February 25, 2005

A Nightclub Bombing

A suicide bombing has taken place in a Tel Aviv night club. The New York Times is reporting three fatalities. Debka, not always necessarily the most reliable source on other matters but quite good at the morbid job of getting casualty counts right and up in the public space first, is reporting 3-4 fatalities and 15 seriously injured (as of this writing). In the gruesome business of suicide bombings, a grim logic seems to have taken form over the years. Around 20 or more dead, a tangible sense of national tragedy envelops Israel and very significant military action and even strategic policy adjustments can ensue. In double digits but south of 20, say 10-15 or so, strategic readjustments are not typically in the offing but very significant and robust IDF action results. In single digits, the IDF rolls into action, but the targets tend to be more limited in scope.

Absurdist number games? Absolutely, as every suicide bombing is deeply reprehensible for the resulting slaughter of innocents and every single human life lost a tragedy. But I point all this out only to make the point that I don't expect this bombing to have a major impact on the nascent resucitatation of the peace process--unless a Fatah-linked faction (rather than Islamic Jihad or the military wing of Hamas) are responsible. For one, the number of dead is relatively low (though not, of course, for trying). Second, assuming Islamic Jihad is responsible, say, I expect cooler heads to prevail. Why? Because the quest for peace in the Middle East has always been a race between moderates, on the one hand, and extremists, on the other. Whenever prospects for renewed negotiations look ripe, and as has happened so often in the past, a suicide bomber will do his or her noxious business hoping to reap the predictable result--a breakdown in talks, bad blood with emotions boiling over, another setback for pragmatic discourse and peace in the Holy Land. Sharon knows that these groups are hell-bent on scuttling any forward movement in negotiations, so will allow some leeway to Mazen particularly if a non-Fatah affiliated group is guilty of the bombing. If, of course, a Fatah-faction like al-Asqa Martyr's Brigade is responsible, Abu Mazen will have to do his very damnedest to spring into action and rein any members of this militia cheerleading or otherwise supporting terrorist tactics and imprison them immediately. But I would expect that this was a Hamas or Islamic Jihad action (though, obviously, I just don't know). Finally, I believe Sharon truly believes that Abu Mazen is making real strides (unlike Arafat, unable to relinquish the guerrilla pose and too often duplicitous or, at best, too enfeebled and confused to make good on any of his promises) to improve security controls in Gaza and the West Bank. This will likely allow for continued dialogue rather than an immediate rupture in contacts between the PA and Israel.

As this is a critical moment, the U.S. must, assuming Abu Mazen shows he will fully cooperate in tracking down any and all aiders and abetters of today's carnage: 1) facilitate a cooling down of the situation by offering up whatever good offices may be needed at this time, 2) ask Sharon for restraint, and 3) ensure American intelligence sources are coordinating with Mazen, with even more intensity in the next weeks, to help him maximize his chances of mitigating the chances of further bombings like this in coming days. It's impossible to stop every suicide bomber, of course. It shouldn't be about 100% quiet, necessarily, but 100% effort. By that, I mean, we cannot impose an artifical requirement that there be some set period of absolute quiet before resumption of talks (or that talks must break off after every bombing). This is merely an invitation for suicide bombers to scuttle the Middle East peace process. But there must be 100% effort by the PA to prevent any and all such bombings--even when the going gets tough and negotiations aren't going rosily or have even hit temporary snags. This type of event is crunch time for Abu Mazen. He has to persuade, not only the Americans, but also the Israelis, of course, that he isn't just talking the talk but walking the walk. I think Sharon, as I said, thinks he's making a real go of it. Events in the coming days will either bear this out, or prove B.D. wrong. Stay tuned, and in the meantime, let us mourn the victims of this hateful slaughter born of grim circumstance and long bitterness.

P.S. Sharon recently allowed large prisoner releases. If the bomber was one of these, the Israeli government will likely suffer a backlash of sorts for imperiling national security by releasing prisoners still hell bent on killing innocents.

P.P.S. Note this quote from the NYT piece above:

An Israeli government spokesman, Gideon Meir, said the bombing proved the need for the Palestinian Authority to "dismantle terror groups" rather than try to persuade them to accept a formal truce, Reuters reported. Israel's public security minister, Gideon Ezra, said, "We will have to see where we can tighten the screws and the Palestinian Authority has to tighten its screws." [emphasis added]
In other words, the Israelis are holding the door open and acknowledging a role for the Palestinian side in 'tightening its screws.' That bodes well that we aren't about to face a major breakdown in relations between the two sides and that the truce, albeit tragically shattered this evening, remains extant. Posted by Gregory at February 25, 2005 11:15 PM | TrackBack (11)

I must say, I don't understand. This faction, that faction--they all want the same thing: the destruction of Israel. The only difference is whether we're on a local or on an express. It strikes me as a fool's errand to try to sort them out and treat one differently from another. The notion that we can't let bombings destroy the peace process is equally fatuous. It reminds me of Robert Poli, leader of PATCO when the air traffic controllers went on strike and Reagan fired them. Poli actually said in an interview, "We don't care if they fire us, we're still on strike." Well, the Peace Processors don't care if there's a war, they're still having peace. What kind of double-think is going on here, and how long will we--and the Israelis--fall for it? Yikes!

Posted by: betsybounds at February 27, 2005 03:07 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

BBC: Israeli Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz has accused Syria of involvement in Friday's Tel Aviv suicide bombing in which four people were killed. He was speaking hours after Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad's Damascus office said it carried out the attack. ... A statement issued by Mr Mofaz's office said the defence minister had ruled that "Israel sees Syria and the Islamic Jihad movement as those standing behind the murderous attack in Tel Aviv".

Here's the remedy: the USA, Israel AND the democratic elements of Lebanese society and Palestinian Authority should issue the following terse ULTIMATUM (with or without the UNSC): "Syria's forces must leave BEFORE the impending Lebanese election and Nasrallah's forces must DISARM after the election (because paramilitary groups with split allegiances are subversive to any democracy), or they will be forcibly ejected from Lebanon - or destroyed. "

Posted by: reliapundit at February 27, 2005 08:58 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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