In the wake of last week’s London bombings, British Prime Minister Tony Blair is likely to increase his calls for American involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian issue, according to international experts, diplomats and Jewish activists.
“Blair will absolutely push harder for a two-state solution,” Crispin Black, director of Janusian Security Risk Management in London, wrote in an e-mail to the Forward. “This is not because he or anyone else here is intimidated by this kind of terrorism but because in his analysis, difficulties in Israel/Palestine remain the biggest recruiting sergeant for all kinds of Islamist extremism across the world.”
A senior European counterterrorism official who refused to be identified said that most European countries shared Blair’s view that a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would remove one of the main impetuses for young Muslims to join jihadist networks and become terrorists.
While some observers were predicting that the bombings might end up focusing European attention on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the attacks clearly brought to the fore long-held criticism of London by other European countries and even, privately, American officials, who say the British have displayed too permissive an attitude toward radical Muslim groups and individuals.
In an ironic twist given their recent public spat over Iraq, American officials have been pointing to France’s counterterrorism efforts, which combine intrusive laws and sophisticated intelligence, as superior to London’s. Just last week, the Washington Post reported that Paris was hosting a secret counterterrorism center to share information and direct secret operations in coordination with the CIA and the intelligence services of five other countries.
However, the senior European counterterrorism official said that last week’s bombings were more an illustration of the difficulty of penetrating ever-evolving terrorist networks than a result of Britain’s anti-terrorist policies. He said the criticism of England was outdated, noting that the British had drastically tightened security since the September 11, 2001, attacks against America and were carefully monitoring the radical Muslim underworld of “Londonistan.”
Still, those stepped-up efforts did not prevent the July 7 simultaneous explosions on a bus and in three subways. The British government was caught unprepared, having lowered the level of terrorism alert in recent weeks.
After the attacks, Blair vowed to bring the perpetrators to justice. But he was quick to stress the need to address the “root causes” of terrorism in order to undercut the support for radical groups in Muslim countries and among Muslims living in Europe. Blair has pledged to lobby the Bush administration on the issue, and some observers say that such steps could help the British leader to overcome his unpopular decision to participate in the American-led war in Iraq, especially among left-wing supporters. Observers say that given the likelihood of Blair’s critics rekindling the argument that the war in Iraq is fueling terrorism, the British leader is all but certain to renew his effort on Israel.
“Tony Blair has been pushing this cause for a while and will continue to do so,” said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League.
The controversial linkage between the London attacks, which have killed 52 persons and wounded 700, and the Israeli-Palestinian issue took a confusing turn after The Associated Press ran a story saying Blair had explicitly made the connection in an interview. Eventually the AP retracted the report, but only after it had set off alarm bells in Jewish circles leery of Europe’s pro-Palestinian tilt and the negative consequences for European Jews of having Israel’s policies blamed for terrorist attacks.
Foxman expressed concern that blaming Israel and Jews for terrorism could become more common in the event of further terrorist attacks in Europe. As for Blair, Foxman said, “He may want to play to his domestic audience and use his rotating presidency of the European Union as a pulpit.”
Britain currently holds the six-month rotating presidency of the E.U., which is advocating dialogue with Hamas political leaders and currently debating whether to add Hezbollah to its list of terrorist organizations. In addition, a conference on the Palestinian issue is scheduled to take place in London this fall.
On Monday, in his first speech at the House of Commons after the bombings, Blair said: “It seems probable the attack was carried out by Islamist extremist terrorists, the kind who, over recent years, have been responsible for so many innocent deaths in Madrid, Bali, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Kenya, Tanzania, Pakistan, Yemen, Turkey, Egypt, Morocco, of course, in New York on September 11th, and in many other countries too.”
The absence of Israel from Blair’s exhaustive list is worrying, according to David Twersky, director of the Council for World Jewry, an arm of the American Jewish Congress.
“Apparently Tony Blair, in his rush to assuage the feelings of the Muslim majority who were not involved in the terrorist attacks, or in fact to summon up such a majority, feels it prudent to omit reference to terror attacks on Israel,” Twersky said. “This is a time to speak the truth, and the truth is that Israel has been a consistent victim of Islamic terror, a fact that must not be obscured even if one sympathizes with the Palestinians’ plight.”