Responding to the Fire; Israel Must Reply with force.(OPED)

Article excerpt

Byline: Tod Lindberg, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

In the Middle East, the temptation is to ignore the first rule of politics: You begin where you are. This is not Lebanon in 1982, Ariel Sharon versus Yasser Arafat, all over again. Nor is it 1967, 1948 - nor, for that matter, 715, when the al Aksa mosque was completed in Jerusalem, nor 561 B.C., when the Second Temple was erected. Trying to tease out the meaning of the current violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from thousands of years of strife may be an interesting exercise, but it is not going to get anybody anywhere.

So, where are we? Israeli forces moved into the West Bank because a rash of suicide bombings emanating from there created an intolerable situation: substantial loss of Israeli life and a terrorized population. Though the Israeli military has withdrawn from some areas by now, in others it remains and is likely to continue to do so as long as the Israeli leadership thinks that, on net, doing so will make Israelis more secure.

It's perfectly legitimate to question the leadership abilities of Prime Minister Sharon. But it is absurd to personalize the conflict. What is often called "Sharon" actually refers to an almost completely united Israeli government acting with the overwhelming support of Israeli citizens. It's difficult to imagine any successor government to Mr. Sharon's viewing matters all that differently. Current conditions are such that Israel is well past the point, for example, of thinking about whether building settlements on the West Bank is or was a good idea. In fact, it was a terrible idea. But to Israelis now, the question is how best to stop such Palestinian attacks as the one on Adora this weekend. The best answer may, in the end, be by removing the settlements, but that does not address the security need that Israelis are acutely feeling right now.

Nor, in a way, is this problem really uniquely Israeli, in the sense of being bound up in some way with either the Holocaust and its aftermath, the Zionist tradition of the 20th century, or Jews' millennia-old aspirations for nationhood in the Holy Land. I think it is perfectly obvious that any nation facing the circumstances Israel has lately faced, namely, terrorist attacks on civilians carried out from a neighboring territory, would act to protect its citizens.

But, of course, no other nation faces such circumstances on the day-in, day-out basis that has characterized the attacks on Israel in the past few months - not even the post-September 11 United States. So it apparently becomes imaginable to some people in other, safer places that Israel isn't really facing what it's facing and therefore somehow has the option of responding to force with something other than force. …