America is fighting a new kind of war -- and it's going to have to get tougher, meaner, slicker and far less sensitive if it's going to win. That's according to Michael Bar-Zohar, global political analyst, Israeli Labor Party activist and writer. But a national Arab-American leader disagrees, saying embracing such tactics would only create more global friction and problems for the United States.
Bar-Zohar, in town recently for a presentation at the Jewish Community Center, believes America "is not prepared for this type of war." The author, drawing upon experience as an elite Israeli soldier and member of former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's inner staff, believes America must make several dramatic, and, in his words, "unpleasant" changes in its tactics to fight what he calls "a new kind of terrorism."
Says Bar-Zohar: "About 50 years ago, we -- the civilized world -- used to face 'normal' terrorists. They were people who wanted to kill you, but who wanted to survive. ... Now we all have to deal with a new kind of terrorism, which is the suicide terrorism -- where not only do they want to die, but for them, the worst possible outcome is to survive."
These days, Bar-Zohar says, the challenge is to nab the terrorists before they strike. "You have to stop him, to kill him, before he reaches any target. ... Don't try to round up these people and bring them to justice. Get rid of them. These are very harsh rules for a very harsh reality."
But Jean AbiNader, managing director of the Arab American Institute in Washington, D.C., calls such tactics reprehensible. "The U.S. spends a lot more time worrying whether or not they can justify their actions than it seems Israel does," he says. "The Old Testament was 'an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,' and that's not how the U.S. operates."
Bar-Zohar's local presentation, attended by about 80 people, was sponsored by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Community Relations Committee of the Jewish Federation, and the Anti-Defamation League. His national tour comes at a time of unprecedented support for Israel's policies among the American Jewish community, which has been divided in the past regarding Israeli leaders' actions. "While there were always debates about internal problems in Israel, today there's only concern," Bar-Zohar says.
In New Orleans, the Jewish Community Center spearheaded a campaign among its 4,000-household membership to send letters of solidarity to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and to President Bush, thanking Bush for his "strong show of support" for Israel. At least 125 members have responded, says Adam Bronstone, community relations director at the Jewish Federation. "We have to stay vigilant, and we have to support pro-Israeli policies," Bronstone says.
Bar-Zohar maintains America and Israel are fighting a common war against terrorism. America can learn a lot from Israel, he believes.
One such tactic, Bar-Zohar says, is the "targeted assassination." "They have to find the [terrorist] and kill him with the least danger to others. And you have to find the people who trained him and who prepared him and indoctrinated him and supplied him with his weapons. ... It becomes a very cruel, very ruthless game. Kill or be killed."
AbiNader brushes aside such comparisons of America and Israel. "There is no comparison between Israel and the U.S. in this war against terrorism," he says. "The Israelis are occupying Palestinian land. The United States was not occupying Afghanistan. The acts against the U.S. were the acts of extremists. Israel is defying international conventions, U.N. resolutions, and not acting in the interest of their own people. There is no comparison.
"I think that, literally, the global war on terrorism has been hijacked by the Israelis. ... They have taken the vocabulary of [President Bush] and manufactured a campaign to destabilize the Palestinian leadership," says AbiNader, who questions what Bar-Zohar calls a "close coordination" between the Israeli and U.S. governments.
"The U.S. should send a clear signal to Israel that while we support you, you're not going to get any more arms from us or support from us until you talk to Palestine. ... Ultimately what affects us as Americans is the human suffering that is going on, and even in the media the tendency is to tell the Israeli side of it.
"The terrorism by suicide bombers is unacceptable. But why is it more acceptable to use tanks to bulldoze Palestinian homes? The media has to have a little more perspective of images, how its shows Americans at war. They'll turn a camera onto an Israeli mother weeping over her children, but nobody talks to the Palestinian mothers."
One tactic Bar-Zohar says the United States should re-implement: spying. "Twenty-five years ago this country, the United States, made a decision not to use what they call human intelligence -- spies," says Bar-Zohar, an Emory University adjunct history professor who has written several spy novels. "America didn't want to have spies because spying is a disgusting business. And it's very risky business, because just imagine what will happen when an American spy is caught. It's torture and then death, and even if he is not a spy -- they just think he's a spy -- it's the same result.
"On the other hand, if you don't use American spies but you use local agents, it's even more disgusting, because who are the local agents? They are turncoats, they are traitors, they are greedy people, they are criminals they take out of prison. It's a really disgusting business."
Still, he concedes, "War is very unpleasant, and sometimes in war you have to take harsh measures."
Racial profiling is another unpleasant but necessary step for America to take, Bar-Zohar believes. "This beautiful thing that America has about not racially profiling -- it cannot work today. Tomorrow, I'm sure that you're going to find new terrorists who are not Arabs, like [John Walker] Lindh, who is American. But until then you have to concentrate. ... It's not very pleasant, but war is a very unpleasant thing.
"You have no choice," he says. "Because, you know, the first time, the first attack on the Twin Towers nobody could blame America for that. You couldn't have known. You couldn't have expected that to happen. But the next time it's going to be your fault. You ... can't say, 'Well, we didn't want to go into racial profiling or we didn't want to be too harsh, or we didn't want to use force.'"
AbiNader, of the Arab American Institute, says his organization supports using racial profiling "as a platform for which to then create more effective profiles -- what are the behaviors, the habits?" But a blanket concentration on all people of Arab background, he says, is dangerous.
As Bar-Zohar puts it, America's challenge is not only to locate terrorists and terrorist allies across the globe, but most importantly, within its own borders. "We don't know enough even about the 9-11 bombing," he says. "You want to try to unravel the thread and find out what was behind it. The messages intercepted spoke of about 30 martyrs. We've found out about only 19 of them, and arrested one. Twenty, right? So who are the other 10?
"These people knew exactly that in West Virginia you could get a driver's license much more easily than in other places, that in Maryland you could get a Social Security number, that in Vegas there was this motel in the south of the city where you could carry out a conference," Bar-Zohar says. "Who instructed them? Who sheltered them? Because there were all these hijackers who came from abroad. You don't acquire this knowledge about the loopholes in the American system that fast."
So how would the United States win out over international terrorists?
"By good intelligence, by outsmarting them in what they are doing, by preventing them to plan these projects," Bar-Zohar says. "But also you must be ready to carry out the long fight, because terrorists are not like an army. You can destroy an army. Terrorists can always have new recruits, and new people who would want to avenge the death of those who have fought. Therefore, the first important thing is to prevent terrorists from having a shelter. The second point is to create kind of an international alliance which will share intelligence."
The United States has to become more ruthless while simultaneously maintaining its humanity, says Bar-Zohar, who believes that both Israel and America "are fighting two wars at the same time. One is against the terrorists and the other one, which is even more difficult, is the war against ourselves.
"It's not to cross the thin line between what a democratic society with moral values can do and what it should not do, and now this thin line becomes very blurred during times of war," Bar-Zohar says. "I even read this debate in the Washington Post about torture -- is torture allowed in the case of emergency? We passed special laws in Israel against that. The only thing the Secret Services in Israel are allowed to do is to use what is defined by the Supreme Court as moderate physical pressure, which means not even hitting the prisoner. And it's very difficult. Now when you reach this kind of heart-tearing situations in which you know that the prisoner you have in front of you knows about a ticking bomb somewhere -- how do we get it out of him?"
The challenge, Bar-Zohar says, is to stop terrorism while not becoming like the terrorists. On this point, AbiNader agrees. America needs, he says, to stick to its diplomatic principles.
"Even Israel, which is based on the Old Testament, believes in the rule of law," AbiNader says. "And if we don't enforce the rule of law, then we become like the terrorists in the U.S. We believe the rule of law is paramount, otherwise it's anarchy."