Sunday, October 17, 2004

War Can Be the Answer

"Israel proves there is a military solution to terrorism." That's the subhead on a piece at OpinionJournal by Bret Stephens (easy registration required). Some excerpts:
...[F]or most Israelis, and for many Palestinians too, the violence of the intifada--which entered its fifth year this month--seems to be in recession. Anyone who visits Jerusalem today will not see the ghost town it was in 2002, when Israel was absorbing an average of one suicide bombing a week. And anyone who visits Ramallah will find what is, by (non-Gulf state) Arab standards, a calm and economically prospering city, where the only Israeli-made ruin is the Palestinian Authority headquarters, deliberately kept that way as a monument of Arafatian agitprop.

How did things improve so dramatically, and so quickly, for Palestinians and Israelis alike? Begin by recalling Israel's assassination, in late March, of Hamas spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin. At the time, the action was all but universally condemned as reckless and counterproductive. "By granting Yassin the martyrdom he craved, the Israelis have provided a motive for new suicide attacks," went an editorial in the normally pro-Israel Daily Telegraph of London. "More young Palestinians will fall in love with death, and more Israeli civilians will die with them."

Yet what followed for Israel were nearly six consecutive terror-free months. This wasn't because the Palestinian terror groups lacked for motivation to carry out attacks. It was because they lacked for means. The leaders of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Yasser Arafat's own al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades had to spend their time figuring out how to survive, not on planning fresh attacks. The Israeli army incarcerated terror suspects in record numbers--some 6,000 now sit in Israeli prisons--which in turn helped yield information for future arrests. Most importantly, the security fence has begun to make the Israeli heartland nearly impenetrable to Palestinian infiltrators. (August's double suicide bombing in Beersheba happened precisely because there is still no security fence separating that town from the Palestinian city of Hebron, from where the bombers were dispatched.)

Taken together, these measures prove what a legion of diplomats, pundits and reporters have striven to deny: that there is a military solution to the conflict....

As for Israel, these past four years have also brought its share of lessons. Tactically, Israeli security forces learned, after a shaky start, how to suppress a massive terrorist-guerrilla insurgency, a remarkable accomplishment U.S. military planners would do well to study. Strategically, a majority of Israelis concluded that while peace with this generation of Palestinian leaders is impossible, separation from them is essential. And morally, Israel learned that even the most fractious democracy can stand up to a prolonged terrorist assault, and choose not to yield.

It's a choice made easier when you know there is no alternative.
We have no alternative, either. Let us hope that Americans -- who feel more secure than Israelis -- can grasp the lessons that flow from Israel's experience.