mubarak's "booyay" moment came when he accused Israel of "savage aggression" while noting he had "warned [Hamas] repeatedly that rejecting the truce" would produce these results.
Jordan, which has the most to lose if Hamas succeeds in taking the West Bank as well as Gaza, said if the fighting continues it might "reevaluate" its relations with Israel.
Saudi Arabia, a principle financial backer of Hamas, put the blame on Hamas when it suggested none of this would have happened had the terror group maintained the cease-fire.
The Saudis and Egyptians blocked Syrian-led calls for an immediate Arab League emergency summit to deal with the crisis; it took five days just to convene a ministerial meeting.
The principle beneficiary of any Israeli success - besides those living in the South - would be Abbas, whose life isn't worth a plugged dinar if he dares go to Gaza. Knowing a major goal of the action is to restore his power in Gaza didn't discourage him from denouncing it as "brutal aggression" and "criminal." From this tendency of Arab leaders to speak out of both sides of their mouths, one might get the impression that they suffer from a collective case of schizophrenia, but it's actually fear mixed with hypocrisy.
NONE OF these dictators is a candidate for the next edition of Profiles in Courage. They are scared of the influence of the militant Islamists and the popularity of the Palestinian cause on the Arab street. Iran and its allies have focused on creating animosity to the entrenched and repressive Sunni regimes which, in the age of satellites and the Internet, can no longer turn public emotions on and off like a water tap.
That's why they are praying so hard for an Israeli victory.
A pro-Hizbullah newspaper said, "Israel would be satisfied with a compromise, but the Arab regimes want to finish Hamas completely." It's probably right. Israeli leaders define victory as a weakened and humbled Hamas that will halt all the attacks, honor a cease-fire and accept international supervision. Hamas, on the other hand, will declare a great victory simply if its leadership is still breathing.
Arab leaders know this is a proxy war with Iran, and Israel is on their side. Some day they may even find the courage to say so publicly.
Until then, we'll have to settle for more "booyays."