JERUSALEM–Moqtada Sadr’s rallying cry is “terrorize your enemy,” meaning the country that just poured blood and treasure into liberating his country and plans to hand over power anyway in 82 days. The renegade Iraqi Shiite leader also has role models: “I am the beating arm for Hezbollah and Hamas here in Iraq,” he said.
Why has this “beating arm” of the global jihad singled out Hezbollah and Hamas, of all the groups to emulate? First, perhaps, because all three groups share Iran as patron. But even more saliently, because Hamas and Hezbollah are now the closest things the jihad has to winners on the global stage.
Who would the good jihadi want to emblazon on his t-shirt (like the Osama bin Laden t-shirts that sold like hotcakes in Peshawar after 9/11)? Ahmed Yassin and Hassan Nasrallah would probably top the list, now that Saddam Hussein has not only been deposed but also disgraced.
The uproar over Israel’s killing of Yassin demonstrates Hamas’s relatively good name: It is the only group that openly embraces suicide bombings whose leader could be mourned as a “father figure” and whose death was a “blow against peace.” Hezbollah, similarly, openly supports Hamas, enjoys much friendly media attention, and has the expulsion of Israel from Lebanon under its belt.
Why is all this significant? Because, we are impatiently told, the war against Israel is distinct from the global jihad against America. Further, even the best minds in the White House tend to think of the war here as a distraction from Topic A, winning in Iraq.
Sadr begs to differ. Killing Jews a distraction? Far from it–that’s where it’s at! Even for an Iraqi aiming at Americans, the way to wrap oneself in an acceptable global cause is to say, hey, I’m part of the fight against Israel! Now, just as things are heating up in Iraq, along comes Ariel Sharon to Washington, looking for help with his plan to withdraw from Gaza. What should George W. Bush say when he faces the cameras with his friend at such a charged moment?
The instinct will be: as little as possible. Sharon wants the U.S. to reject the Palestinian “right of return” to Israel and back our retaining settlement blocs. Bush will be advised not to upset Europe and the Arab world at such a delicate time.
Rather than listen to these advisers, Bush should listen to Sadr. Want to strike a blow against Arab radicalism? Strike where it really hurts, their pride and joy, where their cause resonates most, the war against Israel.
Sadr is right that the war here is not a sideshow, but on center stage. Sure, the U.S. must win in Iraq. But there is no separating the war against the region’s only existing democracy from the war against Iraq’s democracy-to-be.
In Iraq, the hearts-and-minds component hinges largely on military success. Can U.S. forces and Iraqi forces crush Sadr’s militia or not? Here, the U.S. does not have to lift a finger militarily. Israel does all the heavy lifting. But the U.S. can do something Israel can’t do by itself: make sure the unilateral dismantling of settlements is not useful for Sadr and his fellow jihadis to inspire their struggle.
The question is not what will Bush give Sharon, but what Bush will do for himself. Sharon is engaging in what can only be described as suicide diplomacy: I’ll go out on a limb, but if I fall you’ll get hurt too.
Only the U.S. can transform Sharon’s withdrawal into another proof that terror doesn’t pay, rather than a rout for Israel. If our withdrawal can credibly fit into Sadr’s pantheon of jihadi victories, it will be terrible for Israel, but also a serious setback for the U.S. If, alternatively, Bush treats Sharon’s move as an opportunity to deal the jihad’s Palestine branch a serious blow, that would be demoralizing for jihadis everywhere.
Telling the jihadis that the U.S. won’t help drive Israel back to the 1967 lines is a useful step, but doesn’t really say that much. Officially, if silently, the U.S. position is that U.N. Resolution 242 never did require a full Israeli withdrawal. Also, backing Israel on settlement blocs does not mean the U.S. won’t back Palestinians demanding a land swap later on.
The “right of return” is where the rubber hits the road. The jihadi theory of victory against Israel isn’t so pass as to involve tanks. Their game is maintaining a Palestinian right to live in Israel, even if Israel purportedly has a veto over its scope.
A door that’s slightly ajar can be pushed open; a closed door cannot. The Clinton Parameters and Yossi Beilin’s Geneva deal both listed Israel on a menu of destinations. Sari Nusseibeh, Ami Ayalon’s partner in the People’s Voice, went a critical step further by declaring: “Palestinian refugees will return only to the State of Palestine.” That one word, “only,” makes all the difference. This is the word Bush needs to utter to deal a blow to the jihadis–his and ours.
–Saul Singer is editorial-page editor of the Jerusalem Post and author of Confronting Jihad: Israel’s Struggle and the World After 9/11.