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We all share in the anguish when terrorist acts needlessly destroy lives, whether in New York, Jerusalem, London or more recently Moscow. Recently, Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu extended his sympathies to Russian President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin and explained that his nation identified with the Russians, “as a country that is itself a target for terror.” He added that “we stand with you united in the struggle against terror.”


Now Israel has, thankfully, not been a recent victim of a large-scale terrorist attack. Thus, one may ask, why is she now reaching out to the dubious masters of the Kremlin? Is it possible that Israel is trying to encourage a revival of the discredited war against terror?

Prime Minister Netanyahu might have taken the opportunity, that very same day, to congratulate President Obama and U.S. authorities for arresting several members of an avowedly “Christian” terrorist group, based in Michigan, and charging them with plotting the murders of federal law enforcement officials. However, strong denunciations of ”Christian” terrorism are not seen as vital to the Israeli right as furthering a confrontation with Islam and resisting Palestinian aspirations for statehood. Furthermore, there is little interest in strongly denouncing Israeli-settler terrorism (the arrest last November of Yaacov Teitel who admitted killing two Arabs and attempting to assassinate a peace activist, being only one case in point).

The so-called “war on terror” was never aimed against all forms and expressions of terrorism. It was vague, and unfocused, with elusive enemies, who could be easily changed. This suited those in Israel who reached out for support against the Palestinians, who they labeled as a nation of terrorists, and it also fit the aggressive foreign policy needs of Bush and the neo-cons. Terror, which is clearly a tactic, rather than a nation or tangible object, could seemingly ally the United States and Israel against a rather ill-defined enemy. However, it was first British Foreign Secretary David Milliband, who rejected the formulation and he was followed by President Obama. Both men, not only preferred to be more precise in designating conflicts and enemies, but they also recognized that their Middle East diplomacy and outreach to moderate Arabs was seriously damaged by the taint of anti-Islamism. I believe that both men also understood that while acts of terror are vile and must be vigorously contained, that it was not susceptible to military solutions alone.

Ironically, Netanyahu and Putin may share a common approach to terror. James Sherr of Chatham House, home of the Royal Institute of International Affairs, declares that “Moscow’s solution to the ‘Chechen cancer’ was more likely to metastasize than cure it.” That is, brutal repression of Chechen autonomists can only continue to alienate and radicalize the Chechen people. Sherr adds, “a successful counter-terrorist strategy will not only ‘destroy’ terrorists … but ensure that others have no incentive to replace them. “ Both Russia and Israel need a change of course. Bludgeoning the Palestinians or the Chechens, without paying attention to their real needs, can only result in more needless bloodshed, breeding new generations of terrorist recruits.. Helping to build effective self-government for both Palestinians and Chechens would be a more promising start. Let us hope that a Netanyahu-Putin axis, sharing a sterile vision of confronting terror only with violence does not take shape.

April 1, 2010 

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