New York Times         February 24, 2003
The Other War
By WILLIAM SAFIRE
WASHINGTON

In calculations by terror governments, only the certainty of relentless military pressure and ultimate defeat truly focuses the mind.

In Baghdad, that necessary assurance of doom is still lacking. Thanks to the populist pacifism of Germany's chancellor, the crowd-pleasing anti-Americanism of France's president and the blossoming of the perennial peace "movement," Saddam Hussein is convinced that he can persevere.

With some logic, the dictator of Iraq has taken heart from the marching rallies and the TV railing. He believes that the tried-and-true technique that has maintained him in power will work again: deceive and resist, shift the burden of proof, concede enough to prevent attack, divide and delay. For as long as U.N. bickering gives him a chance to avoid disarming, he will take his chances on a war.

Elsewhere in the Middle East, however, the prospect of sustained counterattack by a stable government representing a united Israel is at last focusing the minds of Palestinian leaders and their Arab allies.

They are reluctantly grasping what many outsiders in Europe and the U.S. still cannot get their heads around: that Ariel Sharon's resolute government will be solidly in power for years to come.

His personal election victory of a couple of years ago, though by the largest margin in Israel's history, was considered by many to be a post-Camp David fluke.

But his victory last year within his Likud Party over substantial far-right forces persuaded many doubters. And by giving their prime minister an overwhelming victory in the most recent general election despite a mainly hostile press, a continuing war and a drooping economy Israeli voters made it crystal clear to Arab terrorists as well as Jewish terrifieds that Arik Sharon was not about to be outwitted, outwaited or ousted.

Hawkish Likud's seats in the Knesset doubled while the dovish Labor Party's strength was halved; that never happened before. What's left of the left is now in a deep sulk, preferring at least four years in the political wilderness to rejoining a Sharon coalition. Of course, should Saddam lash out at Israel, Labor would join an emergency government, but barring that, the prime minister will assemble a center-right coalition of the eager.

And it has a solid mandate. Arab leaders know that even if this Israeli government were someday to fail a vote of confidence, Sharon would continue in power. That's because no majority in this Knesset will be formed without Likud: the far left will never climb into bed with the far right. When peace is in the wings, Sharon will be on the stage.

Arik's strategy is to carry the war to the enemy until such time as new Palestinian leadership is willing to carry the war to their common enemies. Sharon is convinced that Israel will not have a Palestinian ally in stopping the terror war as long as Arafat is in charge.

In the absence of that needed ally, Israeli defense forces have been taking the battle into terror's hotbeds in Gaza and Nablus. The mission is to kill the leading killers while trying not to kill those they hide among. Israel surely does not want to occupy Gaza; it wants Gaza occupied by Palestinians capable of keeping the peace.

The strategy of fighting to win to cause peacemaking Palestinians to assert leadership shows some progress. Arafat now promises to pick a prime minister someday. His longtime aide, Abu Mazen, just endorsed a recent proposal of Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak for a one-year truce, fiercely rejected by Hamas and other pro-war groups.

Mubarak, like Jordan's king, apparently senses big changes in the area coming after Saddam's defeat. Resigned to Sharon's long-term stability, they may help post-Arafat Palestinians become part of postwar reconstruction. (The Saudi ruler is all lip service but no help; that family's blackmail payments to Hamas through a charity front are devastatingly documented in former Ambassador Dore Gold's new book, "Hatred's Kingdom.")

Sharon promised President Bush to try to resist being provoked by Saddam, though Israel's response depends on the type of Iraqi weapon and Israeli casualties. Bush, after Saddam's war, should then set aside any "road map" to appeasement in Arafat's war espoused by Putin, Chirac, Schröder and the U.N., now that he has seen their true colors.