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October 15, 2000

Wobbly policies invite terror

Kenneth Timmerman

     The attack in Yemen against a U.S. warship on Thursday was inevitable not because the United States supports Israel in its quest for peace with the Palestinians, but because the United States is perceived as weak by terrorists and the states that sponsor them.
     Let no one have any illusions: More such attacks are likely to occur in the coming days and weeks, whether they are carried out by renegade Saudi terrorist Osama Bin Ladin or by other groups. The only way to prevent further attacks is for the U.S. to identify those responsible for the attack on the USS Cole and to strike back swiftly. But it may be too late already.
     Throughout the Middle East, the Clinton-Gore administration has been making concessions and strutting its incompetence.
     In his quest for a foreign policy legacy, President Clinton has pressured Prime Minister Ehud Barak of Israel to conclude an agreement any agreement with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, regardless of whether it guarantees peace or even Israel's survival in the future. And until just recently, Mr. Barak has been a willing partner in Mr. Clinton's quest.
     In Iraq, the United States has failed repeatedly during the Clinton-Gore administration to finish the job of getting rid of Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction.
     In March 1995, the Iraqi opposition launched a military offensive that succeeded in defeating three brigades of the Iraqi army. They had Saddam's troops on the run, until the White House pulled the plug and told Iraqi National Congress leader Ahmad Chalabi the U.S. would provide no air cover for further military operations.
     Saddam understood what that meant. When he saw his next opportunity, in August 1996, he smashed the INC while the United States did nothing, putting an end to hopes of generating a democratic alternative to one of the world's most brutal dictators.
     In Iran, the administration has been engaged in a secret diplomatic initiative aimed at restoring diplomatic relations and trade ties in another vain effort to achieve a foreign policy "legacy" before President Clinton leaves office.
     Secretary of State Madeleine Albright lifted the veil on the secret talks in a March 17 speech, when she announced the administration was seeking a "global settlement" with Iran.
     Iran's clerical leaders understood what this meant. It meant the United States had decided to turn the other cheek after an Iranian-backed attack against a U.S. Air Force barracks in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, that took the lives of 19 U.S. servicemen in June 1996.
     The FBI concluded two years ago that Iran had been behind that attack, but the administration has suppressed the FBI report, congressional sources tell me. Instead, President Clinton sent a personal letter last year to Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, offering closer ties and reassuring him that the United States had no "hostility" toward the Islamic Republic of Iran.
     Iran has responded to these unilateral gestures by the United States in a thoroughly predictable manner. They have stepped up internal repression, closed down opposition newspapers, arrested Iranian Jews on trumped-up charges of spying for Israel, and accelerated their support for terrorist groups opposed to Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
     "In any negotiation, you need reciprocity," says U.S. terrorism expert Professor Yonah Alexander. "Iran perceives these one-sided U.S. gestures as weakness."
     President Khatami is touted by the Clinton-Gore administration as a "moderate." Just two weeks ago, he met in Tehran with leaders of Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and the Lebanese Hezbollah, three terrorist groups actively engaged in undermining the peace process through violence.
     Mr. Khatami's government called on notorious Lebanese terrorist Imad Mughniyeh to coordinate terrorist attacks against "quality targets" inside Israel, Professor Alexander said. Mughniyeh was responsible for kidnapping U.S. hostages in Lebanon in the 1980s as well as the murder of U.S. Marine Lt. Col. William R. Higgins.
     There is a name for the Clinton-Gore counterterrorism policy. It's called appeasement. Instead of seeking to negotiate with the Iranian regime, the U.S. should be calling for Mughniyeh's arrest and extradition.
     In the brutal calculus of international terrorism, there is only one weapon that can effectively deter potential terrorists and their state sponsors: fear of retribution.
     Target nations such as the United States and Israel must be credible and consistent in making terrorists fear for their lives. This means that the U.S. and Israel must strike back when attacked. Talk is not just cheap: It is deadly.

Kenneth Timmerman publishes the Iran Brief, a monthly investigative newsletter, and writes on security and intelligence issues for Reader's Digest.

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