The First Lesson From Afghanistan

An attack takes place almost every day. Two days ago, a civil servant was killed. The day before that, five civilians were killed in a battle between two rival factions; and a foreign journalist was killed in a car accident.

An attack takes place almost every day. Two days ago, a civil servant was killed. The day before that, five civilians were killed in a battle between two rival factions; two soldiers were wounded; and a foreign journalist was killed in a car accident. A month ago, 48 civilians were killed in an aerial assault. The army apologized and promised aid to the families. The aid has yet to arrive. Meanwhile, the battles and the search for terrorists continue; and yesterday, a sophisticated explosives workshop containing both explosives and materials that could be used as chemical weapons was uncovered.

This is not the operational log of an Israel Defense Forces unit in the territories. It is the daily reality in Afghanistan, where American and British forces are waging an ongoing war against a legitimate target. The difficulty in this campaign is that the United States is waging it against an organization, not a specific target or country. This organization, as is well known, has no territorial borders. And, therefore, alongside reports of the capture of al Qaida members in Afghanistan, details are revealed of the deployment of Osama bin Laden's movement throughout the world. Suspected members of the organization have been arrested in almost every Arab state over the last few weeks, and suspects have also been arrested in the United States and Europe.

The American administration is already hinting that it may need to extend its military operations beyond the borders of Afghanistan, perhaps into Pakistan or Kashmir. The operations cannot be limited merely to strikes against al Qaida members; it will also be necessary to strike at the educational infrastructure that breeds the terrorists. In order to destroy a movement, it is not enough to eradicate its soldiers.

In light of all this, there has recently been a growing awareness that the toppling of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan is likely, in the end, to be recorded as a mere side effect of the war on terrorism, rather than as an action that dealt a significant blow to terror in and of itself. The new leadership the United States established in Afghanistan is, perhaps, somewhat better for the Afghani state, but it is incapable of serving the interest for which the previous regime was overthrown.

And as time goes on, more and more divisions are emerging in the Afghani leadership: The defense minister has his own private army; the CIA was compelled to forge alliances with local warlords who aid it in its war on terror in exchange for payment; the president's legitimacy is waning; and the financial corruption, as more and money flows into the country, has reached the dimensions characteristic of a veteran African state.

The lesson of Afghanistan should be thoroughly studied by all those who are demanding the elimination of the current Palestinian leadership as a way of eliminating terrorism. The United States would not have gone to war against the Taliban if the Taliban had extradited bin Laden. And to be frank, the Israeli government also could not care less whether the Palestinian Authority is corrupt or whether it protects human rights. This does not mean that Israel would not rejoice to see a model democracy as its neighbor. But what interests the government is the PA's ability to fight terrorism.

In this matter, the United States has been far cruder than Israel. It did not merely demand the replacement of the Taliban regime once it concluded that this regime was interfering with the war on terror; it replaced it itself. Now, it is searching for evidence that this step actually did have an effect on the war against bin Laden - and finding this evidence has proved complicated.

Israel in the territories, like the United States in Afghanistan, needs a regime that enjoys the legitimacy required to enable it to deal with organizations that are trying to destroy it from within. These are also the organizations, in both countries, that produce terrorism. Dividing Hamas and Islamic Jihad from the PA and strengthening the latter so that it would be capable of acting against the Islamic movements would, in the end, serve Israel's interests.

Despite the Israeli view that Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the PA all share a joint interest, one must distinguish between their different agendas: The PA wants a state, while for Hamas and Islamic Jihad, a Palestinian state is only the first stage. Just as is the case with bin Laden.