Camp David: a shotgun wedding gone wrong
It is often said that American foreign policy is only discernable in retrospect. Maybe that is because we quite often have no foreign policy and events just sort of play themselves out. That is certainly the case with regard to the terrorist attack on the USS Cole.
It all goes back to this July and the hastily conceived Camp David summit between Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Barak, and Palestinian Chairman, Yasir Arafat. Now, we can see that it was a huge mistake.
When Arafat arrived at Camp David, he had absolutely nothing to offer. His hold on the leadership of the various anti-Jewish factions in the Arab world was too tenuous. If Arafat had signed a meaningful accord under those conditions, he would have signed his own death warrant.
By the same token, Prime Minister Barak was in no position to negotiate. His coalition government was staying in power only by the thinnest of margins. Barak was caught between those who wanted a Munich-style peace-at-any-price and those who wanted Israeli to be able to defend its borders.
The Camp David conference was a shotgun wedding presided over by Bill Clinton. No matter what motive is ascribed to Clinton’s efforts; the summit undermined Barak and Arafat with friend and foe alike and energized the hardliners on both sides. The witnesses knew the wedding was forced and the bride and groom weren’t really ready to get married.
But what makes the current fighting in the Middle East different from previous blood baths is taking place inside Israel. The Arabs who live inside Israeli are taking up arms against their Jewish neighbors as never before. Not since the Jewish war for independence in 1948, have we seen so many Arabs throwing bombs at their Jewish neighbors.
With the exception of 1948 and the Arab Intifada of the 1980s, The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) has not had to worry about a possible two-front struggle. Hitherto, the IDF has always been able to face outward and address itself completely to attacks against its perimeter by the Egyptians, the Syrians and the Jordanians.
A new dynamic at work is the end of the Cold War. When there were two super powers, the Arabs were clients of the Soviets and the Israelis were clients of the United States. The various factions on both sides of the Arab-Israeli conflict understood that the USSR and the United States exerted their influence in the Middle East simply as an extension of Cold War geo-politics.
But now, with the USSR out of the picture, whenever the United States takes an action in the Middle East, it is likely to taken by the Arabs as pro-Israel. We no longer have the fig leaf of saying our actions were aimed strictly at checking Soviet influence in that oil-rich region.
Indeed, that was the objective of the attack on the USS Cole. The sponsors of that attack are hoping to provoke the United States into rounding up the usual suspects and launching a retaliatory strike against some Arab terrorist group. This would prove that the United States always takes the side of the Israelis.
So why prove the obvious to the Arab world? It gives the anti-Mubarak dissidents in Egypt more standing in their efforts to topple the Egyptian president who, to his credit, has been very helpful in the cause of peace in the Middle East.
Right now, Egypt and Israel have a signed peace treaty. So, the ultimate objective of the attack on the USS Cole is to force Mubarak to renounce that treaty and take part in a Yom Kippur-style attack on Israel. An external attack, combined with an Arab uprising inside Israel, could spell doom for the Jews.
People of all faiths should pray that Mubarak can broker some kind of accord that will keep the peace until next January when, hopefully, we will have a new foreign policy team on board that can make a fresh start with all parties to the dispute.
William Hamilton, a nationally syndicated columnist, is a former professor of history and political science.