Arabs sever ties with Israel

MANAMA (BAHRAIN), MAY 20. The Israeli Government's action of sending war planes to bombard Palestinian towns in ostensible retaliation for a suicide bomb attack on Friday has backfired on both the internal and external fronts. While it has provided sufficient impetus to the Arab League to agree on a formula which provides for a rare unity and does restrict Israeli options, it has also obliterated the outrage that the world would have felt at the occurrence of a terrorist attack, and for these reasons, the decision has been described by Israel's mainstream media as a stupid mistake.

If the Government thought that the use of F-16s to bombard Palestinian security establishments was an appropriate response for the deaths of five Israelis in Friday's suicide bomb attack in Netanya, what would be the response if 20 Israelis were to be killed, one columnist asked, ``An atom bomb on Ramallah?''. Nablus, one of the towns that received the attentions of the F- 16s lies almost at the end of the runway from which the planes took off, he pointed out. Other editorialists and commentators have noted the almost natural tendency of the Government of Mr. Ariel Sharon to resort to greater degrees of force without thinking through the implications or weighing different options.

Israeli commentators, like many outside, have drawn attention to the disproportionality of the actions undertaken by their security forces on orders from their Government. Retaliation for suicide bomb attacks can be justified, they opine, but are unwise, they go on to point out. With the use of air power against the Palestinian territories for the first time since the 1967 war, Israel had erased the effects of the terrorist suicide strike. International sympathy that Israel might have attracted consequent to the attack had now been diverted to the Palestinians who had been subjected to aerial bombardment.

The Arab League Foreign Ministers finally managed to get their act together and have decided not to hold any political dialogue with Israel till it ceases its military operations and lifts the siege on the Palestinian territories.

This is a significant step in that Egypt and Jordan - the two Arab countries that have normalised relations with Israel - were at odds with the other member-states that have always favoured a tougher line. While the rest of the Arab world have been pressing Jordan and Egypt to sever ties with Israel they were unwilling to take this drastic step. Now, they have found a medium ground.

Israel might act nonchalant about this Arab move but Egypt and Jordan had so far provided valuable back channels and this will no longer be available.