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Retaliation Expected...But Will It Lead to War? - August 9, 2001
I only returned to the Lord's land two days ago after a grueling, but blessed, two month speaking tour in Hong Kong, Australia and the United States. As many of you will recall, it was with great difficulty that I left as we had just experienced a terrible suicide terror attack in the heart of Tel Aviv that left many young people dead and wounded. It was not clear at that time whether or not a ceasefire called for just after the attack would hold, and I did not want to be abroad if things deteriorated still further. Indeed, the "ceasefire" never formally took effect--since we never arrived at the required week of calm before it would officially kick in. Instead, Israelis have endured a steady stream of low level Palestinian attacks and armed Israeli responses over the hot summer, and a series of near misses of additional major terrorist disasters. The government said only yesterday that no less than 1,000 Palestinian attacks have occurred since the CIA-mediated "ceasefire" accord was signed by Arafat in early June, with a number of them producing Israeli fatalities.
Today, we returned with a horrible bang, and a river of fresh tears, to the deadly terrorist path with a destructive suicide blast in the very center of Jerusalem--the corner of Jaffa Road and King George Street. It was followed a few hours later by a second blast on a city bus just up Jaffa Road at the central bus station. Late reports say no one was wounded in the second attack, but the initial blast has taken the lives of at least 18 people, and that number may rise even further. Among the dead are three children, says a late report on Israel radio. Over one hundred others were wounded, many seriously or critically. Reports say five victims are barely clinging to life in packed city hospitals.The Sharro fast food restaurant, located on the southeast corner of the always bustling intersection, was completely destroyed in the mid-day blast. The Islamic Jihad terrorist group has taken responsibility for the atrocious attack.
I just got off of the phone with an Israeli friend who said he was eating in that very restaurant only one hour before the powerful explosion went off. This is the friend that I wrote about last November--we were watching the evening news together when we learned that one of the victims in that day's terrorist blast just a few blocks up Jaffa Road near the main outdoor fruit and vegetable market was a friend of his. I was scheduled to travel this afternoon to my friend's new office just one block from today's attack, but that short journey has naturally now been postponed. The center of town has been sealed off to traffic for several hours now, and the debris-filled main intersection at Jaffa and King George will probably be closed for some time.
The main question now is what will follow. One thing is certain--a veritable flood of funerals will take place in the holy city in the coming hours and days.
As I reported in my special update the day after the horrible Tel Aviv attack on June 1, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was then set to order a major army operation to capture leading members of the militant Hamas and Islamic Jihad movements, even if this might produce a direct clash with Yasser Arafat's armed security forces, and thus risk a wider Mideast war. Sharon's Foreign Minister, Labor party leader Shimon Peres, urged restraint at that time, pleading with Sharon to give Arafat one more chance to halt the violence and arrest militant Muslim activists. Sharon pointed out that many attacks were actually being carried out BY Arafat's own forces (a point he made again only yesterday during a visit to Turkey, telling journalists that "nearly 50% of terror comes from groups controlled by Arafat"). Still, he agreed to postpone the army operation in exchange for a commitment by Peres that he would support military action if major suicide attacks resumed. Peres agreed, and the inner cabinet issued a little-noticed statement branding Arafat's Palestinian Authority government a "terrorist-sponsoring body." That amounted to the legal basis for quickly going after Muslim militants in a serious fashion--and even after Arafat's own forces, if not the "President" himself--if another major attack took place, as it did today here in Jerusalem.
Meanwhile, Arafat pledged as part of the CIA Tenet ceasefire accord to arrest wanted Muslim militants. Israel has given him a list of around 100 names of people known to be involved in planning and/or carrying out terror attacks. Probably fearing for his own life if he goes against the popular Muslim groups, he has so far refused to arrest even one of the militants. He had almost two months to do so. Now his time is probably up.
Today's attacks could be the trigger for the postponed major army operation. Or it might be that Sharon decides that the time is not ripe for such action. But some sort of serious response can be expected in the very near future (the security cabinet is currently scheduled to meet early this evening to discuss today's attack). Whether Israeli action will trigger a wider war, only Israel's God knows. But it definitely looks like Sharon and Peres will now be forced to bite the bullet and do the job themselves, whatever the local or regional consequences. Your prayers, as ever, are coveted by us who are living here in the midst of the storm.