Israelis began this week with a horrific reminder that they are still in the midst of a deadly war not of their choosing. Sunday's twin Palestinian suicide blasts in Tel Aviv left over 20 families, and their close relatives and friends, grieving for their slaughtered loved ones. But it wasn't only Israelis who were directly affected this time – five of the dead were foreign workers, including a Chinese woman, a man from west Africa and three from Central Europe.
The latest terrorist atrocity produced the second highest death toll in the over-2-year Palestinian war of attrition, surpassed only by the demonic Passover massacre last March in the seaside town of Netanya. That attack provoked the largest Israeli military operation since the Lebanon war two decades ago, which included the mobilization of over 20,000 reserve soldiers.
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This time, the civilian fighters are staying home. The main reason for that is Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's determination to keep things as calm as possible in the apparent run-up to American-led military action to oust Saddam Hussein. Of course, Sharon doesn't know for sure that George Bush will launch such an operation, but he seems to think it is almost inevitable at this point.
Meanwhile American and British leaders are busy assessing the possibilities of horrendous terrorist assaults in their own lands once any military campaign gets under way. Nerves have been frayed in London this week over the discovery of traces of the lethal ricin poison in an apartment housing Algerian Muslims. This comes amid reports that al-Qaida-linked terrorists in northern Iraq have been busy producing the toxic substance, which is extracted from the humble castor bean.
But far greater terrorist threats are keeping Western and Israeli leaders and security experts awake at night. The list is well known: anthrax, smallpox, sarin and other nerve agents, and of course, nuclear-laden dirty bombs. The worst nightmare of all is the Real Thing – full-fledged nuclear warheads, such as the paranoid communist rulers of North Korea are now openly producing.
While warily gazing across the Pacific horizon for any incoming rogue missiles, U.S. officials are keeping very much in mind the possibility that one or more KGB-built nuclear suitcase bombs might have been smuggled into America. If the small Russian devices are somewhere inside the country, it is probable that the Butcher of Baghdad had a hand in spiriting them in. After all, he has been vowing out loud since the end of the original Gulf War that he would get his revenge on America, and in a very nasty manner.
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Is President Bush stupid to worry about that prospect? Yes, according to various political commentators. Take leading New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, whose opinion piece on the topic was published the very same day that suicide terrorists brought new carnage to the cafes and shops of Tel Aviv. He found the commander in chief's recent warning that an Iraqi attack upon America "could cripple our economy" to be "embarrassing hype." Friedman further opines that the president is apparently "groping for an excuse to go to war" by mentioning the possibility of an internal Iraqi attack, which the columnist deems "highly unlikely."
I first met Friedman when he was serving in Jerusalem in the mid-1980s as the Times bureau chief. Before that, like myself, he was stationed in Lebanon. In fact, he was there, as I was, when America-hating Lebanese Muslim terrorists, backed by Syria and Iran, slaughtered 241 U.S. Marines in a huge suicide terrorist blast. Given that fact, it is quite amazing to me that Friedman is so quick to underrate the monster that is Saddam Hussein, and especially the dictator's willingness and capability to wreak havoc on America.
Is George Bush just huffing and puffing when he warns of the serious potential of a devastating terror attack inside America that could shatter her shaky economy? Was he merely bluffing when he suggested last January that a devious and destructive alliance exists between Iraq, Iran and North Korea – the main supplier of advanced missiles to several Muslim states in the tense Middle East?
If Friedman and other skeptical pundits and politicians are any indication, many Americans have yet to acknowledge the ugly fact that full-scale war has been declared upon the world's reigning superpower. Underrating America's enemies will not make them disappear. There is every reason to suspect that Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden and their allies in Asia and elsewhere have carefully plotted follow-up blows designed to outshine the ones already inflicted upon the "Great Satan." If anything is embarrassing, it is the pompous and naive view that only one nation in this conflict is truly capable of waging all-out war.