Israel signals intent to target safe havens in Syria and Iran


Israel: The Israeli air strike on a suspected Islamic Jihad base in Syria may mark the start of wider war on terrorism, writes David Horovitz in Jerusalem.

For those disposed to pessimism - which amounts to most of those who have endured the last three grisly years of Israeli-Palestinian confrontation - the timing is ominous, indeed.

Precisely 30 years after the punishing regional 1973 Israel-Arab "Yom Kippur" War, and just as Israel wound down into the solemnity of this year's Day of Atonement synagogue services and day-long fasting, the Israeli government early yesterday sent its airplanes deeper into Syrian territory than it has done for decades.

Launched hours after a female Palestinian suicide-bomber killed 19 Israelis in a Haifa restaurant, the air-strike, on what the Israeli army said was a training base used by Islamic Jihad and other terrorist groups at Ein Saheb north of Damascus, marks the start, Israeli officials say, of a wider war on terrorism.

Syrian sources are warning Israel it is "playing with fire". Chillingly, given the constant potential for military escalation in the Middle East, Israeli spokesmen are highlighting not only the role of the Syrians in providing safe havens for Islamic Jihad, Hamas and other such groups, but that of the Iranians in funding, training and inspiring them as well.

While Damascus is bound to make maximal rhetorical play of its outrage at this breach of its sovereignty, however, the assumption in Jerusalem is that Syria does not wish to be drawn into a direct military conflict with Israel, in which its military inferiority would likely prove insurmountable. Nor, it seems plain, is Israel seeking to prompt a new Middle East war.

Spokesmen stressed that yesterday's was a "focused" air strike, on a specific target. Similarly, for all Israel's dramatic cabinet posturing last month about the imminent expulsion or even assassination of the Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, with its potential for intensifying regional tensions, when Israeli defence chiefs met on Saturday night, in the immediate aftermath of the Haifa bombing, exiling or killing Mr Arafat was not even considered.

Instead, the Israeli air strike appears primarily calculated to pressure Syria - which is already under similar pressure from the US - to do more than merely close the street front offices of murderous extremist groups in its capital, and actually ensure that the militants leave town altogether. Furthermore, the resort to the use of Israeli force beyond the country's embattled borders may also be designed to offer psychological support to blast-traumatized Israelis, and bolster their support for a government that has failed to find a means to thwart the suicide-bombers.

Twenty-nine year-old Hanadi Jaradat was an atypical suicide bomber, albeit in an era when, after more than 100 such bombers have mounted attacks in Israel, the "typical" bomber profile, of a disaffected man in his early 20s, has long been a devalued stereotype. She was one of only half-a-dozen female intifada bombers, older than the norm and well educated - with a legal background. Rather than the impersonal desire to resist Israel and honour the perverted stream of Islam espoused by many bombers, Jaradat was motivated by a thoroughly personal desire for vengeance, her relatives say.

Her younger brother Fadi, an Islamic Jihad activist, and their cousin, Salah, a more prominent member of that extremist group who was wanted by Israel, were killed by Israeli troops at their Jenin home less than four months ago.

Asked by an interviewer on Israeli state television whether this meant Israel had, in some sense, brought this attack upon itself, the Israeli Justice Minister, Mr Yosef Lapid, was withering: "These men were terrorists" bent on killing Israelis, he retorted, and then asked bitterly whether the interviewer thought Israel should have just "left them alone" to prepare more bombings.

Jaradat, or those who acted for her, had scouted out likely targets with fiendish astuteness. The Maxim restaurant, at the southern coastal entrance to Haifa, was doing a roaring trade on Saturday afternoon.

Whether she knew it, or cared, both owners and clientele were a mix of Jews and Arabs: A particular symbol of co-existence in a city whose 220,000 Jews and 50,000 Arabs daily and unremarkably demonstrate the viability of such harmony, Maxim has been jointly owned by Jewish and Arab families for 40 years, is staffed by Jews and Arabs, and patronized by Jews and Arabs. On Saturday and throughout yesterday, Arabs and Jews waited together in the corridors of Haifa's hospitals for news of their injured relatives. Coaches from Israel's leading soccer team, Maccabi Haifa, which has an Arab star player, were among those lightly hurt.

And among the men, women and children in the 19 dead, at least four were Arabs. As with the Mount Scopus campus of the Hebrew University, believed to be a safe-haven because of the large number of Arab students until its main cafeteria was blown up in July 2002, Maxim was perceived to be "off-limits" to terror. Until Saturday. Said Nir Muli, whose grandfather is one of the owners: "We never thought that this would happen to us."