New US “hot pre-emption” Strategy Applies Equally to Indian-Pakistani, Israel-Palestinian Conflicts

In a lengthy speech to West Point graduates Sunday, President George W. Bush articulated a shift in his war on global terror. The familiar threats to “rout them out” or “find them wherever they are” were replaced for the first time by a warning to Americans “to be ready for pre-emptive action to defend our liberty and to defend our lives”. Warning of the continuing danger, he said, “We must take the battle to the enemy, disrupt its plans, and confront the worst threats before they emerge.”
Last week, the former secretary of state George Shultz spoke of a war that is “not just one of hot pursuit, but of hot pre-emption”- a buzz phrase quickly adopted by the New York Times columnist William Safire.
However, Shultz, addressing the US Foreign Service, defined his terms precisely: He refuted the oft-heard complaint (notably, in relation to the Palestinians) that it is impossible to distinguish “terrorists” from “freedom fighters.” President Reagan’s secretary of state ventured to do just that. Terrorists, he said, practice “random violence on as large a scale as possible against civilian populations to make their points or get their way,” he said. The battle must be taken to such forces before they strike, he added.
New definitions for the war on terror are all the rage in Washington these days. A semantic barrage is filling an urgent need to clear minds on ways and means of combating terror and, no less urgently, to clear away yesterday’s truisms cluttering up today’s tactical terrain.
Jim Hoagland, senior Washington Post strategic analyst, referring to the war buildup between India and Pakistan, wrote Sunday, June 2: “In two years – the time it has taken to go from Bill Clinton, Israel’s Ehud Barak and Colombia’s Andres Pastrana to Bush, Ariel Sharon and President-elect Alvaro Uribe Velez – key governments have shifted to fighting instead of trying to co-opt and legitimize ‘the hard men’ who organize bombers, shooters and arsonists to force political change through bloodshed.
“The US Air Force and Israel’s Defense Forces have already written out Shultz’s suggested strategy in steel and fire in Afghanistan and on the West bank. Uribe suggests he will do the same against Colombia’s narco-terrorists. And Pakistan, which professes to support America against the “terrorists” of al Qaeda while silently giving tangible support to the “freedom fighters” of Kashmir, has provided India with a golden opportunity to join the club of hot pre-emptors.” In the view of this columnist, India can no longer be deterred from hitting back in Kashmir.
Hoagland has rightly drawn a line between the India-Pakistan conflict and the Palestinian-Israeli confrontation as a new spate of Middle East diplomacy fills the airwaves.
Mostly, it boils down to nagging the Israeli government to accept that the time for fighting is over and it must return to negotiating. European diplomats, in particular, are pulling hard to drag Israel to an international conference table opposite the Palestinians.
Part of this scene is the running argument between Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon and Israel’s security leaders, chief of staff Lt.-Gen. Shaul Mofaz and the Shin Beit director Avi Dichter. Ever since the completion of Operation Defensive Shield a month ago placed Israeli forces outside Palestinian West Bank towns, the IDF has adopted the tactic of short incursions into those towns whenever a fresh batch of terrorists formed up for action – with limited success. Forty terrorist attacks were foiled, but half a dozen slipped through at the cost of 30 Israeli lives. Whenever the troops enter their strongholds, the terrorists freeze. They spring into action again as soon as the IDF withdraws.
Mofaz is pressing for the Israeli army to reoccupy those towns and stay there till Yasser Arafat is gone for good. Dichter wants them on the inside until buffer zones are in place. Sharon and defense minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer defend the present tactic of sending the army back into Palestinian territory for brief spells – and only on the basis of solid intelligence pinpointing a strike about to take off.
debkafile‘s military analysts argue that Sharon’s formula is far from foolproof; solid intelligence data cannot be guaranteed in advance of every single strike. However, the prime minister is following the Bush lead: preemption, yes; reoccupation, no. All the same, an air of unreality descended on the meeting in Jerusalem Sunday, June 2, when EU executive Javier Solana pulled out his diary to fix a date in the second half of July for a Middle East conference.
The Clinton way of “co-opting and legitimizing the hard men” is patently history, except for some Eurocrats and parts of Israel’s self-styled peace camp. If the conference ever takes off at all – debkafile‘s Washington sources reports that September is the earliest time – the Bush agenda is scarcely to “legitimize” Yasser Arafat, but rather to use it as a litmus test of Egyptian and Saudi intentions regarding America’s hot pre-emption of Islamic terror.
The test will come in the form of an economic cooperation program between the Arab world, led by Saudi Arabia, and Israel. If Crown Prince Abdullah spurns this program, Bush will take it to mean continuing Saudi bad faith in the pursuit of Islamic terror.
As for Egypt, the White House regards the peace plan President Hosni Mubarak is bringing to Washington on June 7 as yet another Clinton-era device to legitimize Arafat and co-opt one of his top terror guns, Muhamed Dahlan to a mock process of reforming the Palestinian Authority.
Trusting the US president to go through with his master plan, Sharon is prepared to stick to his assigned role of limited pre-emption – even if sometimes suicide terrorists make it past the IDF blockade of their towns to kill Israelis and he must brave the just disapproval of his chief of staff and head of the secret service.

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