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memri
September 20, 2001 No.
271

Terror in America (5): British pro-Syrian journalist Patrick Seale: Suicide attacks are immoral but highly effective; the terrorists sought a 'balance of terror' with the US

The pro-Syrian British journalist Patrick Seale, author of Hafez Assad’s biography, published an article in the London Arabic-language daily Al-Hayat examining the efficacy of suicide attacks on the US and Israel.

Seale opens his article stating that "there is no proof [implicating] extremist groups in the Arab and Islamic world. It is not only Arabs and Muslims who have reasons to hate the US. Across the world, there is a developing movement of anti-globalization activists; there are [also] 'ecological terrorists' who maintain that US policies endanger the future of the earth. Similarly, we must not forget that in the US itself are those opposed to the federal government, like Timothy McVeigh who blew up the Federal building in Oklahoma [City]; finally, there are various radical groups in the Third World that place the blame for the suffering and destruction caused to their countries on the US…"

"It should be immediately pointed out that morally, such operations must arouse the deepest disgust, and they should be condemned as harshly as possible because they violate the 'rules of war,' killing and injuring innocent civilians. Similarly, the willingness of a few to commit suicide and to kill others testifies to a deep internal perversion. Most human beings are not capable of understanding such self-sacrifice, which became known by the name of 'kamikaze,' because it goes against human instinct. But at the same time we must notice that many countries violate the 'rules of war,' or have violated them in the past. The US killed a large number of innocent civilians in Vietnam, Cambodia, Latin America, Iraq, and many other places, not to mention the tens of thousands of innocent Japanese [who were killed] in the atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II. Britain too, bombed German cities, causing the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians in a morally questionable strategy that is still the subject of deep disagreement…"

"In light of the suffering of the Palestinians, is it legitimate for them to strike at Israeli citizens with suicide bombings? There is no doubt that morally it is a mistake to kill innocent citizens, no matter what disagreements [the attackers] may have with their government. But if we put aside the moral issue, we must ask ourselves whether suicide bombing has an effect or not. The answer to this question requires us to look at the goals of Palestinian suicide bombers and of those who send them."

"First, the bomber seeks to create a balance of terror. The Palestinian terrorist’s aim is to deter Israeli terror – i.e. 'if you kill my people, then my people will also kill!' The aim is to force the Israeli government and military to use restraint, and to hesitate before they attack the Palestinians, because the Israelis will pay dearly. There is no doubt that the terrorists who attacked the US sought to attain a balance of terror as well."

"Second, and more importantly, the Palestinians, by means of attacks in the heart of Israel, seek to persuade the Israelis that they will pay a high price for their occupation. They want to force Israelis to apply pressure on their government to withdraw from the occupied lands. The attackers' main goal, therefore, is to put an end to the occupation. Their claim is as follows: If the Palestinians attack only settlers and Israeli military personnel, the mass of Israelis in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa, Acre, Netanya, and the Negev development towns will not realize how costly the occupation is. Only by bringing the war home to the heart of Israel will the Israeli public be made to understand that the time has come to return the settlers to their homelands, to withdraw from the occupied territories, and to allow the establishment of a Palestinian state."

"This claim is important. The suicide bombings shook public opinion in the US and Israel. They aroused horror in the hearts of simple Americans and Israelis. In Israel, the attackers have managed to wear down Israeli morale. They have made many Israelis change their lifestyles and think twice before going to crowded marketplaces, entering restaurants, or getting on a bus."

"The US has also become accustomed to attack without being attacked. It too was enraged and disconcerted by the explosions. Will it seek mere vengeance, or will it reexamine its policy as a superpower?"

"In addition to their immorality, suicide bombings cause additional problems that are likely to significantly undermine their effectiveness."

"Many Israelis maintain, mistakenly, that these explosions are proof that the Palestinians do not differentiate between the occupied territories and Israel [proper]. That is, the Israelis have begun to think that the Palestinians – from the Palestinian Authority, with Yasser Arafat at its head, to Hamas and Islamic Jihad – seek not only to put an end to the occupation, but also to annihilate the State of Israel itself!"

"Many Israelis, like many of their friends abroad, are completely convinced that the existence of Israel is in danger. In an existential conflict, any weapon, any barbaric operation, any response, violent as it may be, is justified."

"If the Palestinians have declared war on Israel – and suicide bombings are perceived as a kind of war – many Israelis claim that Israel’s assassination of Palestinian leaders and destruction of the Palestinian civilian infrastructure (such as the power station in Jenin) are justified."

"Similarly, the US now sees itself at war with terrorists operating in secret who have succeeded in bringing the most powerful country in the world to a halt. In war, any weapon, any violent response is considered justified."

"However, let us hope that a different mentality will hold sway in the US, and that it [the US] will reexamine its policy and will not be blinded by the need to strike at unseen enemies… The clear lesson from the horrible events to which we were witness is that the only guarantee of the US’s and Israel’s security is a just and comprehensive settlement in the Middle East, one that will meet the rights and interests of all the sides." [1]


[1] Al-Hayat (London), September 13, 2001.