Retaliate As We Say, Not As We Do

We heard a lot of commentary and official declarations after the horrific terrorist declaration of war against the United States. The statements that were not made, however, were particularly interesting.

We did not hear the State Department say that we should negotiate with our enemy and look for ways to compromise to address their legitimate grievances. Spokespeople did not say that the rhetoric should be lowered and that we should all keep calm. No one said we should exercise restraint.

A lot of officials did say that we were now in a war and that we should wage an all-out fight against the enemy. They said we should retaliate, hard and fast, and demonstrate that we were not a paper tiger and would not allow such acts to go unpunished. None of these officials, however, worried that retaliating against the terrorists might prompt revenge and even more terrorism.

I’m sure you catch my drift. When the United States was the victim of terrorism, something Israel has experienced for decades and, especially the last year, its reaction was much the same as the Israeli government’s. No one in the United States suggested following any of the advice our officials have been giving to Israel for how to respond to the terrorist threat it faces day in and day out.

The President’s statement was particularly illuminating when he said he would "make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them." This is akin to the Israeli policy of holding the Palestinian Authority responsible for the terrorists in its midst.

The American public also backed strong action. Like the Israelis who overwhelmingly support the retaliatory policy of their government, almost 90% of Americans in the Washington Post/ABC News poll supported taking military action against whoever was responsible for the attacks.

And if you ever wondered why Americans sympathize with Israel and never will support the Palestinians, all you have to do is watch the news about the reactions to the attack on the United States. Israel declared a day of mourning, Israelis lined up to give blood and the government sent its crack search and rescue team to New York. The Palestinians held a party.

Israel probably only has a brief window of opportunity to capitalize on this change in official U.S. attitudes. In the short-run, Israel will have a free hand to take the necessary steps against the PA while the U.S. responds to this crisis. In the longer-run, American diplomats will have a tough time lecturing Israelis on how they should respond to terror, but you can count on them returning to the same old arguments that they are currently ignoring in their own case. They’ll come up with a hundred reasons why the situations are different, but Israelis know better.

For Americans, life will change. After prior terrorist incidents we saw cement blocks go up around government buildings and airports started implementing tougher security checks, though obviously not stringent enough. The U.S. will move toward El Al’s model of security at airports. Hopefully, it will never come to the point where an American kid seeing a backpack left behind on a school bus will have to worry that it is a bomb. That is the reality for Israeli schoolchildren and an indication of how much worse it can still get.

In 1963, President Kennedy went to West Berlin to face down the Communists at the Berlin Wall and said, “I am a Berliner.” Today, Americans can say, “I am an Israeli.”