Arab leaders, Clinton meet to back Israel on terrorism Egypt resort draws 30 heads of state in show of solidarity

March 13, 1996|By Doug Struck | Doug Struck,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

SHARM EL-SHEIKH, EGYPT — SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt- Israel fully sheds its cloak as an outcast in the Middle East today as Arab countries join other world leaders here to denounce the terrorist bombings in Israel.

The significance of Israel's spotlight role in today's conference on international terrorism may outweigh the real successes of the conference in combating terrorism.

"It is impossible to dismiss the influence of 30 heads of state convening with the prime minister of Israel in an effort that seems pro-Israeli," said an editorial yesterday in Israel's largest daily, Yediot Ahronot.

President Clinton and other world leaders will spend millions of dollars to fly to this Egyptian resort today, but spend only a few hours meeting to condemn terrorism.

They hope to sign an international pledge to cooperate to fight terrorism, to foster extradition proceedings, and to share information and resources to combat terrorism.

Those who most directly prompted the conference the Palestinian group Hamas and its suicide bombings in Israel are likely to be little touched by such global efforts.

Although Mr. Clinton often speaks of Iran in the same breath as the bombings in Israel, even Israeli experts acknowledge that Hamas is a "home-grown" organization that receives no more than rhetorical support from outside countries.

While Hamas members are fundamentalist Muslims, the group's single most goal is to recover Palestinian lands from Israel, not to accomplish a global Islamic revolution. Its most recent bombs were not made of explosives smuggled from abroad, but concocted from old land mines recovered from the 1956 war in the Sinai. The explosives were thrown into a duffel bag with bottles of gasoline and nails.

Still, today marks a turn.

Arab states that long denounced Israel and supported armed action against the Jewish state now will be sitting with Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres.

Included will be representatives of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Morocco, Oman, Yemen, Qatar, Bahrain, Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan and, of course, Yasser Arafat, the head of the Palestinian National Authority and himself once the most reviled terrorist of them all.

Syria and Lebanon declined invitations to attend. Iraq, Iran, Libya all likely targets of the rhetoric as alleged sponsors of terrorism were not invited, although Libya reportedly sent an official carrying a message from Libyan leader Col. Muammar el Kadafi.

Other world leaders expected to land at this sleepy scuba-diving resort include French President Jacques Chirac, Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin, British Prime Minister John Major, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and officials from Canada, the European Union and Japan.

"This is a most impressive conference," Mr. Peres said. "The Arab world is closing ranks against terror and everyone understands that this means terror against us. It's an unprecedented thing."

"We hope there will be clear concrete results to enhance peace, promote security and combat terror," said Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr Moussa. Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak is sponsoring the conference.

But some are skeptical of its usefulness. Brig. Gen. Yaakov Amidror, head of Israel's military intelligence research division, was quoted on state Israel Radio yesterday saying the conference "will lack teeth completely. If anyone expects anything practical from the conference, he is naive."

"It will be primarily a conference of rhetoric and declarations," concluded Yigal Carmon, a former adviser on terrorism to the Israeli government. "It's like motherhood and apple pie. It doesn't need a conference."

Political opponents to Mr. Peres in Israel complain that the conference, and subsequent planned visit by Mr. Clinton to Israel, is a heavy-handed attempt by the American president to help Mr. Peres win the May 29 Israeli elections.

"This has one goal, and only one goal: to boost Peres," said Eliyahu Ben-Elissar, a member of the opposition Likud bloc in the Knesset, Israel's parliament.

"This conference will not save even one life of an Israeli citizen," said Ariel Sharon, former defense minister in a Likud government.

The conference also has created some divisions among the Arab countries that have agreed to send representatives. Leaders of the Muslim countries prefer to cast the conference more in terms of support for the peace process than in opposition to Islamic fundamentalist terrorism.

Some of those countries are understandably wary of any broad condemnation of violence. Governments such as Algeria, Bahrain, and Turkey routinely use violent oppression to enforce their rule, as has Israel during its 28 years of military occupation of the West Bank.

Since one people's terrorist is often another people's freedom fighter, it is likely the conference will gloss over questions of exactly who the world leaders are talking about. TC Pub Date: 3/13/96

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