The turmoil caused by the decision of Attorney General Menachem Mazuz on the Greek island affair eclipsed the news that emerged from the United States at the end of the week. An interim report of the commission of inquiry into the events of 9/11 states that Bin Laden sought to link Ariel Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount and the attacks Al-Qaida planned against American targets. Bin Laden ordered his agents in the U.S. to carry out his satanic plots immediately after Sharon's visit to the site of the Al-Aqsa mosque to give the impression these acts were punishment for the American administration's support for Israel.
When Bin Laden was told that the preparations for the attacks were not yet completed, he chose to wait, but sought to time the mass attacks to coincide with one of Sharon's visits to Washington.
These findings are based on the interrogation of Khaled Sheikh Mohammed, the man responsible for the planning of the 9/11 attacks, who is now being held by the American authorities. They do not conform to the initial reasons given by Al-Qaida for its wild attacks, justified as a struggle against the world of secular values represented by American society. But it would be unwise to ignore their significance and implications: the radical Islamic organization that is leaving its mark on the world chooses to grab onto Sharon's provocation to justify its behavior. Through this it intensifies the religious aspect of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and of the overall Israeli-Arab confrontation, and grants it enormous resonance: the whole international community, among them about a billion Muslims, learns that harming the holy sites of Islam in Jerusalem was one of the reasons Al-Qaida attacked the U.S.
Israel's leaders have always managed to neutralize, to the extent possible, the religious volatility mixed into the conflict. They understood that it was in Israel's interest for the conflict to remain within secular, temporal parameters, that can be handled through the use of rational means. The disputes with Jordan and Egypt were settled after Israel paid in territory. The conflicts with Syria and Lebanon are also discussed in measurable, practical terms: land, borders, security arrangements. This is also how the Palestinians should be dealt with; however, Sharon apparently has not learned the lessons of his predecessors - he strikes the religious chord with the sensitivity of a rhino and ignores the dangerous consequences.
Sharon chose to visit the Al-Aqsa complex at an incredibly sensitive time, to force the government of Ehud Barak into the corner, and thus showed contempt for the Muslim world with his provocation. He did not hesitate to authorize the imprisonment of Sheikh Raed Salah, the leader of the Islamic Movement in Israel, while ignoring the humiliation that his decision is causing to Muslim citizens in this country. He was not deterred from ordering the assassination of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, while scornful of the impact that the killing would have on the religious sentiments of Muslims in the territories and other parts of the world.
Sharon explained his behavior in every one of these cases in a way that sounded justifiable: that it is the right of every Jew to visit the Temple Mount (an argument that at the time also convinced yours truly); that the activities of Sheikh Salah were seditious; and that Sheikh Yassin was involved in initiating terrible terrorist attacks. These explanations are lacking: it is expected of the leader of a country to be wise, not just right.
The Israeli-Arab conflict, and within it the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, is indeed wrapped around a religious fuse. A part of the Jewish nation, like a part of the Arab world and the Palestinian public, approach this conflict from the point of view of the Bible and the Quran. Everyone knows that the dispute over the Land of Israel did not begin only because of religious claims to the territory; it has a complex background in which the attitude of Islam to Judaism plays a central role. The wisdom required of responsible politicians is to cool the religious bonfire, not to fuel it.
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