October 29, 2001 | Commentary on Middle East
Pretend for a moment it was Israel, rather than the United
States, that was hit by the attacks of Sept. 11. Would the world
now be waging the same war against terrorism, with the same arsenal
of weapons and the same intensity?
Like you, I don't know the answer. But I do know, or at least
suspect, that if Tel Aviv had been targeted, the Israelis would
have retaliated against the murderers and their supporters with
such overwhelming fury and force that the entire Middle East would
now be engulfed in war. They wouldn't have asked anybody's
permission, and they wouldn't have worried much about
The Israelis have had to deal with radical Islam for decades.
Their safety -- indeed, their very survival as a nation -- depends
on their ability to keep this enemy reasonably at bay. The United
States has blanched at their tough tactics at times, and Jerusalem
normally will go only so far when Washington expresses its
displeasure, but they've earned their reputation for toughness the
This tiny outpost of Western democracy wouldn't respond to a
bloody massacre on the scale of Sept. 11 with benefit concerts.
They would launch an immediate and explosive response, directed not
only at the terrorists but at the "good neighbors" who had provided
the terrorists with resources and safe harbor: Iraq, the
Palestinian Authority (the killers formerly known as the PLO),
Syria, the Syrian puppet regime in Lebanon, and any other neighbors
that were complicit in the attack.
Such a nightmare scenario could lead easily to World War III. So
we need to ask ourselves seriously: What would the United States do
if Tel Aviv became the target of a devastating attack killing
thousands, or tens of thousands, and the Israelis decided, once and
for all, to wage a war to end all wars in the Middle East?
Make no mistake: Some of Israel's neighbors are capable, both
psychologically and militarily, of attempting such an attack.
Because of Israel's military strength and the fact that the
country's been on high alert against terrorism almost from Day One,
the most likely means of launching such a doomsday attack would be
a barrage of ballistic missiles.
Yasser Arafat's terrorist pals in Hamas, Hezbollah and the
Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine don't have such
missiles yet. But Syria, Iran and Iraq do. Syria has an estimated
600 ballistic missiles, putting not only Israel, but parts of
Russia and Turkey within range. Iran has some 700 Scud-type
missiles and is developing a long-range missile that could reach
Europe and much of the United States.
And though his missile program was dealt a setback during the
Gulf War, Iraq's Saddam Hussein is thought to have as many as 150
missiles at his disposal.
Fortunately, Israel has at least a partial remedy. Unlike the
United States, which would be defenseless against a ballistic
missile launched from another country -- or even from a ship or
barge that positions itself several hundred miles off shore --
Israel (with American help) has built an anti-missile missile, the
Arrow. So the Israelis could intercept at least some, if not most,
of an incoming missile volley.
When you consider the harm that could be caused by even one
missile armed with a nuclear warhead or a deadly biological or
chemical agent, the need for such a missile defense becomes
As we learned Sept. 11, instant mass murder is no longer
unthinkable. In fact, certain Muslim fanatics apparently consider
such attacks against the western "infidel" (meaning you and me, as
well as Israel) a courageous act of religious purification. You've
already seen the pictures of Osama bin Laden's followers and
supporters rioting in the streets. Pity the civilized world if they
ever take control of a country with a nuclear arsenal, such as
Pakistan, or gain operational control of even a single nuclear
missile, or a battery of missiles.
The United States has buried its head in the sand for too long.
Despite the continued talk of unity, some in Washington -- for
whatever reason -- still want to tie up or slow down America's
missile defense program.
Let's get serious. We don't need more debates. We need to put the missile-defense program on emergency fast forward, and get the job done as soon as humanly possible -- before the next "unthinkable" horror becomes our next national nightmare.
Edwin Feulner is president of The Heritage Foundation a Washington-based public policy research institute.
Distributed nationally on the Knight-Ridder Tribune Wire