Anti-terrorist strike should come from Israel

August 17, 1998|By Andrew J. Glass

WASHINGTON -- In the outermost ring of the Pentagon, plans are being drawn for a retaliatory strike against the terrorist bombers who blew up the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

Ultimately, President Clinton must sign off on any use of force. In ordering such an attack, Mr. Clinton must bear in mind today's complex geopolitical climate. He must offer explicit proof of the perpetrators' responsibility to the U.S. public and to the world at large.

It's one thing for U.S. intelligence agencies to link the carnage in East Africa to Osama bin Laden, the shadowy Saudi figure who acts as the godfather of a network of radicals who have vowed vengeance against the United States.

But it's quite another to commit the Pentagon's directorate for Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflicts (SOLIC) to a military assault against Mr. bin Laden's terrorist bases in Afghanistan and Sudan. Even if a SOLIC raid achieved its immediate tactical goals, long-term U.S. strategic interests could be harmed.

Contracting out

One option under official review would sub-contract this anti-terrorist task to interested and competent parties in Jerusalem.

In rapidly dispatching their ace military rescue crews to Nairobi, the Israelis no doubt also gathered some intelligence on their own. But their primary motive was to repay a favor, which is a basic, if often overlooked, element of statecraft.

A big debt was incurred in 1976 when Kenya served as a logistical base for Israel's successful raid on Uganda's Entebbe Airport, rescuing the passengers on an Air France flight that had been hijacked by Palestinian terrorists.

Eight years later, William Buckley, then the CIA station chief in Lebanon, was close to tracking down the masterminds behind the suicide assault against the Marines in Beirut, which with one blow killed about 10 percent of the U.S. forces in that country. But the pursued became the pursuers and kidnapped Mr. Buckley.

President Reagan thereupon asked Israel for aid. Israeli leaders, mindful that Mr. Reagan had personally intervened to permit stranded Ethiopian Jews to be flown out of the Sudan, agreed to help.

In that notorious instance, things didn't work out. Eventually, Mr. Buckley was tortured and killed. And the Iranian connection, which the Israelis activated for Washington, led eventually to scandalous dealings in the White House. But the age-old code of nations quietly trading favors had been followed.

The Israelis are quite capable of making blunders of their own, like the one that led to Hamas spiritual leader Sheik Ahmed Yassin now being free in Gaza.

Israelis task

Yet, in undertaking the kind of nasty work that needs to done, Jerusalem can muster more operational flexibility than Washington can. And the Israelis are probably better able to cope with the next threatened cycle of revenge if, and when it comes.

What's the chief downside to making an anti-terrorist deal? In succeeding, the Israelis would undoubtedly ask for favors in return. Yet, with such high stakes, Mr. Clinton could do worse than to have his Pentagon planners stand down while calling instead on outside experts to do the job at hand.

Andrew J. Glass is a columnist for Cox Newspapers.

Pub Date: 8/17/98

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.