The Lessons of Sharm

One can only imagine what would have been the case here today had Sharm el-Sheikh remained more important than peace, and what will happen if Beit El remains more important than Netzarim.

When Moshe Dayan famously said he preferred Sharm el-Sheikh without peace to peace without Sharm el-Sheikh, who would have dreamed that a day would come when Israeli Prime Minister and hero of the 1956 Mitla Pass battle Ariel Sharon would be offering an Egyptian president assistance in rescuing victims, including Israeli tourists, of Muslim terrorists who struck at the Egyptian resort? Who ever thought back then that one day, Egyptian experts would be training Gaza police to thwart attacks by Islamic extremists on Jews?

This revolution was made possible by the fact that the relations between the two countries were reversible. Israel's willingness to give back the entire Sinai allowed Egypt to put an end to the state of war and realize its interest in forging closer ties with the United States. Thanks to this, the two neighbors can now join forces against a common enemy in the shape of murderous Islamic fundamentalists.

It's odd that what appears to be so taken for granted in the Israeli-Egyptian arena is so unclear when it comes to the relations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Even the harshest critics of the relations with Egypt's secular government understand that Israel has no wish to see the Muslim Brotherhood increase in strength. On the other hand, Israel chose to forgo a real effort to bolster the pragmatic elements in the territories in their struggle against Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

Even a pure-white dove like Ami Ayalon has despaired with the PA, after coming to conclusion that Mahmoud Abbas is "a weak leader." Who better than the former Shin Bet security chief knows the role played by the political echelon over the past five years in weakening the Palestinian "Oslo camp"? He knows, too, that the big military victory in Operation Defensive Shield - with its destruction of physical infrastructure and wholesale liquidations, alongside a suspension of the political process and the freeing-up of construction work in the outposts - played into the hands of the Islamic extremists.

The disappointment with the moderates and their meager offerings since the signing of the agreement between the Palestine Liberation Organization and Israel some 12 years ago is the fuel that is driving the Islamic stream. From a hard-core nucleus with the support of no more than 10-15 percent of the population, Hamas now enjoys the backing of 30-35 percent of the Palestinians.

As in the case of Hamas, a religious-nationalist movement, the flourishing of a religious-anti-nationalist movement like Al-Qaida is not a divine decree. In the second in a series of articles that will appear soon in the Keshet periodical, Dr. Matti Steinberg talks about Al-Qaida's "areas-of-chaos" strategy. Steinberg, who served as an adviser to former Shin Bet chief Ayalon, defines the organization's strategy as "swamp redemption." The agents of terror in the name of Allah testify that their catch is a much richer one when they fish in dirty water. It is easier to shake the old secular order in the Middle East after "heretic" Christians (the controversial invasion of Iraq) or Jews (the war in the territories) have laid the foundations for the "areas of chaos."

Steinberg warns that the evil comes from below, from within those "areas of chaos." Chaotic circumstances invite the covenant between Al-Qaida and the "street," and local groups that wish to express their distress and frustration will eventually find the global recipe - with or without the mediation of a central super-organization. The Internet offers them an abundance of ways to prepare conventional and even chemical weapons.

Al-Qaida manages to reel in well-established youths in London and Miami who have never stepped foot in the Middle East. Islamic fundamentalists are not all cut from the same cloth. As a result, no one can make assurances that an end to Israel's occupation of the territories, or the American invasion in Iraq, will completely rid the region of terror. We seem to have a long war ahead of us.

Nevertheless, one can only imagine what would have been the case here today had Sharm el-Sheikh remained more important than peace, and what will happen if Beit El remains more important than Netzarim.